xmas table

It is that time of year again when you are sitting around the kitchen table, filling out Christmas cards, stuffing them into envelopes, and mailing them off to friends and family. As usual, you also find yourself scrambling for gift ideas for half the people on your Christmas list. There always seems to be a few people on that list that are next to impossible to buy for. When you can not think of the right gift, it makes buying christmas gifts quite a chore. To make matters worse, you are not looking forward to pushing your way through the crowds of people down at the mall, trying to finish your last minute shopping. It seems that they get increasingly nasty fighting over retail items with each passing year. Surely there has to be a better way to prepare for Christmas, but what would that be?

Rethinking How You Shop for Christmas

If you are tired of the crowds and the last minute crunch associated with shopping for Christmas gifts, then it is time to rethink how you shop for the people on your Christmas list. Trying to get gifts for everyone on your list at the last moment leads to a mad dash that can be totally avoided. One way to avoid this problem is to start buying Christmas gifts early in the year. Many retail stores have sales throughout the year, making these times a prime opportunity to take advantage of discounts and amazing deals. Plus, when you shop throughout the year, you are not racking up a huge mountain of credit card debt during the holiday season. Rather, by spreading the gift purchasing process on out through the year, this makes it possible to buy something for everyone on your list without breaking the bank.

Avoiding the Crowds

If you really hate the rudeness of people during the Christmas buying season, an alternative to shopping at retail stores is to purchase gifts online. Many websites carry millions of products that are suitable for Christmas gifts, and some sites even provide users with gift ideas, making it easier for the budgeting shopper to avoid facing the throngs of people at the store when doing their Christmas shopping. It is important that you plan to buy gifts early though, factoring in shipping times to make certain the gift reaches its destination on time. You would not want to be stuck getting a gift shipped to you, or someone else for that matter, that gets to its destination late. That could be potentially embarrassing, which is another reason to do your Christmas shopping earlier in the year if possible.

Gift Cards for Everyone

If you are not feeling particularly creative and you just want to make buying for everyone on your list a simple procedure, then gift cards may be the perfect gift. Usually, gift cards are located in one area in a store, and you can go down your list picking one up for each individual you have in mind. If you buy gift cards occasionally, this will not only help you avoid the Christmas crowd, but it will also keep you from crashing your budget as well. With a little creative thought, you too can avoid most of the hassles associated with purchasing gifts during the Christmas season.


In the past, painting a home was a job complete with unsettling fumes and curing times. Today’s paints are much more advanced, allowing contractors to apply them with relative ease and barely any scents. Painting the interior or exterior of the home is also better for the environment than ever before. Think about your home’s possible improvements and add some of these green ideas to make the neighborhood a nicer place to live.

Quality Painting Pros

Research your next painting contractor thoroughly and ask about green practices. Paint comes in numerous mixtures and textures. Consider a low-VOC paint type to reduce pollutants into the air and even within the home. A quality contractor will also clean up meticulously when the project is completed. Any waste or residues leftover from the paint job can actually harm gardens, groundwater and wildlife. Contractor reviews are often quite detailed, giving you a glimpse at their work ethic and green practices. A good painter isn’t shy to show off their hard work.

Preserves Your Siding

Along with low-VOC paint to decorate your home’s exterior, consider the investment you’re making on siding maintenance. Siding protects the home from weathering and temperature fluctuations. If you don’t care for it, the siding must be replaced more frequently. Your green habits aren’t effective when filling landfills with damaged siding. Keep those materials on your home with consistent paint jobs. You’ll reduce weathering and possible insect infiltration into the material core. With some effort and observation, you can keep the siding out of the trash and contribute to reduced waste across the region.

Consider Insulation

When you’re deciding on paint for the home, think a little further to the structure’s insulation. Replacing or simply adding new insulation to the home makes it greener as well. Allow a basic home improvement project to jog your mind about other ideas that could be incorporated easily. If you need to access inside a wall, for example, you can make a clean cut into the drywall to add insulation and paint the area afterward. Insulation reduces your use of HVAC systems, preserving the energy bill and using less oil to generate that power.

Opt for Amber LEDs

LED or light-emitting diodes are one of the best lighting choices on the market today. They’re known for their long-lasting light and quality illumination. However, extremely bright lights for the home’s exterior can actually harm natural wildlife rhythms. Consider some of the newer LEDs with an amber glow after painting the home. They have a softer illumination brilliance to light the way while preserving the natural world around the home. Homeowners are still green by helping wildlife and saving energy simultaneously. The less electricity used, the less oil it takes to produce that energy.

Paint is still one of the most common improvements added by homeowners each year. A fresh color gives the entire property an update while saving money across the board. Try to stay green when adding improvements to make the changes better for everyone.

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If you own or manage a business and think your first in-person impression depends on your employees, you’re wrong. Your first impression is your curb appeal if clients or customers are coming to you. Whether you own or lease commercial space, it’s crucial that the first impression a client forms is a favorable one. There’s not much you can do about the architecture or types of cars in the parking lot, but landscaping might be fully in your control. Are you capitalizing on it?

In some instances, business owners might think it’s a good idea to form a community garden to encourage camaraderie. However, that’s often not allowed by management or, if it is, you simply can’t deliver the kind of skills and dedication to maximize the beauty of curb appeal. Relying on a reputable property and landscape maintenance crew can bring in more customers, satiate the expectations of current customers, and drive more business your way:

1. It encourages walk-ins

Regardless of the type of business you manage, scoring walk-ins is always a bonus. There’s no telling who might be walking, biking or driving by and your beautiful building catches their eye. Maybe they’ve been on the hunt for a new apartment or software development company, and your location is perfect. What makes the difference between them stopping and moving on might just be the quality of your space.

2. It instantly improves everyone’s mood

What would you prefer: Walking into a colorless, barren building every day or enjoying a lush landscape and maybe some blossoms? Plants, greenery and flowers are linked to better work ethic, self-esteem, optimistic outlooks and better health. From your employees to your customers, why wouldn’t you want to prioritize that? It sets the mood for the entire day.

3. It automatically heightens the property value

If you own or manage commercial property and want to ensure happy tenants and low vacancy rates, one of the easiest and most affordable ways to do this is with landscaping. If someone is deciding between your property and another very similar one, all it might take to push the odds in your favor is a little landscaping. It’s instant curb appeal that makes your space more desirable.

4. It adds value to the neighborhood

A good local business cares about the neighborhood at a local and hyperlocal level. Improve your neighborhood with a little greenery and you might be surprised by the new connections you make.



Let’s skip the jokes about “taking care of business” and get serious about the bathroom cum in-home spa for a moment. While every nook and cranny of your home is important (after all, you pay the same for every square foot no matter where it’s located), some rooms are “trending” more than others. There was a time when the kitchen got all the attention, but in an era where few people have time for epic home cooking sessions, it’s moved to the back burner.

Now, homeowners and renters alike are indulging in the finest accoutrements for bathrooms because it’s their relaxation zone. It’s where bubble baths are taken, where you get ready for a night out, and more and more bathrooms are enjoying music piped in. If you want to create your own Zen experience, try focusing on the most peaceful part of your home. Here’s why the bathroom is kind for upgrades and flipping:

1. It’s where you feel your best

Whether it’s decompressing after a long day or simply getting ready for an exciting first date, a lot happens in the bathroom. You want to feel your best and look your best here, which is tough to do when you don’t love your space. The addition of a new sink, fixtures or heated towel rack can make all the difference in the world. For most homeowners, little splurges here can set the tone for the entire day.

2. It’s where you start and end each day

Brushing your teeth, putting on makeup, showers and skin regimens; most people start and end their waking hours in the bathroom. Who wouldn’t want to open and end the chapter of the day in a place where they’re comfortable and a little pampered? By upgrading a few key bathroom pieces, you can ensure a day’s full circle that’s full of luxe.

3. You need to balance that “heat to clean” feeling

Everyone has a different household chore they loathe, but for many people it’s cleaning the bathroom. Toilet scrubbings, getting rid of soap scum and hard water stains, the bleach-induced headaches; who actually enjoys this task? To counterbalance that negative energy, you can do one of two things: Hire a weekly cleaning crew or make your bathroom more inviting on non-cleaning hours.

Ready to make the most of your personal spa? A few touches might be all it takes.


Does your garage look suspiciously like an after hours lumber store? Are their stacks and stacks of two by fours against one wall and sheets of plywood against the other? Are you secretly hiding blocks of wood in the shadows beneath the work table attached to the wall next to the door that leads into the house? No one faults you for all that wood lying around, except for maybe your wife who would like the extra room to park her car in the garage. But, despite itching to get your hands dirty on another wood working project, the ideas just seem to allude you at the moment. You even spent some time looking at electric sanders online in hopes that it would inspire your mind to conjure up that perfect wood working project idea.

With all this nice wood around, you would think you could find tons of uses for it. But, try as you might, the ideas just are not coming to mind. Never fear, here are a few do-it-yourself wood working projects to consider tackling.

Upgrading Your Little Boy’s Room

Your son is getting bigger and he has been having some trouble keeping his room organized. This is the perfect opportunity to consider building a shelving unit for his room. It does not have to be anything too extravagant. A couple of metal wall braces, some positioning brackets, and a few long sheets of wood, painted to work with the color scheme of his room. It’s a project you could probably knock out in a couple of hours.

Building Your Daughter A Desk

Your daughter is entering eighth grade this year and she’s starting to outgrow that little school-desk you bought her a few years back. This time around she needs something that can manage her books, her computer, and a lamp for additional lighting. Plus, with her interest in doing art projects, the extra table surface would really come in handy. It would be nice to fill in the bare space at the back corner of her room anyway. This would be a perfect use for some of those thicker slats and those sheets of sturdy pressed wood you’ve been holding on to for some time now. And maybe a new bookshelf is in line for her room as well, if you are feeling really crafty with that power saw.

The Entertainment Stand

With the high cost of a well made entertainment stand these days, you might consider building your own out of the spare wood you have storred away in the garage. A few nicely cut shelf like pieces, with sturdy sides and metal brackets would probably do the trick. This would give you room for the television, the sound bar, the X-box, DVD-player, and even attachments for additional speakers. If you want, you could continue with a shelving system on each side for harboring your DVD and video-game collection as well. One thing is certain, if you make it from scratch, it will be a lot better built than that last flimsy one you had to put together from a box. There are numerous ways to customize the stand for your entertainment center, so do not be afraid to be creative.

Before you know it, you will find many good uses for all that wood out in your garage.



Storage units are great things (most of the time). As long as you do your research and choose a site that’s secure, temperature controlled and with solid security, you don’t have to worry much about break-ins or extreme temperatures harming your property. It’s an excellent option for those with not enough storage at home, people who travel frequently, or if you want to allow access to multiple people without the hassle of having them come to your home (just make sure everyone is on the rental agreement).

However, choosing the “wrong” storage site can happen if you’re not careful. While you’re figuring out the best site for your holiday storage needs, look beyond location and price. A subpar site can put your property at risk, and you might even got stuck in a legal dispute over rental payments if you forego a fair contract. Here are some of the most important things you deserve in storage unit, so make sure they’re on your check list.

1. Video surveillance

Even if the site features 24-hour security, officers can’t be near every unit at all times. Knowing there’s video surveillance will deter many thieves, and if the worst does happen you’re ahead of the game for filing insurance claims and police reports. Ask for a tour that includes pointing out the cameras, which should be obvious in order to ward off burglars.

2. Temperature-controlled units

It doesn’t matter if you live in a fairly temperate zone or not. A really hot or cold day can destroy your property, even if you don’t think you have anything that’s vulnerable. Plus, if you suddenly have to dig through your belongings on a particularly chilly or sizzling day, you want to do so comfortably.

3. Easy payment options

Just because you prefer paying by check now doesn’t mean you always will. What if you go on an extended vacation or move out of state but still want to keep your unit? A site that offers multiple payment options including online payments is all about making things easy for you.

4. On-site security

In addition to video surveillance, the site should also feature security officers who are well-trained and equipped to handle anything that comes their way. This is crucial not just in the case of a burglar or vandal, but if a natural disaster strikes, having a professional to immediately report the incident can minimize the damage. If a fire breaks out and there’s nobody available to notify the fire department, your entire unit might go up in flames.

5. A sprinkler system

Speaking of fires, even the securest of buildings can be at risk. A tested and high quality sprinkler system minimizes damage and maximizes the safety of anyone who happens to be on site. While this is likely required in your state, that doesn’t guarantee that everyone’s abiding by it. Ask the site manager how often the systems are tested.

6. A friendly staff

Quality in a storage site doesn’t just have to do with the layout, but also how comfortable you feel there. The staff should be hospitable, knowledgeable and committed to making you feel at home. After all, you are paying rent here. Trust your gut, and if you don’t feel welcome is that really a place you want to be doing business?

Not all storage sites are created equally, but there’s no reason to learn this tough lesson the hard way. Do your research, but remember there’s more to it than price alone. If possible, check out a site in person and see exactly where your precious cargo may call home.



The 90s are making a comeback when it comes to fashion, but in terms of real estate the era of the McMansion isn’t seeing a revival. Instead, more people are downsizing and embracing the micro loft, tiny house and even campers and RVs in lieu of larger options. It’s not just a way to save money on the down payment or rent: It’s also a green move as more and more homeowners and renters are taking responsibility for their carbon footprint. Is downsizing the right move for you?

The reality is the many Americans could do with less living space than they have. However, when home buyers start working with a real estate agent and see all those sprawling properties for sale, their eyes get bigger than their senses (kind of like seeing a pancake challenge and thinking you can do it). Even if your budget allows for it, is going big when going home the best approach? It’s time to take a closer look at micro living.

The Upside to Smaller Spaces

Americans are prone to waste and excessive spending, plus it’s only natural to want to “fill” a home. Doesn’t everyone need their own office (even if you don’t have your own business), a spare bedroom for elusive guests that rarely arrive, and an exercise or meditation room? You can certainly dream up a number of ways to fill space, waste money furnishing it and spend more on utilities heating and cooling it, but to what end?

Micro living forces you to reassess what’s important and what’s necessary. You start getting creative and realizing that paying day after day to store useless things isn’t going to help you build a nest egg. There are a number of frugal millionaires and billionaires who choose modest (for them) accommodations and don’t splurge on luxuries. Many of them are wealthy because they live realistically and spend wisely.

Signs you need to downsize

Your housing costs shouldn’t be more than 25 percent of your take-home pay (and that’s actually a rule for many landlords). However, it should be followed by anyone whether you buy or rent. This needs to include your utilities, lawn care and any other regular costs for maintenance. If you know you have appliances that need to be professionally inspected and maintained at least once per year (and you do), divvy that up into your budget.

Smaller living spaces provide more intimacy and more cash in your pocket. Who wouldn’t want that?


With skyrocketing energy bills and winter just around the corner, you should consider looking into alternative methods of heating your house. Your furnace might do the job, but is it affordable? Whether you use alternative heat sources in conjunction with your traditional furnace or you want to try something a little more energy efficient, there are plenty of choices out there to allow you to stay warm affordably.

Geothermal Heating Systems

These nifty little systems use the heat of the earth to warm your house. The stable temperature of the earth ranges from 45 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit depending on your home’s latitude, so the temperature inside the earth is often higher than the outside air thus taking less energy to get your house to a comfortable temperature. Big coils are buried and circulate a mixture of water and antifreeze. The liquid is heated to the temperature of the earth and then run through the house where a compressor pulls the heat from the water. These systems can also be used to cool your home in the summer, saving you from running the AC constantly. Up front costs can range from $7000 to $15000, but geothermals usually pay for themselves within six years of installation.

Pellet Stoves

If you love the intense heat from a wood stove but don’t like the smoky smell that accompanies it, you should look into a pellet stove. These stoves are heated with renewable resources like sawdust or switchgrass and can heat an entire house. Up front costs of a pellet stove range from $1500 to $3000, while pellets usually run about $150-$200 a ton. On average, you should expect to go through two to three tons of pellets, meaning your heating bills could only cost you around $600! If you can find a local source of pellets, your costs will be even less as a big portion of pellet costs are comprised of freight charges.

Ductless Heat Pumps

Most traditional heating systems use ducts, which means that the air comes from the furnace and blows through ducts that are installed throughout the house. A ductless system uses small cut outs in the wall in individual rooms. The heat pump will pull cooler air from different rooms of the house and flush it into warmer areas with quiet fans. You can choose to heat just a few areas of the house or the whole house, whereas a furnace will make you heat the entire house. The ductless system is energy efficient and saves you from the wear and tear of constantly running a furnace. According to this site, there’s even an $800 rebate for houses that upgrade to ductless systems.
Don’t feel stuck this winter with crippling heating bills. Thanks to technology, you have a choice to take charge of your energy consumption and keep your wallet full even through the coldest days of winter.


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