Tuesday, December 12, 2017

5 Hacks for Snow Removal to Get You through Winter

by Allison Saunders, December 11, 2017 in Home Improvement
For most of us who live in a state with four seasons, you know the dread that starts to creep in every December. Trust us when we say that it’s pretty hard to sing “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” with a straight face when you’re shoveling snow for hours on end.
Winter is coming, and with it, comes a slew of snow, sleet and slush. If you’re not seasoned with the season of snow, we’ve got five hacks for snow removal that will blow your mind, and hopefully, your snow!

Get the Right Shovel

If you choose to go down the shoveling route, the first hack for snow removal is to make sure you have the right shovel.
A lightweight plastic or aluminum blade, coated with a nonstick finish, is your best bet, according to This Old House. Based on which surface you’re shoveling, such as wood decking, make sure you’re using the correct blade material, like plastic blades for softer materials.
Additionally, you’ll want a shovel that has an ergonomic, S-shaped shaft. This will protect your back from strain and require less bending when you’re shoveling.
Best practices for shoveling snow are to only remove as much snow as you’re comfortable with lifting. Back injuries and falls are common this time of year, so it’s best to only take on what you can handle.
That being said, This Old House recommends shoveling several times, even when snow is still falling, so that the snow doesn’t bond to surfaces like your driveway, sidewalks or deck. Additionally, it’s a lot easier to shovel two inches rather than five, so stay on top of snowfall to prevent pileup and back injuries from lifting.

Wipeout Snow Windrows as They Appear

Speaking of pileups, you probably didn’t think there was a fancy term for the pile of snow left at the bottom of your driveway after the snow-plow passes through your street. And if you did, it’s probably not fancy or a word we can use on this blog!
However, snow windrows are very real and even more annoying. If left unattended, you’ll be unable to pull out of your driveway without getting stuck.
There are a few ways to combat the buildup of snow at the end of your driveway, but the best is just to get rid of them as they appear.
Much like tackling snowfall, inch by inch as it comes, make sure you clear your snow windrow as soon as you can. Leaving it will risk it fusing together and making it difficult to shovel. Especially if it’s a sunny day – leaving your snow windrow unshoveled on a warm, sunny day could possibly result in the snow melting and later freezing into solid ice.
The best practice is to shovel your snow windrow as soon as possible and only lift as much as you’re comfortable with, protecting your back and neck from strain.

Using a Snow Blower is Faster

Now that we’ve covered best practices and products for shoveling, let’s talk about a much faster method for snow removal – using a snow blower.
According to This Old House, using a snow blower is by far faster when clearing large, flat areas. The site recommends using one where there’s a minimum of two inches of snow on the ground.
Speed is also a factor for snow blowing, according to Consumer Reports, as going too slow will shorten your arc of blowing snow and going too fast will cause snow to spill through the side of your machine. Make sure you test out a good speed before beginning.
The best practices for clearing snow is to start in the middle of the surface you’re clearing, blowing the snow toward one edge of the driveway. Make a U-turn, as you come to the end of each pass, and come back down the opposite side. This alternation will prevent you from throwing snow on top of pavement that’s already cleared.
Of course, you need to consider the upfront cost to buy a snow blower, which includes fuel an basic maintenance costs. You just need to decide if you have the money and want to spend it for the convenience of not having to manually lift snow.

However, Make Sure You Get the Right Snow Blower

While snow blowers can be a helpful tool for removing snow in winter, make sure you know how to use it and in which circumstances to use it.

How to Use a Snow Blower on a Gravel Driveway

For example, if you’re using a snow blower on a gravel driveway, you may run the risk of sucking up rocks and throwing them all over your (or your neighbor’s) lawn. This can be hazardous as flying gravel can hit cars, windows or even your next-door neighbor themselves!
That being said, if you have a gravel driveway or sidewalks surrounding your home, Perfect for Home suggested a two-stage snow blower.
Essentially there are two types of snow blowers. Single-stage is designed to come into direct contact with the surface on the ground and is more ideal for paved surfaces.
Two-stage snow blowers allow you to adjust the height of the blades so that your blower is not coming into direct contact with the ground. You can also adjust the discharge shoot (the vessel that shoots out the sucked-up snow) to aim in a safe direction, away from cars, windows, people, etc.

How to Use a Snow Blower in Wet Snow

Additionally, if you’re using a snow blower in wet snow, there are a few techniques that you need to be aware of, as wet snow is heavier and can possibly cause more injuries if not handled correctly.
It can be tempting to take down wet snow full-speed ahead with your snow blower. However, when dealing with wet snow, it’s actually safer to move slower and take in less snow at a time. Moving too quickly on wet snow can cause your snow blower to clog and the machine to wear out.
The best practice for wet snow removal using a snow blower is to move slowly and take smaller sections of snow in each pass, about one-third to one-half the width of the machine, suggested Family Handyman. It’s a lot easier for the machine to take in and it also allows for it to throw the snow farther, preventing the snow from falling into your freshly blown path.

Rock Salt is Your Best Friend

Lastly, while this is not necessarily a snow removing tip, it is a best practice for dealing with snowy or icy pathways.
Rock salt is relatively cheap, said The Old House. Using it on surfaces prone to ice and snow can be a great way to lower the risk of falls and injuries.
If you choose to use salt, This Old House suggested gloves when spreading salt or any deicer instead of by bare hand. If you are salting a larger area, you can also use a push spreader to cover larger surfaces at a quicker pace.
Lastly, make sure you store the deicers off the floor or in a sealed bucket, to keep them dry.
While salt is a common option for deicing, it can also be harmful to plants or grass in your yard. It’s also known to eat away at concrete in large quantities, resulting in an uneven surface and costly repair expenses.
If you’re looking for a less harmful and expensive way of providing traction to slippery surfaces, you can use sandbox sand or even cat litter to add traction to your driveway and sidewalks.

Get Hacking!

If you live in a state of four seasons, or just expect some snowfall this year, knowing these five hacks to remove snow are just one of the ways to get you through winter.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Can You Get a Mortgage with Bad Credit?

by Kevin Graham, November 29, 2017 in Credit & Debt

It’s not hard to get a couple of blemishes on your credit report. Whether it’s the mistakes of youth or an unexpected medical procedure that puts you behind on bills, it’s easy to have your credit dip if you’re not careful.
If you have less-than-optimal credit, it’s more difficult to prepare to get a mortgage, but just because your credit score is suboptimal doesn’t mean you have to give up on your dream of homeownership.
In this post, we go over what it means have a low credit score, the difference between bad credit and no credit, and how to improve your score. Finally, we’ll go over the best loans for people with less-than-perfect credit.

Defining Low Credit

We can talk about credit all day long, but it doesn’t make much sense if you don’t know what to measure it against since you’ll have no idea where you stand.
The main credit scoring system used by most mortgage lenders is FICO. Scores range from 300 to 850. With a credit score below 580, it’s difficult to get a mortgage. While possible, you’ll have higher rates and less favorable loan terms. For the purposes of getting a mortgage, a low credit score would be considered below 580.

Low Credit vs. No Credit

Having a low credit score due to late payments or something like a bankruptcy is different from having no credit. If you have no credit, you need to do something to build it up before getting a loan.
If you have no credit and your score is currently at around 300 because you’ve never had credit before, there are a few steps you can take.

Secured Credit Cards

One good way to build credit when you’re first getting started is to get a secured credit card. With this card, you put down a deposit of your own money that serves as the credit line. As you charge things and make the payments every month, your score will start to increase. After maybe six months or a year, your score should be high enough that you can get a more traditional credit card where the credit card company is putting up their own funds based on their faith in your ability to make the payment.
Ordinarily, we don’t advise closing any credit lines because part of your credit score is how many lines of credit you have open that you can manage responsibly. However, secured cards sometimes come with monthly maintenance fees that you don’t want to pay forever, and you want your deposit back.
If you do choose to eventually close this line of credit, be sure to have a couple of other cards open and be aware that your score will take a temporary hit.

Become an Authorized User

You can also piggyback off someone else’s good credit rating by becoming an authorized user on their card. When they make their payment on time every month, your credit score goes up. This is a great way for parents to help their kids get started with good credit.

Understanding Your Credit Score

If you have bad credit due to past negative events, the first thing you need to do is know exactly what’s on your credit report so that you can know where you need to improve.
Our friends over at QLCredit can help you get your VantageScore 3.0 credit report and score for free from TransUnion every two weeks without affecting your score. This will not only show you what’s on your credit report but also give you ideas on where you can improve.
There are five main factors that influence your credit score:
  • Payment history (35%): On-time payments help your score, while late payments hurt.
  • Balances owed (30%): Your credit utilization is the amount you owe compared to your overall balance. The lower your credit utilization, the better your score.
  • Length of your credit history (15%): The longer you have your credit accounts open, the better.
  • Credit inquiries (10%): If you’re applying for credit or any kind of loan, it’s considered a hard inquiry and affects your score. If you apply for the same type of loan over the course of 30 days while rate shopping, it all counts as one inquiry. Also, soft inquiries on sites like QLCredit to find out what’s on your report don’t count.
  • Credit mix (10%): Another thing creditors want to see is that you have various types of loans and credit. You want to have not only a credit card but also a car or a personal loan.
Other items, like bankruptcies, judgments, collections and charge-offs, can also affect your score. These are bit beyond the scope of this post, but there are things you can do to take care of them.

Explaining Your Low Credit Score

Communicating with a lender during the process is important. If you know what’s going on with your credit, they may be able to help you come up with steps you can take in order to get your credit fixed and get qualified.
This will also help the lender set appropriate expectations for you. If you’ve had a bankruptcy or foreclosure in the past, there may be a waiting period before you can get a mortgage again. Whether you can get a mortgage or not, you’ll know what to expect going in.

Getting a Mortgage with a Lower Credit Score

If you have a less-than-perfect credit, probably the easiest loan to qualify for is FHA. You can get a loan with a credit score is low as 580, assuming you meet other qualifying factors.
If you have a credit score of 620 or higher, you can also qualify with a slightly higher debt-to-income (DTI) ratio – a measurement of the amount of your monthly income that goes to debt payments – of up to 55%, depending on the loan purpose and your other qualification factors. These are Quicken Loans requirements. Other lenders may have different policies.
It’s worth noting that if you make the minimum 3.5% down payment on an FHA loan, you’re going to have to pay mortgage insurance for the lifetime of the loan. With that said, you can always refinance into a conventional loan once your credit score gets to 620 or higher. On a conventional loan, mortgage insurance payments stop once you reach 20% equity.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

10 Female Financial Experts Share Their Favorite Money-Saving Tips for Women

by Cat Alford, October 30, 2017 in Saving Money

We all have a considerable amount of competing financial priorities. We know we should be buying less and saving more, but sometimes it’s hard to put things in perspective.
I talked to 10 different female financial experts and asked them to share their favorite money-saving tips specifically for women. I’ve included their advice below, as well as a tip of my own, and I hope it helps get you started on your path to financial wellness.

Think About Purchases in Terms of Your Values

Miranda Marquit, an award-winning financial writer, told me, “I like to stop and consider whether or not an expenditure makes sense in terms of my values, priorities and goals.” She went on to say, “I’ve decided not to spend just by taking the time to reflect on whether or not a purchase helps me reach a goal or meshes with my priorities.”
Marquit definitely has a point. As women, we’re constantly bombarded by marketing encouraging us to buy, buy and buy some more. We can’t even scroll through a Facebook feed without seeing ads for products that were handpicked for us to see.
That’s why it’s important, as Marquit said, to identify your priorities. If your priority is retiring early or traveling more, make sure you’re not getting tempted by a sale at your favorite store. Instead, stop and remind yourself of where you actually want your money to go.

Don’t Be Afraid to Just Ask

I absolutely love to ask for a deal, much to my husband’s embarrassment. Still, even he can’t argue at some of the great deals I get just because I spoke up!
Bobbi Rebell, author of the book “How to be a Financial Grownup,” agrees. She told me, “My favorite thing that I do is ASK. I ask for discounts on everything.” Ah, Bobbi is a woman after my own heart!
She cautions, though, by adding, “But ask the right way and use the salesperson’s name. If it is in my neighborhood, I ask ‘Do you give a discount for local residents?’ It often gets a smile and 10 percent.”
Also, Rebell says to “always ask with a smile and always give a big thank you.”

Buy High-Quality Clothes on a Discount

In my college days, I used to scour the racks at Forever 21 looking for absolute rock-bottom prices on clothes. Now that I’m a mom and a professional, I really want high-quality clothing that lasts long – without paying the high-quality prices.
Holly Johnson, a frugal living expert and the co-author of the book Zero Down Your Debt,” is the same way. She tells me, “I like buying used name-brand clothes via consignment stores. That way, I get the quality brands that I love without having to pay full price.”
Kayla Sloan, a financial writer and blogger, agrees. She says, “You don’t have to give up shopping completely in order to reach your savings goals. Instead, try shopping used at thrift stores and on websites like thredUP or Poshmark to get high-quality, name-brand or designer clothes for less.” She went on to say, “It’s kind of like having your cake and eating it, too!”
Like Sloan, I also enjoy shopping at thredUP and Poshmark. I’ve purchased extremely nice clothes, including kids’ clothes, on those sites. Just recently, I bought a beautiful pair of Kate Spade flats for 80% off the retail price. You can’t go wrong with that!

Think of Saving Money in a New Way

There is so much psychology behind spending and saving. The way we use our money goes far beyond dollars and cents. Our habits are rooted in our culture, our upbringing and the current societal norms. However, if you think about saving money in a new way, you can often improve your financial situation.
Lauren Bowling, creator of the personal finance blog FinancialBestLife, has a unique and effective way to think about saving money. She says, “I like to think of my savings goals in terms of negative numbers. So if I’m trying to save $1,000, it’s -$1,000, and if I save a $100, then it becomes -$900 instead of +100.”
The reason this works for her, she says, is because “after paying off debt, I find the psychology behind ‘racing to get to zero’ more compelling than trying to save ASAP.”
Emily Guy Birken, author of “End Financial Stress Now,” also encourages women to look at saving from a new perspective. She says, “We tend to think of saving money as deprivation. As in, ‘I have to cut out the things I love to save money.’” However, she says women might save more if we, instead, emulate the world of decluttering. People who declutter get rid of what they don’t like before ever considering getting rid of their grandmother’s china. Guy Birken says we can apply this same concept to money.
She says, “Identify the things you can’t live without, and the things you truly wouldn’t miss. Start by cutting the easy stuff, and work your way up to more difficult expenses if you need to save more money.” For example, it might be easier to cut the cable than it is to let go of your cherished weekly yoga class.

Look Around Your House

Sometimes even the simplest changes at home can really help improve your bottom line and save you money on your monthly expenses.
Mindy Jensen, the community manager for , an 800,000-member real estate investing site, suggests buying LED light bulbs, which can be “under $5 (depending on the size/style) and last for decades. Plus, they use a fraction of the electricity that an incandescent bulb would, so you pay a bit more upfront, but save every month after.”
Jensen is also a huge fan of DIY projects. She encourages women to try their hand at fixing minor issues around the house by watching YouTube videos. When in doubt, partner with a friend or family member and ask them to help you.
As a first-time homebuyer, I absolutely appreciate her advice. Buying a simple tool for $40 to unclog a stubborn toilet recently saved us a $150 visit from a plumber. Sometimes, you have to just get the guts to try something (within reason) to see if you can save money by doing it yourself.

Take 5 Minutes to Search for Discount Codes

Zina Kumok, an accomplished blogger and financial writer, told me, “My favorite savings tip is to always look for a discount code before you buy something online. It’s rare that you can’t find a quick 10 – 20% if you look hard enough. Doing this regularly can save you hundreds each year!”
I agree with Kumok. In fact, I have the Honey App installed on my browser. This extension searches for coupon codes for whatever website you’re using to shop. I’ve had great luck using it on Amazon, too, because sometimes it shows you sellers with lower prices (they just may not be shipping Prime, for example).

Don’t Blow Your Windfalls

Have you ever received a bonus at work? What about an inheritance or a refund you weren’t expecting? Natalie Bacon, a financial blogger and certified financial planner, says, “My favorite money-saving tip is to earmark windfalls and raises for specific financial goals, such as saving for an emergency fund or paying off debt.”
I agree. While it might be exciting in the moment to receive a big check, try to use it in a smart way to better your financial life long term.

Be Aware and Write It Down

Lastly, saving money really comes down to awareness. At the end of the day, you can’t save money if you aren’t paying attention to your wallet, your habits and your goals. Emilie Burke the personal finance blogger behind Burke Does, agrees. She says, “The best way to save money is to be conscious of how you’re spending money. When you write down every way you spend money before you do it (whether it’s an app on your phone or pen and paper), you will be forced to face the realities of your spending behaviors.”
And, I’ll end with a financial tip of my own, one that I’ve shared with thousands of women over the past few years on my personal finance blog: Get used to the word “no.”
Every single day, I have to tell myself no. That might be as big as not buying a pair of new $100 fall boots or as simple as not putting my favorite cookie in the grocery cart. I practice this word “no” a lot because managing money takes discipline. I don’t tell myself “no” when it comes to every purchase every day. I just exercise the muscle to keep myself in check. That way, I’m always on top of my spending patterns.
Ultimately, if you want to be better about saving money, look no further than some of the tips mentioned above. Even though we have a lot of different to-do lists and expenses, there is absolutely room in all of our lives to be financially savvy and confident. Just start with some of the tips above, and go from there.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

10 Life Hacks to Help You Free Up Money

 by Kevin Graham, September 17, 2015 in Saving Money

Are you looking for ways you can cut down on expenses and put a little extra money aside? Maybe you’re looking to budget more efficiently, fund that big vacation or save for retirement.
This post is dedicated to little tricks to keep more of your money in your pocket. You can have a little fun with these things, too.
 1. Call to Cancel. See How They React.
Savings doesn’t always mean going without. Sometimes when you call to cancel a service (e.g. cable, Internet, satellite radio, etc.), they’re very motivated to retain you as a client. After all, some of your money is better than none at all.
If they’re focused on retention, they may give you a reduced rate for a certain period of time or direct you to a plan that costs less without 37 channels that show 20-year-old movies.
Another good strategy in this situation is to research their competition. Tell them you’re switching to Competitor X who’s offering the same or better level of service for $50 cheaper. Play them against each other. Even if they just offer to match, this works to your advantage. You don’t have to take the equipment back.

2. Cut the Cord

A lot of people are cutting the cord and canceling cable for good. A couple of technological developments happening right now make this very possible.
For starters, you can now get HDTV out of an antenna to watch your local programming. You can also subscribe to multiple services like Netflix, Hulu and even HBO online to get your television for less than you would pay on a monthly basis for a cable subscription.
However, you might run into a problem with sports. Many games are shown on cable, but all the major professional leagues have their own subscription services now. Just be aware you may have to pick and choose sports to make cutting the cord cost-effective.

3. Reacquaint Yourself with Your Local Library

I seem to recall my library as being a place where I went to pick up the occasional book for school. When I went back with my sister to get a book she wanted to read, I probably hadn’t set foot in the public library in four years.
I took some time to browse. While it was good to see they still have books at the library, the CDs and DVDs were a definite surprise.
When I got to the counter, the librarian who asked me if I wanted to renew my library card told me I can check out e-books. It was as if I’d been transported to an alternate dimension. Giraffes might as well have been serving ice cream.
Seriously though, your library may have a lot more education and entertainment options than it used to. It may be worth checking out if you haven’t been there in a while.

4. Lunch at the Grocery Store

I’ve been known to partake of the grocery store sample line a time or two. It wasn’t until a couple years ago that I realized a motivated person has many choices, often including dessert, from the sample lines. Why do you think everyone is queued up when you go in there on a particularly busy Saturday? They’ve discovered a secret.
“Of course I’ll try the chicken cordon bleu…Why yes! I think I’ll have a butterscotch cookie.”
It’s important to note that the portions are small. You can definitely make this work for lunch, but not dinner.

5. Pay Attention to Those Receipts

After you’ve done your shopping (and maybe gotten a midday meal in the bargain), it’s time to head to the cash register. However, it’s important to remember the savings don’t always stop when you check out
Many stores add coupons to the backs of receipts now. It’s their way of keeping you coming back for more, but it also saves you money to use those coupons.

6. Get That Deposit Back

Many states charge a small deposit on the purchase of all bottles and cans. You get that deposit back when you bring them back to the store and feed the machine.
You won’t be able to retire early on the amount you get back, but it will give you some spare change for the drive-through.

7. Save Those Ketchup Packets

My grandpa goes to fast food places every so often and orders inside. When he comes back with lunch, he’ll always bring back a mountain of napkins. To this day, I’m not sure how he does it, but we’re never out.
My grandpa is an extreme example, but it proves a point. If they give you four sauce packets and you only use two, stick the others in a drawer. They could come in handy when you run out. You’ll also be well-stocked when the zombie apocalypse causes a worldwide shortage of whatever that stuff is they use for onion ring sauce.

8. Rewards Programs

Many businesses will have rewards programs for their customers. You can shop around to see who gives you the best deal. There are programs for things like credit cards, airline miles and grocery stores.
Although the traditional ones are above, you can find rewards programs for all sorts of things. Every time I go to my local movie theater, they try to get me to join their rewards program. One day, I will go often enough to make it worthwhile.

9. Attend Matinee Movies

There’s not many things I want to roll out of bed before 9 a.m. on a Saturday for, but my thrifty nature will occasionally pull me away from my pillow for a matinee movie. Different theaters will have different times, but if you go to one of the early showings, you can often get a ticket $5 or $6.
It can be super cheap entertainment if you manage to run through without succumbing to the smell of the popcorn stand. Sadly, this is one magic trick I’ve yet to master. I do have a trick I learned in high school for cheap dates though:
If you and your friend are going to drink the same beverage, don’t go with two smalls. It’s often cheaper to get a large drink and two straws. Just make sure you know whose is whose.
The same matinee strategy will work if you go to the theater for a play as well.

10. Gift Card Sites

Thankfully, no one has ever given me a gift card to Pottery Barn. I know in a couple of years when I’m getting married and looking to move into my first place with my beautiful bride, I’ll rue writing this because we’ll be registered there or something.
As a single dude in my mid-20s, I just don’t think I’m in their target demographic.
However, there are sites online where I could sell such a gift card to someone else at a slight discount to benefit us both. I’ve converted a gift card I wasn’t going to use into cash and gotten a deal on something I’d use.