Do It Yourself, Financial Women

TOP 5 WAYS TO PAY FOR YOUR SPRING HOME IMPROVEMENT PROJECTS

 

John Holt, President/CEO & Contributing Writer,

Nutmeg State Financial Credit Union

This is the time of year that many Connecticut homeowners start dreaming of gleaming granite, custom cabinets or a beautiful bathroom. But before nailing down a new remodeling project, the loan specialists at Nutmeg State Financial Credit Union caution homeowners that their financing plans may need a redesign.

“Rising interest rates have made many homeowners reluctant to lose their low mortgage rates by selling and purchasing a new house, so they are spending big on home improvements,” explained John Holt, President & CEO of Nutmeg State. “However, they should keep in mind those higher interest rates will increase their cost of borrowing.”

Holt notes that the Federal Reserve raised its key short-term interest rate on March 21st and forecasts a total of three hikes this year. This will have a big impact on homeowners with adjustable-rate mortgages or home equity lines of credit that are nearing the end of their draw period when payments switch from being interest-only to including principal as well.

In addition to home loans, the amount that consumers pay to finance other debt like credit cards and car loans will rise. This means borrowers need to review all of their financial obligations.

“There are many ways to finance home repairs and our knowledgeable staff is an excellent resource to answer any questions,” suggested Holt. “The best method to finance all depends on how much you want to spend and how long you want to take to pay it off.”

Holt shares the most common types of loans:

HOME EQUITY LOANS– Home equity financing is best when making a larger home repair or improvement, like adding a deck or a pool. The interest on these loans typically has lots of tax benefits, but recent tax changes may have an impact.

HELOC (HOME EQUITY LINE OF CREDIT) – The tax benefits for home equity lines of credit have changed recently, but for many people, this borrowing option is still best because of the flexibility of its use. Homeowners can borrow and pay it down as they go, versus a loan which is one lump sum.

SMART-E LOANS – If a home improvement is related to improving the home’s energy efficiency, there’s excellent borrowing options. Some examples include oil-to-gas conversions, new windows, insulation, and new heating and cooling. These all qualify for special low interest-loans through the Smart-e program. The low interest is made possible because the government helps offset some of the costs.

HOME REFINACING – Another borrowing option that works for many people is refinancing the home. Depending on how much of the first mortgage is paid down, owners can refinance their mortgage and take advantage of a “cash out” option. This means there is still only one mortgage loan, but some of it can be used for home improvements or repairs.

CREDIT CARDS – Borrowing using a credit card is also the most practical option for many people. There are lots of smaller expenses that come up all year for homeowners. Credit Cards can be a great option, but be sure to use them wisely! Look for cards that have benefits like rewards or lower fees and take advantage of special promotions.

Holt wants to remind everyone that rising interest rates are actually good news for savers who may finally see interest on deposits increase. He notes savers are more likely to get a higher return at a credit union. Since a credit union is a member owned, not-for-profit, financial institution, they are able to return profits to their members in the form of excellent rates, programs and services.

“With so many factors impacting loans this year, I strongly encourage everyone to compare all of their financing options with us then consult with their tax professionals to make sure they choose the best one for their situation,” concludes Holt.

For more information you can contact Nutmeg at www.nutmegstatefcu.org for more information.

Do It Yourself

Mason Jars Are Literally the Best

Mason Jars Are Literally the Best

 

by Anne Wolfe Postic , contributing writer

 

Well, no. They aren’t “literally” the best, but what is? They’re pretty great, and I’m not the sort of person who gives out homemade holiday gifts or puts up my own jam or artichoke relish, so I don’t even need them. (Hint: I love it when people give me artichoke relish, because it’s super hard to make and I’m lazy.)

Anyhow, I love mason jars and I collect all the empties when friends bring me things. And when I run out of empties, I check Goodwill where it always seems like someone has just dropped off a nice selection, now available for almost free.

For those of you who don’t can or preserve or look at Pinterest, trust me, you still want the mason jars. Here’s how to use them:

 

  • 1. Quick Pickles

 

I’m not asking you to spend the whole day pickling stuff, only to risk your family and friend’s lives by forgetting if you sterilized one of the lids. Nope. I’m asking you to slice up some jalapeños and peel a few cloves of garlic. Now shove them in a mason jar, packing it as tightly as you can. Heat a mixture of half vinegar, half water on the stove, adding a few dashes of salt and sugar. When it boils, use a funnel to pour it over the peppers and garlic. Screw on the top real tight and turn the jars upside down on the counter. (Why upside down? So the peppers at the top get fully immersed in vinegar.)

When the jar’s cool, stick it in the fridge until you’re ready to eat the peppers. You can’t keep it in the pantry, but they’ll last a good long while in the fridge. At my house, they only last about a week, because we eat them. You can do the same thing with cucumbers, but you might want to add a little pickling spice and dill to the jar. (Or gochujang chili powder. Trust.)

Now take your pickles to the beach or the mountains, or wherever you want to eat them. Which leads us to the next excellent use for mason jars.

 

  • 2. Vacation Food Storage

 

You know when you rent a place and have to clean out the fridge at the end of the week? And you’re super bummed because you don’t want to ditch your leftovers but you’re also not the kind of jerk that steals containers from rental houses? Look at that. Y’all ate up all the pickles and those mason jars are ready for leftover pesto, the last smidge of potato salad, a handful of watermelon cubes, or whatever else you couldn’t quite finish*. And there’s no risk of leaking if they fall over in your cooler on the way home.

  • 3. Sending Leftovers Home with a Guest

If you made way too much soup, and it was decent soup (or collards or pasta sauce or rice), chances are good one of your guests will be happy to take some home. Mason jars are perfect to-go containers because it doesn’t really matter if you get them back. Because sooner or later, someone will leave an extra at your house.

 

  • 4. Vases

 

Thank you, Martha Stewart, who may not have done it first, but she sure did perfect it. As an aside, would Pinterest even exist without Martha? And I seriously doubt Martha cares about Pinterest. Mason jars have been elevated beyond their humble beginnings and you see them on all kinds of tablescapes. I mean, the fact that I even used the word “tablescape” is a fine indication of how fancy they are.

 

  • 5. Food-You-Have-to-Shake Storage

 

If you’re a fan of green juice, or homemade salad dressing, or juicing all the lemons and limes before they get mushy, you know the fear of shaking something in a plastic container. Because that one time? The lid came flying off and your day was ruined. The mason jar stays tightly sealed, no matter how much you shake it, perfect for remixing remarrying the kale juice to the pineapple juice, because the kale juice is nasty on its own.

You see? There are all sorts of uses for mason jars that don’t involve glue guns or awkward construction that just screams trying-too-hard-to-be-a-hipster-but-are-hipsters-even-a-thing-anymore-or-were-they-ever-what-even-is-this-and-who-am-I-anyway? Let us just marvel at the practical nature of the mason jar and leave it at that.

Now for a little mason jar wisdom: Cheap as I am, I do have one suggestion, but it won’t cost much. You can buy replacement lids for next to nothing. The glass lasts forever unless you break it, but the lids rust, so it’s nice to have a few sizes on hand so you can keep using your jars.

So, what are your favorite uses for mason jars? And don’t you dare come at me with yarn, a glue gun, or a paint pen, because I am not crafty! LOL!

Do It Yourself

How NOT to Landscape Your Yard!

Below I warn you about landscaping errors to avoid. Most of these errors are not catastrophic. Nonetheless, it’s often the little things that add up to make or break a landscape design so it behooves you to avoid these mistakes.

Let me also note that, while these lessons are intended for homeowners who do not in any way consider themselves experts in landscape design, I do assume that you’ve at least dabbled in gardening a bit. This will help you avoid basic mistakes such as placing sun-loving plants in shaded areas and trying to grow plants in soil that is too poor to support them.

Error #1: Installing Plants Along Your House Foundation That Will Quickly Outgrow the Space

Many foundation plantings look great at the outset but then disappoint at a later time. A common reason for this denouement is the failure to research the mature dimensions of the plants involved. You may have fallen in love with that shrub or tree at the garden center, but your love will one day turn sour when you find that the plant has become a nuisance — something that you have to keep trimming back because it wants to outgrow its allotted space.

Dwarf trees can be a great choice in such circumstances. But do not think only of the eventual height of a plant when you make your calculations. Width matters, too. That’s why columnar shrubs such as Sky Pencil holly are potentially useful as foundation plants.

Error #2: Employing Ground Covers That Do Their Jobs Too Well

Their very name bespeaks their function: “ground covers” stay relatively low and are supposed to cover ground in your landscape that would otherwise be full of weeds. As opportunistic as weeds are, it would obviously be advantageous to select a ground cover that’s dynamic, something that will spread out and fill in an area (with a little help from you) before weeds can gain a toehold.

Well, maybe “obviously” is too strong a word there. The fact is, selecting the optimal ground cover is more complex than simply choosing one that grows robustly and looks pretty. Some do their jobs so well that they become weeds of a sort, in their own right.

Many homeowners have come to regret planting English ivy, for example, discovering too late its tendency to get out of hand. Some of the worst offenders are ground covers that thrive in shade: they have to be vigorous growers to make it in such conditions. And that very vigor can backfire on you.

Error #3: Making Snap Judgments Regarding the Selection and Use of Mulch

Also more complex than they might at first appear are decisions regarding mulch selection and the use of mulch in your landscape. There’s a lot that can go wrong here, and the ramifications range from causing plant damage to causing yourself extra work.

A type of mulch that’s perfectly good for use around many plants can be a lousy choice around certain others. For example, one year I got the bright idea of applying some pine needles as a mulch in a bed where I was growing creeping thyme. Big mistake. Winds kept blowing the pine needles into the creeping thyme, where they would become hopelessly entangled, spoiling the looks of my thyme ground cover. I was constantly extricating the needles. That was a chore I didn’t need!

A mulch comprised of tiny stones can be even worse in this regard. Avoid using such a mulch anywhere where you do not plan on keeping it — for a long time. The stones eventually work their way down through the soil and become a nightmare to extricate.

So far I’ve spoken only of inconvenience. But some poor mulch choices can be downright harmful to your plants. Have you ever heard of “mulch volcanoes?” Then there’s the question of timing. As beneficial as mulch can be in helping you get your perennials through the winter, you’d better know when to remove mulch in spring. My FAQ on garden mulch will answer some of the questions novices have on the subject.

Error #4: Failure to Position Plants So As to Achieve an Optimal Display

Admittedly, this category is far-ranging, but it’s too important to ignore. Nothing less than your full enjoyment of your landscape is at stake here. And isn’t that what it’s all about?

If nothing else, this is a good place to include the oft-repeated dictum of the landscape designer to plant in masses rather than in a hodge-podge. For example, let’s say you’ve just bought a few flats of red salvia from the nursery. You’ll achieve a bigger impact by grouping them together than by planting one here, one there.

But don’t stop there when it comes to considering how to position plants to create an optimal display with them. I’ll relate a couple of insights I’ve arrived at in my own landscape in this regard, both involving a Kwanzan cherry tree.

First of all, I made the mistake of planting candytuft under this tree. Why was this a mistake? Well — wouldn’t you know it? — it turns out that the Kwanzan sheds the petals of its multitudinous flowers just at the time that the candytuft is beginning to put on its illustrious floral display. Illustrious, that is, when tons of Kwanzan flower petals are not blanketing the poor little perennial. Talk about bad timing — and placement.

But that’s a minor error compared to the other one I made regarding my Kwanzan cherry. I can easily enough transplant the candytuft to another location. But I realized too late that I had mis-located the Kwanzan, itself. Years after it had already become a good-sized tree, it dawned on me that I had installed it in a spot where I would never be able to see the sun highlighting its flowers to optimal effect from my kitchen window in the afternoon.

I learned a lesson: when locating a plant, always factor in the role sunshine plays in enhancing a view. Some plants may look great when they are back-lit, but others (like my Kwanzan) may come into their own only when the sun is at the viewer’s back. Also consider such factors as:

  • Where will you be standing most often when viewing the plant? Would a view from a kitchen window (as in my example) be most pleasurable to you? Locate the plant accordingly.
  • Likewise, what time of day will you be most available to view the plant? If you tend to be around the house only during the morning on the weekend, don’t install the plant where something else is blocking the morning sun from reaching it.

Another good example is in locating red twig dogwood and yellow twig dogwood, both of which look wonderful during a New England winter nestled up against an outbuilding in such a way that the rays from the late-afternoon sun can cast a spotlight on their colorful bark.

 In the next issue I will have the conclusion of my tips for How NOT to landscape your yard!

David Beaulieu
Contributing Writer

Do It Yourself

Paint Color Can Create Just the Right Mood

Choosing a paint color for your home? Don’t ignore the psychological impact of color; hues create different moods and can affect behavior!

“There are lots of good reasons to select a particular paint color, including personal preferences and design considerations, but often overlooked is the psychological power certain colors exert on mood, attitude, and outlook,” says Debbie Zimmer, paint and color expert at the Paint Quality Institute. “Even before you look at color cards, think about the mood you’d like in your surroundings,” advises Zimmer.

If your goal is to create a tranquil space, then favor a soft green or pale blue which are expected to be in vogue this year. These are calming colors, ideal for rooms where you rest and relax like the family room or bedroom. Other “go-to” colors include beiges, browns and taupe, as they impart warmth and coziness to a space.

At the other end of the psychological spectrum are colors that inject energy. Like a splash of brilliant sunshine, yellow lifts the spirit and brightens your outlook. Shades of orange – like tangerine and apricot – can energize a kitchen where you start the day. Use reds sparingly since they can literally increase heartbeat. But if you’re seeking a great dining room color, look no further: studies show that red increases the appetite, which explains why it is used in so many restaurants. Tone, or brightness, also plays a role in creating mood. Brighter tones invigorate while those that are muted (“toned down”) tend to be more relaxing.

After choosing the color, make sure to apply the highest quality paint. According to Zimmer, top quality paints made with 100% acrylic resist fading, so the color you apply is the color you will enjoy for years to come. To learn more, visit the Paint Quality Institute’s informative and easy-to-use blog at blog.paintquality.com.

Paint Quality Institute, Contributing Writer

Do It Yourself, Mommy & Me

Claypot Snowmen

These darling Claypot Snowmen make the perfect couple. All bundled up for a cold winter’s day, and so easy, the kids can make them too!

SuppliesClaypot Snowmen

You will need (for each snowman):
1- 1 1/2″ diameter wooden ball
1- 2 1/4″ diameter clay pot
2 Buttons
Gold ribbon
Child’s sock
Material or mitten scrap
White craft or hot glue
Black finetip marker
Small and large paintbrushes
Acrylic paints in white, orange and pink
Clear coat spray

Instructions

Place newspaper down on work surface. Turn clay pot over and glue wooden ball to bottom of pot. When glue is dry, use large paint brush to paint entire the outside of the clay pot and the entire wooden ball with white paint. Let dry and apply a second coat.

Cut the foot end off of the child’s sock. Create a brim by folding up the cuff of the sock, then position the cuff of the sock onto the “head” of the snowman (see photo). Glue the brim in place. Tie a piece of gold ribbon around the top of the hat and fringe the top with scissors . Adjust the fringe edges with your fingers until they look the way you want.

Tie a strip of material or mitten scrap around the neck to fashion a scarf. Glue in place if desired. Glue two buttons to the front of your snowman. With black finetip marker, dot on eyes and mouth. Use a small paint brush to apply orange paint for a nose and gently dab on a thin amount of pink for the cheeks.

Crafts by Amanda , Contributing Writer
Amanda Formaro is the crafty, entrepreneurial mother of four children. She loves to bake , cook and make crafts. She is the craft expert for FamilyCorner.com and Kaboose.com. You can see her crafty creations on http://craftsbyamanda.com Amanda’s Crafts by Amanda and her delicious recipes on http://www.amandascookin.com/ Amanda’s Cookin’.

Do It Yourself

Painting in the New Year

Painting in the New YearWith the start of a new year, it’s time to take a careful look at the condition of your home’s interior, especially the rooms where you entertain.

Start by taking stock of things with a careful visual inspection. Focus first on the space near your front door, where guests and family members will get their initial impression of your home. Then check out the family room, dining room, and bathroom or powder room. Look at the kitchen, too, where company often congregates.

Create a list of the rooms that require attention, noting whether it’s the walls, the trim, or both, that need painting. Then prioritize your projects based upon the importance of the room, and the amount of time your visitors will spend there.

Can’t-miss neutral colors like off-white and easy-on-the-eyes green and blue pastels are expected to be in vogue in 2016, according to color expert Debbie Zimmer at the Paint Quality Institute.

When buying your paint, remember that higher sheen levels are more stain-resistant and more washable. Satin finish is a good choice for the walls in most rooms, but you may want to go one better in the kitchen or other high-traffic areas by applying a semi-gloss paint. As for the trim, gloss or semi-gloss paint is best. You’re sure to appreciate what these paints have to offer when the post-holiday cleanup comes.

To learn more about paints, painting, and interior paint color, visit blog.paintquality.com or www.paintquality.com.

Contributed by The Paint Quality Institute

Do It Yourself

Don’t Gamble On Housepaint Invest In The Best


Since your home is likely your biggest investment, would you even dream of gambling it away?  Probably not, but you are rolling the dice if you apply a poor quality paint to your home’s exterior.

A low grade of paint can fail very quickly.  It can flake and peel, expose a home to the elements, and result in costly structural damage.  Why run the risk, especially when it can actually be cheaper to invest in a better quality paint that offers more protection for your home?Don’t Gamble On Housepaint- Invest In The Best

“Too often, homeowners try to save a little money by trading down to a run-of-the-mill paint.  The better approach is to trade up to top quality paint, which will protect better, last longer, and actually save money in the long run,” says Debbie Zimmer, paint and color expert at the Paint Quality Institute.

According to Zimmer, top quality 100% acrylic paint can last 10 years or more when applied to a properly prepared surface, while lower quality paints last only about four years.  What’s more, the cost of paint is a small part of the overall job — most of the expense goes for the contractor’s labor – so why not apply the best possible coating?

Consider the following hypothetical, involving a home with 3,500 square feet of exterior surface that requires 20 gallons of paint:

At $50 per gallon for 20 gallons of top quality paint ($1,000) and $6,000 for the contractor’s labor, it would cost $7,000 to paint the home.  Assuming the paint job lasts 10 years, the cost per year of service would be $700.

At $25 per gallon for 20 gallons of lower quality paint ($500) and $6,000 for the contractor’s labor, it would cost $6,500 to paint the home.  Assuming the paint job lasts four years, the cost per year of service would be $1,625 – more than twice as much!

Even if a contractor were not involved, it would still be more economical to apply top quality paint:

Twenty gallons of top quality paint would cost $1,000 and the life expectancy of the job would be 10 years – for a cost per year of just $100.

Twenty gallons of lower quality paint would cost $500 and the life expectancy of the job would be 4 years – for a higher cost per year of $125.

How can you be sure that top quality 100% acrylic latex paints last so much longer than other paints?  The estimates are based on decades of research conducted by the Paint Quality Institute at outdoor testing sites nationwide.

According to Zimmer, these findings are no surprise.

“Top quality paints are specifically designed to adhere much better to properly prepared exterior surfaces, reducing the likelihood of peeling, chipping or flaking.  They also are very flexible, so they continue to adhere even when the surface expands or contracts due to changing temperatures,” she says.

These and other performance benefits lead to a longer lasting paint job and a better return on your investment in paint.  So, don’t gamble when purchasing house paint. Go with the best and get the best value.

To learn more about exterior paints and painting, visit the Paint Quality Institute website at www.paintquality.com.