Hope for your financial life and beyond

A Christmas Memory That Still Challenges Me to This Day

I love the Christmas season. Yes, it’s hectic. I know, it’s cold. Yes, travel is a nightmare. Each of those issues may bring back a Christmas memory you’d rather not recall.

a christmas memoryDespite all that, I look forward to Christmas. Always have. As a young child it meant a trip to my grandparent’s house in Indiana each year. We’d usually stay for a week with the rest of the extended family crammed into the house. My sister and I camped out on air mattresses in my grandfather’s study.

I don’t know how my grandparents did it, especially my grandmother. Cooking for 15 plus people for the week must have been exhausting. In fact, from our sleeping position in the study, my sister and I could see the light of her bedroom and the kitchen click on early – EARLY – each morning. She always pulled it off though with the perfect mixture of meats, fruit salads and desserts that we all liked.

It was crowded in that house but for a young child, it was as close to nirvana as one could come. So many things happened during the week that were out of the routine. There were later bedtimes, watching endless TV (sports) with my uncles, playing in the snow outside and having a steady stream of board games going on the inside.

But what I remember more than anything – and what ended up touching my life the most to this day – was our annual gift exchange.

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Back to School Tips to Manage Your Crazy Mornings

Next week my kids head back to school. YES and DOUBLE YES! They will hate that I’m saying that but after two long summer months it’s time to get back to the school thing. And to celebrate that, I’m going to remind my kids (and all of you who are reading) of some back to school tips that help us manage our crazy mornings.

back to school tipsMornings during the school year can be hectic…am I right? After all the days of sleeping in during the summer, suddenly you are forced back into an early wake up call. And in the span of an hour it seems like you do 100 things to get inside the school building just in time.

It doesn’t have to be so hectic. In fact, I could count on one hand the number of times last year where we were truly rushed and almost didn’t make it to school.

Those who know me will say, “But you only live seven minutes from school!” To which I say, it doesn’t matter. When I worked in education I knew of people who lived that close and seemed to be late every day. So with that in mind, here are some back to school tips that we’ve learned over our 11 years of seeing our kids off to school.

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Your Mental To Do List Before Starting a Room Addition

So you’ve made all your plans and crunched the numbers and are finally ready for a room addition. That’s great news! But are you sure you know what to expect for the next couple months?

room additionMost homeowners think they know exactly what is coming. The truth is that most people have not done a room addition.  Consequently, they overlook some of the details that are involved. To that end, here is a list of daily activities and truths involved with any room addition you need to be aware of.

Prepare For Dust

You need to prepare for the worst if you or members of your family have OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder) or are used to very clean environments. Things will most definitely get dirty. Walls will be removed, electricity re-routed, grading and excavation among other activities that cause a lot of dust and dirt.

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Daddy Take the Wheel – Adventures With a 15-yr. Old Driver

Carrie Underwood once famously sang, “Jesus take the wheel – cause I can’t do this on my own.” Recently I’ve gained a new appreciation for her imagery because my 15-year old was issued her learner’s permit. Yes, I can’t believe it…she is learning how to drive. Wasn’t she just in diapers doing her best Fred Flintstone, foot-power imitation in her Little Tikes mobile?

little tikes 2She’s never been behind the wheel of a car before. We don’t live on a farm or have a big yard so she never grew up driving a tractor or lawn mower. The closest she has been to operating a motorized vehicle are go-carts at amusement parks. And of course, those are small and regulated for speed.

Needless to say we are having some fun adventures. I’ve acted like Jesus several times – reaching over to take the wheel to correct a mistake. I’ve had to save a few mailboxes in our subdivision from being clipped by the passenger side, rear view mirror. And there was that one wide turn in our school parking lot that had us headed straight for the second grade classroom. (Shhh…don’t tell the principal.) That was a forceful take the wheel correction.

But she’s learning and getting better each time out.

Funny thing is, I’m re-learning something also that I forget from time to time.

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The Best Home Renovation Projects That Hold Their Value

home renovation projectsIt’s the depths of winter but spring will be here before you know it. With that your thoughts might be turning to that home renovation project you’ve been waiting for. Now’s the time to get the final plans and cost in place so when the weather turns nice you can hit the ground running.

A home renovation isn’t simply painting a room or putting down new carpet. Those things are nice to do and are needed from time to time. When I say home renovation I’m referring to big projects…ones for which you might want to call in a contractor. For the most part these are projects that are going to cost thousands of dollars, maybe even reach into 6 figures.

With that much money at stake it’s important to do your research ahead of time. One of the big issues is how much return you can expect to receive on your home renovation investment. You don’t want to dump $20,000 into a project only to see it’s value dwindle to nothing.

We’ve been thinking recently about finishing our basement. We could add several additional rooms of living space there along with perhaps a bathroom. We know it would add value to our home life (giving us more personal space) and add value to the home itself. But how much money to put into it is the real question. What could we expect to get back in value if we ever sell our home?

With that in mind, check out this infographic from Contractor Quotes. It shows the typical cost of each major home renovation and what you can expect to recoup in cost when you sell your home.

Home Renovation Projects That Increase a Home’s Value

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Cheap Christmas Activities for Kids to Cure the Boredom

Several weeks ago my kids had several days off for Thanksgiving break. Within two hours of being home from school they were showing signs of boredom. I guess being out of their natural school routine was a shock to their system and they didn’t know what to do. Sound familiar?

christmas activities for kidsIt occurred to me that a more serious situation would be coming up soon – two weeks for Christmas break. Yikes! What Christmas activities for kids could I find to keep them from being bored out of their mind for that length of time?

Really it’s only the first week of break that is a concern – the week leading up to Christmas. So that’s five days or so that I have to keep them busy. After the 25th – with all the presents they receive – they usually have enough to occupy their interest and keep them busy until they return to school.

Of course I will grant them a small portion of their time to watch some TV and play video games. They’ve earned it with all the hard work they’ve put in at school. But I don’t want those two activities to take up the majority of the day.

And I certainly don’t want to be spending a lot of money on activities seeing how we are already spending a lot for gifts.

So here are some Christmas activities for kids I’ve come up with and will do my best to implement over that first week of Christmas break. I don’t know how original these are but by golly my kids are doing them. I don’t want to hear them whining about being bored.

Christmas Activities for Kids

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Customer Service Training Ideas: No Comments on How Much Food I Buy

I love good customer service. When you find a store that consistently provides it for you it’s a thing of beauty. It’s obvious their employees have been through customer service training because they consistently focus on it day in and day out. I find it really makes shopping at their establishment enjoyable.

grocery cart with healthy foodOn the other hand bad customer service turns me off. What’s frustrating is when it happens at stores I frequent because of a) their location, b) their superior products or c) their prices. I intentionally go to these stores for one of those reasons and to shop elsewhere would be inconvenient. So I’m forced to endure the annoying service at times because those other reasons win out.

I took over the majority of the shopping last fall when I quit my job to be a stay at home dad. In the past year I’ve noticed some of the worst people at customer service are the ones I have the most contact with: the checkout clerks. The ones who have me riled up right now are those I find at the grocery store.

“Yes, I Know My Cart Is Full”

It’s a constant chore to manage the food budget, especially for large families. We have four kids so with six mouths to feed each week I’m buying a lot of food. It doesn’t matter how much I plan or try to cut back, my grocery cart is always full – or overflowing – by the time I roll into the checkout line.

And oh, you should see the looks I get.

But the worst part is the comments.

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8 Sneaky Places Mold Hides in Your Home and How to Get Rid of It

Like many others I suffered from allergies as a child. The allergy screening my pediatrician conducted revealed my greatest allergies were to dust and mold. Mold was especially problematic because our house was built around 1910 and the brick basement walls routinely allowed water to seep through. Consequently we often dealt with moisture in the air – a common factor in the production of molds.

how to get rid of moldMold is a fungus that can be found anywhere in nature. It can survive indoors and outdoors at any time of the year. However, according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), it grows best in locations that are warm, damp and humid.

Mold spreads by producing tiny spores that are released into the air. Coming in contact with these mold spores can produce allergic reactions including sneezing, runny nose, red eyes and even skin rashes. They can even produce asthma attacks in people with asthma who are allergic to mold.

You may have heard that some molds are toxic and pose an even greater danger. While certain types of molds can produce toxins the mold itself is not toxic or poisonous. The CDC has reported a few cases where mold toxins created a further health risk. However, under normal circumstances the mold types and levels we experience on a daily basis are not harmful beyond fever-like allergy or asthma symptoms.

Regardless all molds should be taken with the same amount of care whether it is a kind that produces toxins or not.

How to Recognize You Have a Mold Problem

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How to Bug Proof Your Home Inside and Out

We’ve had our share of bug issues in the home recently. Most notable we’ve had a constant stream of ants in the kitchen all summer long. It seems every morning – no matter what we do to clean – we find a few scurrying through our kitchen.

bug proof homeI know that most bugs have been identified as being either harmless or beneficial to our world. We need them to maintain environmental balance. However, that doesn’t mean I want critters that buzz, fly or have more legs than I do creeping through my home all the time.

Our first inclination when that long line of ants goes streaming through the kitchen is to follow the traditional method for eradicating pests – reach for the spray can (or call in a professional if it’s severe enough, which of course can cost a lot of money). However, these methods only treat the symptom not the fundamental cause as to how bugs enter the home. Additionally, pesticides can contain chemicals that could have lasting effects on children or pets that live inside the home.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) suggests an environmentally friendly, common sense approach to controlling pests. The goal is to eliminate the use of pesticides by focusing on prevention. In essence, you will want to stop all the conditions that entice and allow pests to enter the home.

Inside the House Steps to Bug Proof Your Home

What do humans need to survive? If you answered food, water and shelter you would be correct. It’s interesting that bugs need all three of these as well. No wonder they like your home so much.

Since that’s what bugs need you should work on correcting those issues. Follow these best practices in each area to bug proof your home:

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