Thursday, January 29, 2009

Simple Secrets to Work Smarter & Save Money by Getting Organized

(ARA) – In today’s economy, when one overlooked deadline can cost you business or your job, and one late bill can lower your credit score, it’s important to have the edge that organization gives you in both your personal and professional lives.

Working moms especially need superior organization and scheduling skills, as 60 percent say they have more household responsibilities on their plate this year than they did in 2008, according to a survey of 500 working mothers by Braun Research on behalf of Office Depot.  Eighty-seven percent say they want to be more organized this year, and 65 percent believe that being well organized will help their families save money.

“Being organized and working smarter starts with creating new habits and systems,” says Monica Ricci, Office Depot’s organizing expert. “By making small changes and choosing the right products for their needs, busy professionals and moms can dramatically improve their productivity as well as save money in 2009.”

Ricci offers some simple advice to help you get organized:

Work Smarter

* Learn to delegate. Just because something needs to be done, don’t think you are the only one who can do it. Focus on your core strengths and delegate other tasks to trusted colleagues and outside vendors who can do the job quicker and better than you.

* Lighten your load when traveling. When you fly, save time and checked bag fees by carrying everything aboard in your carry-on bag. Opt for a light, travel-friendly laptop like the Acer Aspire Netbook. Taking everything you need on board allows you to work on the plane and hit the ground running, without having to wait at a baggage claim carousel.

* Set up for business at home. If you are thinking about starting a business out of your home, create a separate workspace by purchasing essential supplies such as a separate business phone, all-in-one printer, computer you can take on the go, data protection service like the HP Upline Data Storage Service and a shredder like the Fellowes Jam Proof Shredder to dispose of confidential customer information.

Get Organized to Save Money

*Trade in outdated technology for cash. Outdated computer peripherals, cameras, monitors and other equipment can clutter your work environment and slow you down. Take advantage of technology trade-in programs that allow you to bring in certain electronic items for a cash credit. Office Depot’s Tech Trade-In Service provides store gift cards for customers that trade in their old technology. Simply visit for a free estimate on the value of your product.

*Create a bill-paying system. In today’s economy, on-time payments have never been more important, yet over half (58 percent) of working moms say they’ve forgotten to pay a bill on time. Save money by creating a bill paying station in your home.  Set up an “Inbox” and “Outbox” for all your bills.

*Buy only what you need. Retailers like Office Depot are now repackaging essentials like Sharpie’s in single packs so you save money and get only what you need for the time being.  Don’t purchase anything without getting added value in this economy – sign up for loyalty programs and look out for bundled product offerings to save.

Smart Tax Tips

* Don’t wait until April to begin sorting your receipts and tax documents from last year. Organize them throughout the year by collecting, sorting and categorizing tax-related paperwork into separate files. At the end of each month, run a tally and staple the tape into the inside of the folder. Then, at the end of the year, just total all the tapes and store the files with your completed tax return.

* Whenever you generate a receipt that has tax implications, immediately write on it what it’s for. You won’t remember what that February 2009 receipt was for when you next look at it in April 2010. Also, if you’re ever audited, your notes will help substantiate deductions on your tax return.

* Use a highlighter to mark the date and total amount of the receipt. This will save you time and effort at the end of the month when you’re totaling receipts because the important information will stand out. You won’t have to re-read every receipt to find the information you need.

For more tips and products to help you get organized, or to find a store near you, visit

Courtesy of ARAcontent

Monday, January 26, 2009

Economy Bringing Kids or Grandparents Home?

Cope by Finishing the Basement

(ARA) – Charmaine Gardner of West Hempstead, N.Y., spent three years looking for a house, but with the unstable housing market and rising taxes, she just wasn’t comfortable with the idea of buying. “As a single mom, I didn’t want to live paycheck to paycheck, so I had the idea of remodeling my mom’s unfinished basement for us to all live together.”

From 1990 to 2001, multi-generational households increased about 60 percent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Many of the pressures that drove that increase – lack of affordable housing and a high cost of living – are even more relevant today.

“More homeowners are finding that a professionally finished basement is a great way to create more living space at a lower cost than building an addition,” says Sal Ferro, president and chief executive officer of Alure, the home improvement company that worked with Gardner to install the Owens Corning Basement Finishing System. “Remodeling your basement can immediately enhance the enjoyment of a home by providing more usable space while helping to reduce whole-house energy costs. The living space gained can also help improve resale value should you decide to sell the property.”

“My twin girls are comfortably sharing the large bedroom and I have the smaller bedroom,” says Gardner. “The layout of the bathroom and living area is very large, and we have our own separate entrance. It’s exactly what we needed and it was finished in just a few weeks.”

Finishing a basement is a complicated job and generally beyond the scope of most do-it-yourself homeowners. The Owens Corning Basement Finishing System Gardner chose created usable living space in as little as two weeks. Professionals install the wall system with built-in thermal and acoustic benefits around the room. The walls are durable, resist dents and stains, and easily turn a cold concrete basement into warm, comfortable space that can be used for bedrooms, baths, kitchen areas, office space or family rooms.

There are several ways to utilize your new space, depending on the size of the basement and the family members you’re planning to accommodate. For example, if you’ve been using one of your bedrooms as a home office, but now need that space for a new baby or an aging parent, you can shift the office to a comfortable finished room in your new basement. Or, if you now need to convert your game room into a large bedroom to accommodate live-in parents, a finished basement can be a great place to put the family room. And of course any household with multiple generations can use another bathroom.

“My objective was to find a way to make the basement look like a lower level to the house,” Gardner says. “The Owens Corning Basement Finishing System achieved exactly the look I wanted in only three weeks. I’m happy to have accomplished my goal, my mother is happy to have her granddaughters close to watch them grow, and the girls now have a beautiful place to live.”

Courtesy of ARAcontent

Friday, January 23, 2009

1st Time homebuyers-Buy a home Before Filing Taxes this year

Before you file your taxes this year, don't forget about the $7500 tax credit for first-time home buyers, which was enacted by the 2008 American Housing Rescue and Foreclosure Act. Designed to help stimulate interest in the housing market, this temporary provision provides a first-time home buyer (someone who hasn't owned a home in the last three years) a tax credit of up to $7500 for homes purchased between April 8, 2008 and July 1, 2009. Basically the tax credit, which must be repaid over 15 years, is an interest-free loan from the government to help you offset the costs of home ownership.

But here's the best part. The law allows qualified taxpayers to take the credit against either their 2008 or 2009 taxes. This means, if you qualify, you can buy a house this year before July 1st and receive the credit on the 2008 tax returns you're filling out right now. Imagine having an extra $7500 in cash to pay bills or credit cards or even pay for renovations on your new home. If you choose to utilize the credit on your 2009 returns, your tax professional can help you reduce income tax withholding up to the amount of the credit. This will help you to increase your take-home pay throughout the year to save money for a down payment for a qualified purchase before July 1st.

There are certain income restrictions and rules for repayment, but give us call today to learn more about this valuable government program for first-time home buyers.

Courtesy of All About News

Monday, January 19, 2009

6 Reasons to Love Stainless Steel

(ARA) – Glistening metal discretely mounted beneath acres of gleaming granite – clearly, this is not the utilitarian stainless steel sink your grandmother washed dishes in decades ago. Briefly deemed too industrial-looking by some designers to be included in contemporary, upscale kitchens, stainless steel is back, better and more beautiful than ever.

“A well-made stainless steel sink is the little black dress for your kitchen,” says Ken Fey, vice president at stainless steel sink maker Houzer Inc. “Stainless steel has transitioned from industrial applications like medical and food-service to residential use for very good reasons. Stainless steel offers exceptional hygienic and durability qualities, it ages gracefully and beautifully and it’s a ‘green’ building material.”

Stainless steel is again enjoying a place of honor in American kitchens. Here are six reasons to love stainless steel:

1. It’s ‘Green’

The trend towards “green” building and decor is still going strong, with more homeowners, builders and designers looking for materials and practices that will reduce a home’s environmental impact. Stainless steel fits the “green” bill because it is recyclable. And modern stainless steel sinks, like Houzer’s Novus Sink Series, are often made from recycled materials. In addition, stainless steel’s durability ensures years of use and beauty, minimizing the need to replace and discard older, worn out sinks – thereby keeping them out of the waste stream.

2. It Looks Great

Gleaming, clean-looking with elegant lines, stainless steel easily pairs well with a range of decorating styles – from modern to contemporary to country. Stainless steel sinks also develop character as they age. Scratches in your enamel or solid surface sink might spell the end for the fixture, but stainless steel develops a patina of small scratches over years of use, lending it a natural depth of character that can easily be cleaned and buffed to shine like new.

3. It’s Versatile

Versatility is as important as beauty in modern kitchen design, and new stainless steel sinks are more versatile than ever. With design options ranging from two- and three-bowl sinks and the ability to be mounted beneath countertops, to the capability of expanding a cook’s usable work space, stainless steel sinks afford wide adaptability. Extending countertop space is a popular feature, and sinks like Houzers Novus series meet the challenge with two sliding, removable platforms -- one with an integrated drainboard -- that are perfect for meal prep, staging and cleanup.

4. It’s Durable

Stainless steel is relatively light when compared to other sink materials, yet it offers strength and durability that ensure years of use when properly cared for. Modern styles achieve strength and a modern look without seams and mount well under the counter. Stainless is also easy to clean and naturally germ resistant.

5. It’s Budget Friendly

Whether you have the budget of a home improvement show or a more modest amount to spend on your kitchen renovation, you can find a stainless steel sink to fit your budget. It’s possible to find an affordable, modest stainless sink for a few hundred dollars. And designer sinks, like the Novus line, sell at prices that compete credibly with high-end designer sinks of more trendy materials.

6. It’s Timeless

Stainless steel lends itself to the classic clean lines of many contemporary kitchen designs, lifestyles and tastes. Once a stainless steel sink becomes the showpiece of a kitchen, its versatility and durability ensure that multiple owners will be able to use and enjoy it for many years.

To learn more about the advantages of stainless and to find a Houzer dealer near you, go to

Courtesy of ARAcontent

Friday, January 9, 2009

A Taxing Time of Year

Tips to Make Your Tax Season Go Smoothly

It's that time again...time to start gathering all of that dreaded documentation to send to good old Uncle Sam! Recent stats say the IRS audited approximately 1 out of every 97 returns last year, so it pays to be careful. And even though this may seem like a very painful process, taking just a few simple steps right now will make your tax filing far easier and more accurate.

Keep it together. Make a quick list of all the documents or statements that were needed to complete your return last year – or call your tax planning professional for a checklist. Use this as a checklist to make sure you have a good start on the documents you may need this year. As you receive tax documents in the mail, grab your checklist, and mark the item as received. Then, keep all of the tax documents together in a large file or envelope marked "2008 TAXES."

Do the math. According to the IRS, the most common mistake on tax returns is bad math – from transposed numbers to downright incorrect data. And with one form leading to another, those errors can make a huge impact. Even if you use tax software, you're not off-the-hook – since it only adds the numbers YOU put in. Double-check entries carefully.

Every last cent. The IRS receives copies of your Form 1099 earnings each tax season. So, they know how much you make in interest and dividend income, and they will use that info to double-check your filing information. Make sure you collect all your earnings statements and document them on your return.

Sign on the line. It sounds almost silly, but forgetting to sign a return is actually a fairly common oversight. And the IRS won't process a return that doesn't have a signature. So, make sure you sign to avoid resubmitting your paperwork and possibly paying late-filing fees.

Remember, there isn't a lot of room for error when you're dealing with the IRS. A slight miscalculation could mean the difference between getting a return and writing a check – or worse, paying a penalty. It pays to work with a tax professional.

Beware of Tax Scams this Time of Year

As tax season rolls around, so do the scam artists. That's right...phishing criminals who want your personal information use this hectic and confusing time of year to prey on unsuspecting individuals.

These unscrupulous scammers send spam emails that appear to be from the IRS. These emails are often written to persuade you to link to a website that will allow you to update your data or receive important information. Remember, these phishing emails are quite sophisticated, and the links send you to what usually appear to be legitimate IRS or government websites. In reality, they are not. These sites will prompt you to divulge private information under the guise of the IRS requiring it, or sometimes, ironically, to protect you from identity theft or loss of privacy.

Although these emails are sophisticated and appear to be genuine, there are some simple steps you can take to avoid falling prey to one of these scams.

Always be suspicious of emails. Remember, the IRS does NOT initiate communication with taxpayers through email, but rather through the regular mail. If you receive an email that says it's from the IRS, you should immediately be suspicious and should forward it in its entirety to the IRS, so that they can take steps to shut down the fraudulent and bogus websites. The IRS requests that you forward all questionable emails to

Double-check the URL address. Keep in mind that all IRS websites begin with the following web address: So, if you ever click a link in an email or visit a website that you believe is related to the IRS, the first thing you should do is confirm that the website begins with the correct URL address. Remember, sometimes it may "look" legitimate, but is actually an imposter site that is phishing for information. So always, always double-check the actual URL address before you type any information in the site.

Exercise extreme caution with attachments. When it comes to questionable emails, the best practice is to never open any attachments. That's because attachments are an extremely common method that hackers use to infect your computer with programs that may harm your computer or steal your personal information – often without you even knowing!

In today's technological environment, electronic communication offers us tremendous speed and convenience. But it can also be used for unethical purposes by scammers. Most organizations have worked very hard to put strict privacy policies in place. As a result, government agencies and financial institutions will almost NEVER ask you to divulge personal information via email.

If you receive any email asking for personal information of any kind, you should immediately be suspicious. When in doubt, call the customer service lines listed on your statements or documents and discuss the email that you received.

Make Sure You Get Your Money Now...Rather than Waiting for a Refund Next Year

While you're getting your tax information ready for the past year, it's a good time to look ahead to the coming year. For many of us, it's a constant balancing act to make sure we're withholding enough so that we don't have to pay at the end of the year, but getting a return at the end of the year isn't necessarily the best plan either. When you think about it, getting a refund check means that you let the IRS use your money throughout the year without paying you any interest. Wouldn't you rather have that money to use during the year?

Here's how you do it. The IRS allows you to increase the number of dependants on your W-4 withholding form, meaning that less will be withheld for taxes from each paycheck. But don't go overboard. You should only lessen the periodic tax withholding to match the expected refund. This way you are taking your refund as you go...instead of letting the IRS hold on to it.

Believe it or not, the IRS actually makes it easy to calculate! The IRS offers a handy IRS Bean Counter calculator for free, which lets you see how a change in withholding will affect your paycheck. Take advantage of this calculator today to see how changes can impact your take-home pay.

By following the tips above, you can help eliminate some of the frustration from tax season, as well as make sure you're on track for the coming year. Remember, before you make any changes, you want to be sure you are balancing the amounts carefully and correctly, so it's always a good idea to check with your tax professional.

Source Powered by DB Nurture

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

4 Things to Consider When Picking a Floor Plan

Factors that dictate what floor plan will work best for a home buyer include how old their children are, how they entertain, and whether they have pets, says Jeff Benach, a principal with Lexington Homes in the Chicago area.

Here are some issues Benach suggests considering when buying a home:

Mudrooms.-A spacious mud-room can make managing a young family’s comings and going much easier. They are also good for pet owners.

Over-sized kitchen/family-room combinations- These rooms work for some people, but they aren’t good for party givers because large spaces are noisy and don’t lend themselves to intense cooking and food staging.

Fireplaces and windows - Filling more than one wall with windows and occupying another with a fireplace makes it difficult to position furniture.

Consider that things change-Designing areas so they can be retooled to meet new and different needs down the road is a smart approach.

Source: Chicago Tribune, Allison E. Beatty (01/02/09)

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

How to Feel at Home After You Move

(ARA) - Moving to a new community can be a great adventure, if you go with the right attitude and a sound strategy for settling in. Make an action plan and you’ll stay focused, organized and proactive -- just what’s needed to put roots down fast.

Before You Go
* Complete a change of address form with the post office, which can be done online at You'll also want to send your new address to any publications you subscribe to, as it can take up to eight weeks for the change to become effective.
* Contact the local Visitor’s Bureau for materials about your new town, which should include a map. Identify important routes, such as those between your home and your office or your child’s school.
* Make initial contact with childcare facilities. Depending on the area you move to, you may need to put your name on a waiting list.
* If possible, enroll your children in school. Firm plans will reduce the stress.
* Pack a box with essentials for your first few nights, such as prescription medicine, toiletries, a telephone, clothing, towels, toilet paper and bed linen.
* You’ll also want to make arrangements to have utilities transferred to your name or turned on. In addition, you will want to set up appointments to have services such as telephone, cable and high-speed Internet connected.

Upon Arrival
* For safety and peace of mind, change the locks. You never know who has a copy of the house key.
* Locate emergency services -- police and fire stations and the closest hospital.
* Hang drapes or curtains to give you some privacy.
* Select one room, perhaps the family room, as a place of refuge. Make it a cozy space, free of unpacked boxes, empty cartons or anything else move-related.
* Stock the fridge with prepared entrees and the makings for no-fuss meals.

The First Week
* Check with the post office to see if they are holding mail for you. Finish sending out change of address to credit card companies, clubs, associations, friends and family.
* File away all documents related to the move. You’ll need them for verification of moving expenses at tax time.
* Call your waste removal company or department of sanitation for a trash collection schedule.
* Open a bank account and arrange for a safe deposit box, if needed.
* Obtain a local driver’s license and transfer the vehicle registration.
* Register to vote. Call the local Board of Elections for information.
* Take a tour of your neighborhood to become familiar with your new surroundings. Learn the routes to work, school, grocers, etc.

Help Your Children Adjust
* Maintain family routines. Kids will appreciate the continuity of family life.
* Involve the kids. Allow them to select new furnishings or decorate their rooms.
* Take your children to the local playground. If you move during the summer, it’s likely they’ll make friends there, which should ease the transition to the new school.
* Try to be home when the children return from their first day at school. Kids feel reassured when a parent is there to hear about their day.
* Watch for signs of adjustment problems. These can manifest with trouble-making friends, academic difficulties and irritability or depression.

Get Involved in the Community
* Spend time outdoors. Neighbors may greet you and come by for sidewalk chats.
* Walk your dog in an area where you see other dog owners congregating.
* Schedule an after-work coffee or dessert hour. Invite neighbors to drop by.
* Choose a place to worship and get involved; consider doing volunteer work.
* Select professional service providers such as doctor, dentist and financial and/or tax advisor.
Find out if your community has a Newcomers Club. Your local library is a good place to start.
* Join a club or take up activities you enjoyed before the move.
* Take a job-related class to develop new professional contacts and update skills.

Don't hesitate to contact local financial and real estate professionals for more ideas or information about your new community. By re-establishing daily patterns and developing ties soon after arrival, your new environment will feel like home in no time.

Courtesy of ARAcontent

Breakfast Treat

Make a Breakfast Worth Waking Up For

When the weather's cold, you need a little extra incentive to get out of
bed. Planning a healthy,warm and delicious breakfast can only make dark
winter mornings feel that much brighter.
Few Americans eat enough fruit, so why not fit some fresh, healthy foods
into your regular daily routine? Citrus fruit makes for a wonderful
wintertime treat. Grapefruit and oranges are free of fat, saturated fat and
cholesterol.They also contain 100% of your vitamin C, as well as vitamin
A and dietary fiber.

Warm Texas Citrus with Brown Sugar
(Makes 4 servings)

2 medium Rio Star Grapefruit, sectioned
2 medium Texas Oranges, sectioned
1 cup fresh pineapple chunks
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
2 tablespoons butter, softened
1. In a medium bowl, combine grapefruit, oranges and pineapple.
Transfer to a 1-quart broiler-safe casserole dish.
2. In a small bowl, stir together brown sugar and butter until well
mixed; sprinkle over fruit.
3. Broil about 4 inches from heat for 5 to 6 minutes until sugar is
bubbly and fruit is warmed.
Grapefruit make for an especially sweet and delicious morning meal.