240-644-6000
Servicing DC, MD & VA

Enduring Summer’s Deep Freeze

July 10th, 2018 | No Comments | Posted in Lifestyle

IT’S summertime. The season when you can write your name in the condensation on the windows at Starbucks, people pull on parkas to go to the movies and judges have been known to pause proceedings so bailiffs can escort jurors outside the courthouse to warm up.

On these, the hottest days of the year, office workers huddle under fleece blankets in their cubicles. Cold complaints trend on Twitter with posts like, “I could preserve dead bodies in the office it’s so cold in here.” And fashion and style bloggers offer advice for layered looks for coming in and out of the cold.

Why is America so over air-conditioned? It seems absurd, if not unconscionable, when you consider the money and energy wasted — not to mention the negative impact on the environment from the associated greenhouse-gas emissions. Architects, engineers, building owners and energy experts sigh with exasperation when asked for an explanation. They tick off a number of reasons — probably the most vexing is cultural.

“Being able to make people feel cold in the summer is a sign of power and prestige,” said Richard de Dear, director of the Indoor Environmental Quality Laboratory at University of Sydney, Australia, where excessive air-conditioning is as prevalent as it is in much of the United States. He said the problem is even worse in parts of the Middle East and Asia.

Commercial real estate brokers and building managers say sophisticated tenants specify so-called chilling capacity in their lease agreements so they are guaranteed cold cachet. In retailing, luxury stores like Bergdorf GoodmanNeiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue are kept colder than more down-market TargetWalmart and Old NavyWhole Foods is chillier than Kroger, which is chillier than Piggly Wiggly.

There’s also the widely held misconception that colder temperatures make workers more alert and productive when, in fact, research shows the opposite. Studies have shown people work less and make more mistakeswhen the air temperature is 68 to 72 degrees Fahrenheit versus 74 to 76 degrees. Moreover, some research indicates feeling cold can take a psychological toll, making people untrustinguncommunicative and unfriendly.

As infants we learn to associate warmth with the safety of our parents’ arms. Our subconscious equates cold with vulnerability, which partly explains why people can be so miserable when they are chilled.

A region of the brain called the hypothalamus is responsible for our body’s thermoregulatory system, constricting blood vessels when we are cold and dilating them when we are hot to maintain a safe core body temperature. Your physical discomfort is essentially the hypothalamus prodding you to say, put on a sweater if it’s chilly or fan yourself when it’s hot.

Extreme temperature changes like entering a freezing lobby on a sweltering summer day may feel good at first, but it makes the hypothalamus go nuts, intensifying physical and psychological discomfort when the initial pleasure wears off — as if to say: “A blizzard is on its way! Do something!”

“It’s left over from a time when it was dangerous to have that kind of change in temperature,” said Nisha Charkoudian, a research physiologist with the United States Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine in Natick, Mass.

The problem is compounded by building managers who, surveys indicate, typically don’t adjust the temperature set point higher in summertime when people wear lighter and more revealing clothes than they do in wintertime. Since thermoreceptors (nerve cells that sense temperature changes) are on your skin, the more of it you have exposed, the colder you are going to feel. Sixty-eight degrees feels a lot different if you are wearing a wool turtleneck, slacks and boots versus a poplin sundress and sandals.

However, you can understand managers’ bias toward keeping the lower, wintertime setting when many are men and might wear ties and jackets no matter the season. They may be even less inclined to bump up the thermostat if they are heavyset, as body fat is the ultimate heat insulator.

Air-conditioning systems are also usually designed for worst-case scenarios — full occupancy of a space on the hottest day of the year. As part of that calculation, designers might have assumed heat loads that factor in older-model computers and less energy-efficient lighting that radiate much more warmth than the machines and bulbs used today.

And, engineers say, they might add a 20 percent upward correction, just to be on the safe side. A result is systems with ridiculous overcapacity that don’t run well on low settings.

“It’s analogous to a high-tune car where you have to keep your foot on gas to keep it from stalling out,” said Edward Arens, professor of architecture and director of the Center for the Built Environment at the University of California, Berkeley.

Paradoxically, another reason for aggressive air-conditioning is energy-efficient building construction. Better sealing and insulation keeps air-conditioning from escaping but it also keeps fresh air from entering. So cool air is often kept blasting to meet mandated air quality standards for levels of carbon dioxide that build up in the absence of outside air. The cool air also controls humidity, which can lead to every building manager’s nightmare: mold.

STILL, Mr. Arens and his colleagues found that when they reduced airflow in several office buildings during the summer, including ones on the Yahoocampus in Sunnyvale, Calif., air quality was not diminished and it cut employee cold complaints in half as well as reduced the energy bill by as much as 30 percent.

While architects like Mr. Arens point the finger at engineers for designing air-conditioning systems with too much capacity, engineers can justifiably point the finger back at those architects who often have an aesthetic aversion to thermostats.

“Architects try to convince mechanical engineers to hide sensors so they don’t mess up their beautiful design, so you find them in quite out-of-the-way locations” like within air inlets on the ceiling, where, because heat rises, they provide less than accurate readings, said Jon Seller, general manager of Optegy, an energy management consulting firm based in Hong Kong, which specializes in maximizing the efficiency and automation of air-conditioning systems.

A couple of computer scientists have developed a smartphone app that proposes to solve that problem by making people the thermostats. Users can tell the app, called Comfy, whether they are hot, cold or just right. Over time, it learns trends and preferences and tells the air-conditioning system when and where to throttle up or throttle back the cooling. So far it’s used in a dozen buildings, including some of Google’s offices and some government-owned buildings, for a total of three million square feet. The developers claim Comfy-equipped buildings realize savings of up to 25 percent in cooling costs.

“We have a lot of data that people are most comfortable if they have some measure of control,” said Gwelen Paliaga, a building systems engineer in Arcata, Calif., and chairman of a committee that develops standards for human thermal comfort for the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air Conditioning Engineers, or Ashrae.

Of course, for fresh air and comfort, engineers and architects tend to agree the most effective control is being able to open and close the windows. No app required.

Source: nytimes.com

Ideas for Your Summer Staycation

July 10th, 2018 | No Comments | Posted in Lifestyle

As the kids finish school and the weather heats up, many people are getting excited about long-awaited summer vacations. Summer vacations are a time to relax, unwind and spend some quality time with loved ones. Big vacations, however, do require quite a bit of planning and, of course, can end up costing some serious cash, especially with a whole family in tow.

If you haven’t gotten around to making summer vacation plans, or it’s just not in the cards this year, you might be the perfect candidate for a summer staycation. (A staycation can be just as enjoyable as a vacation, and can enrich your life for the whole year. Check out Affordable Staycation Ideas for Families.)

A staycation is like a vacation, only you spend it at home. Instead of spending lots of money on airfare and expensive hotels, you can take advantage of the attractions your area has to offer that you never get a chance to enjoy. This includes your house – when was the last time you relaxed at home? A few ground rules will help ensure you have a successful staycation:

  • Put it on the calendar  with a start date and an end date – so everyone knows when you’re on staycation.
     
  • Get a visitor’s guide. Check out your local Chamber of Commerce’s website or stop by for a visitor’s guide. You might be surprised to find great activities that you didn’t know about. (Keep the kids out of your hair and wallet by saving on summer camps, sports leagues, day trips and more. Learn how in Budget-Friendly Summer Fun.)
     
  • Limit the chores. Plan ahead and try to get as many chores out of the way so that you don’t spend your staycation doing laundry and mopping the floor.
     
  • Write it down. Your staycation doesn’t have to be scripted, but it is helpful to write down the things you want to do, and then have fun crossing the activities off the list.

Whether you live in a bustling city or off the beaten path, you should be able to find plenty of activities to keep you busy. To get you started, here are eight great ideas for your summer staycation.

1. Get Out

Outside, that is. National parks, state parks, county parks, metro parks and nature centers all provide a place to run around and enjoy nature. As an added bonus, many are free. You can easily spend a day hiking, swimming and picnicking in your local park. Visit http://www.nps.gov/ to find a national park or http://www.stateparks.com/ to find a state park.

2. Stay In

A rainy day during your staycation is a terrific opportunity to visit a local museum or two. Art museums, aquariums, planetariums, science museums and natural history museums can be enjoyable and interesting. You can search for museums at the American Association of Museum’s website at http://www.aam-us.org/ (click “Museum Resources” tab”); or search the Association of Zoos & Aquariums’ website at http://www.aza.org/.

3. Get Active

Take advantage of the local swimming pool, tennis courts, golf course or skating rink. Go for a bike ride, a walk, or try a new sport. Dust off the old baseball mitts, soccer balls and Frisbees and have fun.

4. Get Festive

Summertime is usually ripe with festivals in one form or another. Your local newspaper or Chamber of Commerce can keep you up to date with goings on. In addition to daytime festivals, many locales host free music nights during the summer months. 

5. Learn Something New

Have you always wanted to learn how to throw pottery or paint with watercolors? How about cooking Cuban food or home-brewing beer? Your local recreation department or community college probably has a great choice of classes to get you started. Many of them will be  one-day introductory classes that won’t require a huge investment.

6. Be Pampered

With all the money you’re saving on your staycation, you just might be entitled to a trip to the local spa for a massage and facial. Most spas do require advance reservations, and many offer specials and packages so be sure to ask. Try http://www.spafinder.com/ to find a spa in your area.

7. Tell Ghost Stories

Pitch the tent and build a small fire – in your back yard. Camping in the backyard is a fun and easy way to camp. You can chase fireflies, sing songs, look at the stars and roast marshmallows (or make s’mores: roast a marshmallow until golden brown, place between two graham crackers with a piece of chocolate and squeeze together).

8. Splurge

Is there a fancy restaurant you’ve wanted to try? Have you wondered what it would be like to hire a personal chef for a delicious meal at home (try http://www.personalchef.com/ and click on “Find a Personal Chef”)? A staycation is a wonderful opportunity to splurge on something you wouldn’t normally spend the money on, without feeling guilty.

When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Stay Put

A staycation can be just as much fun as a regular vacation. Often it can be more rewarding than a vacation simply because there is no travel stress and it costs less money. Being under less stress, and not spending so much money, can allow for more relaxation while creating quality time for you and your family. A staycation might be just the vacation you need. Don’t forget to send postcards.

Read more: 8 Great Ideas For Your Summer Staycation 
Follow Investopedia on Facebook

Low Cost Summer Fun

June 1st, 2018 | No Comments | Posted in Lifestyle

Bike Parade

Post signs around the neighborhood encouraging kids to decorate their rides with streamers, stickers, flags, and more—then let them cruise while all the parents applaud.

How to Teach Your Kid to Ride a Bike


Thank Local Heroes

Take a tour of your police or fire station. Since most locations don’t have set visiting hours, call ahead to arrange an appointment.

Win Baby Gear!


Start Fishing

Click on Little Lunkers at takemefishing.org, where your young angler can learn the basics of the sport and find places to cast off in your area.

5 Adult Summer Camps

June 1st, 2018 | No Comments | Posted in Lifestyle

Anyone who went to summer camp as a kid is bound to feel nostalgic for those carefree days of hiking, making crafts and bonding with new friends. The good news is that adult summer camps have become a thing in recent years, offering classic camp activities with a few grown-up twists.

From coast to coast, here are five camps that let you relive those childhood summer nights, with the option to do yoga, mix cocktails and more.

#1 Camp No Counselors, more than 15 locations nationwide

Camp No Counselors takes childhood activities to the extreme in over 15 locations including New York, California, Florida, Texas, Michigan and Illinois: Campers might play a human version of “Hungry, Hungry Hippos” or brave a mega-sized slip-n-slide with beer at the end. Themed late-night costume parties come with an open bar, naturally. 
$525 to $699 for four days
Camp runs May through October, 2017 in various locations

#2. Soul Camp, New York and California

Facebook/Soul Camp

Facebook/Soul Camp
This wellness-focused camp is all about coming together and embracing your inner kid through activities like meditation, dance, making dreamcatchers and talks by wellness experts. Talent shows and late-night discos make the bonding last all night.
$1,299 for five days
Soul Camp New York: Aug. 23-27, 2017
Soul Camp California: Oct. 24-28, 2017

#3 Camp Bonfire, Pennsylvania

Paul Gargagliano of Hazel Photo

Not far from either New York City and Philadelphia, this camp in the Poconos Mountains lets you mix and match your schedule of classic activities like shelter building, canoeing and capture the flag. Niche offerings include terrarium building and taekwondo, and there’s plenty of time for beer by the fire.
$399 to $500 for three days
Session 1: June 16-18, 2017
Session 2: Sept. 8-10, 2017

#4 Camp Grounded, California

Phones, laptops and digital gadgets are forbidden at this camp in California’s redwood forests. For activities, campers choose from 25 “playshops,” ranging from the basics (hiking, archery and a ropes course, for example) to the unexpected (Lego building, laughter yoga and Thai massage class).
$695 for four days
Session I: May 19-22, 2017
Session II (sold out): May 26-29, 2017

#5 Club Getaway, Connecticut

Water sports take center stage on these 300 lakefront acres in the Berkshires, which also boast tennis courts, zip lines and a trapeze. Weekends are themed — there’s a “young professionals” weekend, a “sports, fun and adventure” camp and a Labor Day bash — and new friendships are encouraged with dinner parties and live music.
From $425 for three days
Multiple dates from May through October, 2017

America’s Best Spring Drives

May 3rd, 2018 | No Comments | Posted in Lifestyle

Views out the car window look brightest in spring, when the landscape bursts with wildflowers. See for yourself on America’s best spring drives.

Remember when Dorothy dozes off among scarlet poppies in The Wizard of Oz? Well, those vivid flowers weren’t just a figment of Hollywood magic. Similar poppies set California’s Antelope Valley ablaze in spring, luring road-trippers from L.A. and beyond.

The arrival of spring inspires us to break out from winter’s hibernation and embrace the fresh outdoors. A road trip naturally satisfies that spontaneous travel urge, and we’ve mapped America’s best spring drives—routes that bring you up-close to nature’s finest floral displays, from a California poppy tour to Texas Hill Country’s bluebonnets.

Of course, flowers in bloom aren’t the only draw for these American road trips, many of which meander by woodlands, lakes, small quaint towns, even historic mansions and museums. Consider Colorado’s 232-mile San Juan Skyway, which takes visitors up melting snowcapped mountains, past natural hot springs, and through restored ghost towns. It’s an officially designated American Byway, one of nine we’ve featured, among them, Cherokee Foothills Scenic Highway in South Carolina.

Road trips are an American pastime, and you don’t need to travel far to enjoy some of spring’s loveliest drives—these routes start at 25 miles—and free smartphone apps like GasBuddy can point you to the cheapest nearby fuel options. Some of T+L’s other favorite gas-saving tips include: pack light (less weight in your vehicle means better gas mileage); charge it (many credit cards give cash back on gas purchases); and drive steady (conserve fuel by going easy on the pedals).

No matter what route you travel and no matter how many detours you take, spring into action this season by road-tripping through America’s most awe-inspiring floral landscapes.

Kick Off Spring with Fun Ideas

May 3rd, 2018 | No Comments | Posted in Lifestyle

Kick Off Spring with 21 Crazy Fun Ideas for You and Your Kids

Spring has sprung. Somewhere birds are chirping. Is it still chilly in your neck of the woods? Try these activities and the temperature won’t matter.

1. Spruce up your footwear. Decorate plain white sneaks. Using paint pens, doodle your own designs or paint blue skies, wispy clouds, green trees, and lavender flowers.

2. Watch nature in action. Tour your town or an area park looking for budding leaves, early blooms, and robins.

3. Fashion a kids-only clubhouse with blankets tossed over a circle of lawn chairs. Serve lunch outside.

4. Tie-dye T-shirts in soft pastels or wild primary colors.

5. Collect rocks, paint them sky blue, leaf green, sun yellow, and cloud white. Display them indoors on the kitchen table, or outdoors around your mailbox or ringing a favorite tree.

6. Tap your inner forester. Collect leaves from local trees, identify them, and make rubbings.

7. Hang a bird feeder. Then keep it stocked with goodies for feathered guests.

8. Spring clean to music to finish faster. Reduce your clutter by 30 odds and ends.

9. Go fake camping. Grill veggie or turkey burgers outdoors, sing songs, and feast on s’mores. Sleep inside in a makeshift tent, or a sleeping bag, on the family room, living room, or basement floor.

10. Learn birdcalls online. Instead of words, use your personal chirps to say hi to other family members.

11. Play catch with water balloons (outside) . . . and keep a stack of beach towels handy for the inevitable explosions.

12. Host a tea party outside on a blanket. Serve Rice Krispies treats in pastel colors (dye the marshmallows with a few drops of food coloring).

13. Make a spring bouquet with tissue-paper flowers. Fold tissue paper back and forth in a fan effect; fold in half and secure with a chenille-stick ‘stem.’

14. Anticipate the lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer. Hose down your swing set, hammock, or porch swing now.

15. Fly a kite, row a boat, or take up archery.

16. Support your local Little League teams. Attend their games, wear the team colors, and donate oranges and water as refreshments.

17. Decorate planters, using pinwheels instead of flowers, for an instant garden—no watering necessary!

18. Organize a neighborhood stroller-wagon-bicycle parade on a Saturday morning. All wheels welcome!

19. Satisfy a sweet tooth. Make springtime sundaes with vanilla ice cream, pastel sprinkles, and lots of whipped cream.

20. Do your community a favor. Pick up trash in the park or join forces with your neighbors on spring clean-up day.

21. Celebrate spring as they do in other cultures. The Russians eat pancakes; the Swedes light bonfires; the Japanese picnic when the cherry blossoms bloom. You can, too!

Surviving Wedding Season

April 5th, 2018 | No Comments | Posted in Lifestyle

A Guest’s Guide To Avoiding Financial Ruin By Labor Day

More than 61 million Americans will attend at least one wedding this year, and they’ll spend at least $30 billion in the process.

According to new research by American Express, the average guest will shell out $339 to attend each wedding they’re invited to—and that’s not even considering a gift.Plan on giving one? That’ll be $150. Oh—you’re in the wedding party? You’ll drop at least another hundred in incidentals (an expensive dress and pre-wedding cocktails).

With five weddings on my dance card this season, including one stint as a bridesmaid, it’s all adding up to a very romantic budget-breaker. But according to AMEX’s Melanie Backs, I should be thankful that it’s 2012—and not 2011- -that’s my busiest wedding year to date. “Last year expenses were considerably higher,” she tells me. In fact, according to their numbers I’m saving more than $700 on what I would have shelled out last year.

So stretched as my spending may be for the summer, there is a silver lining. “We’re seeing people spending much smarter than they were in the past,” says Backs, adding that the deal-seeking mentality is one positive repercussion of the recession years. These days looking to cut costs isn’t just the norm—but the rule, she says, pointing to clothing and hotel spending as the areas with the biggest decrease in dollar signs.

 

And lucky for everyone, the web provides ample resources to do so. Thanks to online services and mobile apps, consumers and wedding guests are better equipped than ever to save.

Here, 10 financial tactics for cutting costs this wedding season:

If you want to save on gifts…

While the number one most preferred wedding gift is, of course, cold, hard cash, more than one in five couples surveyed by AMEX said they’d prefer to receive a gift off of their registry. What’s the problem? If you don’t get in early you can find yourself browsing a registry with only Dyson vacuums and Kitchen Aid mixers left over. That’s right—the expensive stuff. Don’t fret. Elle Shapiro, “expert wedding guest” and founder of SurviveWeddingSeason.com says your best bet is to team up with friends for big ticket items. Look for sites like SplittABill and WePay to make getting your pals shell out their share painless.

If you’ve got a multiple weddings lined up this summer and are anticipating a major wallet-wringing in July, take a breather. Press pause on your shopping and remind yourself that you have at least six months to make good on your gift. (“Or a year,” says Shapiro. “Just add a tag that says “Happy anniversary!”) Use this time to stagger gifts over the coming months when your budget isn’t as taxed with trips up and down the coast for wedding weekends. She says it also leaves you open to taking advantage of sales down the road—an appliance that’s full price in July just might be much cheaper come Black Friday. But if you do forgo the gift on the day of the ceremony, she advises at least bringing a card to give the couple a memento of your celebrating their day.

If there simply isn’t room in your budget for a present, Shapiro’s advice is to forgo it altogether and instead give the gift of your time and talents. “Offer to do the bride’s hair and make-up if you can,” she says, “or maybe you’re great with flowers and can arrange the centerpieces.” With so many brides and grooms looking to cut their own wedding costs, offering them a place to save as a congratulatory gift might be the perfect solution for both parties.

Maxed out your credit cards on plane tickets and hotel rooms? Backs says you might as well put your rewards points to good use. “So many reward points can be traded in for products or even gift cards that can make great gifts in a pinch—and not leave you looking for cash,” she says. “If you’ve got a bunch of points that you don’t know what to do with, gift cards are a great option.”

If you want to save on looking good…

Why shell out a few hundred bucks on a cocktail dress when you can rent the thing for a quarter of the price? Shapiro says that when it comes to wedding attire, it’s best to become a renter. For $50 she wore a Bagdeley Mishka gown from RenttheRunway to a recent wedding and felt like a million bucks. With prices that range from $40 to $200 for the weekend it certainly beats five trips to the mall and a closet full of formalwear.

But for those of us (like moi) who have enough weddings this summer that even $50 a pop seems like an unnecessary expenditure, Shapiro’s still got a solution: rally your friends for a dress-swap. “When you’ve got a closet full of dresses you’ve already worn and don’t want to keep seeing them pop up in Facebook photos, call your friends and organize an exchange.” It’s a win-win, she says. “You’ve all got something to wear and you got to hang out in the process.”

Whether you’re in the bridal party or not, we all want to look our best at weddings. But rather than wait until the last minute for your manicure at the hotel spa the morning of, Shapiro advises we book all grooming appointments at home where prices are often cheaper (Cost around the corner from the FORBES office: $12. Cost at the nearest hotel spa: $31)“I’ve noticed WashingtonDC has much more expensive manicures than we do in L.A. or even in New York,” Shapiro adds. “Just be sure to check with the bride on a preferred color if you’re in the party.”

If you want to save on travel…

The average amount wedding guests spend on travel is on the decline according to the numbers from American Express, from $96 in 2011 to just $56 in 2012. Why? According to Backs, there are two factors at play: consumers are getting savvy to travel deals and discounts online and they’re taking advantage of travel miles. Both she and Shapiro say looking into off-peak travel timescan help considerably, both with flights and train rides. I can say from experience that catching the red eye back to New York after an L.A. wedding isn’t the most fun morning-after, but it can be the best option for your budget.

The bride and groom may have booked a block of rooms at the Ritz, but finding a half-priced Hilton down the block is a perfectly acceptable way to cut down on wedding weekend spending, says Shapiro. One caveat if you’re looking to book a price-conscious nearby hotel: make sure to inform the bride of your plans—especially if you’re a member of the wedding party. “As long as you approach her with grace and consideration she’ll understand,” Shapiro says. “Look at a map and make sure you’re nearby. The last thing you’d want is to be late on the big day.”

We all know that checking bags on a flight is a prelude to an in-flight freak-out: Will they lose my bag? Will my shampoo explode all over my dress? Will my tweezers be confiscated? But when it comes to a wedding weekend the benefits of carrying on are threefold: you save on checked-bag fees, you rest-assured your bridesmaid dress will make it to your final destination and—if you’re nice to the flight attendants—they’ll hang it so it gets there wrinkle-free.

Source: forbes.com

Tax Refund

April 5th, 2018 | No Comments | Posted in Lifestyle

How Saving Some of Your Tax Refund Could Win You a Cash Prize

An income tax refund may be the biggest check some people see all year. That makes tax season a great time to jump-start a savings plan, financial experts say.

“Tax time is a critical moment, especially for vulnerable consumers,” said Brian Gilmore, senior innovation manager at Commonwealth, a nonprofit in Boston that focuses on helping people improve their financial security.

Although the economy is humming and unemployment remains low, many people still are not setting aside much cash in savings.

About one in five workers in a survey by the personal finance website Bankrate, published this week, reported not saving any income. And although financial advisers typically urge people to keep enough savings to pay six months of bills, recent research by the Pew Charitable Trusts found that about two in five households lacked the cash to cover a $2,000 expense. The Federal Reserve’s Economic Well-Being report for 2016 found that 44 percent of adults either could not pay an unexpected $400 expense or would borrow or sell something to do so.

The average federal tax refund last year was about $2,900, according to the Internal Revenue Service. To encourage people to save at least a portion of that sum, Commonwealth has teamed up with America Saves, a Consumer Federation of America initiative, to promote the “Save Your Refund” campaign.

Participants agree to deposit all or part of their refunds in a savings or retirement account, or to buy savings bonds. In exchange, they qualify for the chance to win cash prizes. Because many people use part of their refund to pay bills or credit card debt, Mr. Gilmore said, the minimum amount that Save Your Refund participants must agree to save is just $50.

To be eligible for the prizes, participants must first file I.R.S. Form 8888with their federal income tax return. The form allows the splitting of a refund via direct deposit into two or more separate accounts. (It also allows for part of the refund to come in the form of a paper check.)

To qualify for the $100 prize drawings, tax filers must then submit a Save Your Refund entry form, copies of which are available online and at most Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program sites. Each week during tax season, 10 participants will be randomly selected to receive $100.

Each participant can also submit an additional entry for a shot at two $10,000 grand prizes to be awarded after the tax-filing deadline on April 17. (The deadline is two days later than usual this year for several reasons, including a local holiday in Washington.)

Mr. Gilmore said the “prize-linked” approach was one way to motivate people to increase savings, which otherwise can seem like a dreary chore. “It’s a way to use prizes to make savings feel more fun and exciting, and less stressful,” he said. Some research suggests that the potential to earn cash prizes can motivate people to save more.

So far this year, 2,295 people participating in the Save Your Refund campaign have arranged to save just over $1.9 million, an average of about $880 each, said Lindsay Ferguson, outreach coordinator with America Saves.

Here are some questions and answers about saving:

How do I buy savings bonds with my tax return?

You can buy up to $5,000 in Series I savings bonds with your tax refund by indicating the amount you want to purchase on I.R.S. Form 8888. The tax-time bond purchase option is now the only way to buy paper savings bonds, which some people prefer when giving bonds as gifts. You can also buy bonds in digital form, if you prefer.

What kind of interest rates are savings accounts currently paying?

Rates for basic savings accounts have been anemic for years, but that may change as the Federal Reserve proceeds with its plans to raise benchmark rates. Online banks typically offer annual percentage rates of 1.5 percent or more — hardly earth-shattering, but better than the paltry rates offered by big brick-and-mortar banks.

Rates on certificates of deposit are higher, depending on the amount deposited and the term chosen.

How can I track my income tax refund?

The I.R.S. suggests using its online “Where’s my refund?” tool, or its IRS2Go smartphone app.

Source: nytimes.com

Keep Your New Year’s Resolution

January 3rd, 2018 | No Comments | Posted in Lifestyle

One Week Later: How To Keep Your New Year’s Resolution

New Year’s Day was just a week ago, but statistically the majority of us have already given up on our resolutions. It is the same pattern that plays out every year. We enter the New Year with optimism and a goal, but in the end 88% of all resolutions result in failure. They don’t have to though.

The biggest problem facing the majority of New Year’s resolutions is the lack of a plan. Far too often we dream up big goals and attack them on January 1st with all the enthusiasm of a kid in a toy store, but we never plan for the set backs and trials that come with making a real life-changing resolution. When you aren’t prepared for these setbacks, they can derail everything you had hoped to accomplish.

By taking the time to think through your resolution and plan for how to accomplish it, you can make sure your future resolutions stick. And don’t worry, even if you’ve given up on your resolution already, you can get back on track with just a little of the determination you felt before the ball dropped.

1) Make changes to your behavior – The most common New Year’s resolutions have been surprisingly stable over the years. Time and time again, the majority vow to lose weight, quit smoking, and eat healthier.

None of those can be accomplished without a significant change in your lifestyle. Before you go join a gym or throw out your pack of cigarettes, take the time to plan for how you will avoid the behaviors that have made you fail in the past. Choose a gym close to your home or on the path to work so that it is convenient for you. It also serves as a daily reminder.

Similarly, smokers will need to plan for the cravings, as well as the extra time. When looking to quit, you may need to stop spending as much time with friends that chain smoke, or temporarily avoid attending events that might tempt you.

2) Define your goals realistically – Vowing to lose weight is a positive decision, but it isn’t a reliable goal. It is too vague, and often your mental goal isn’t immediately achievable. Your goal of looking like a model may serve as a good initial motivator, but it isn’t going to hold up when you get frustrated by slow results. Instead, set a series of realistic goals that you can work towards.

Start by trying to fit into an old pair of pants. Then, work to slim down a size at a time. Most importantly, set goals that are easily tracked. Being able to see your progress will help you keep your eyes on the bigger goals down the line.

3) Reward small achievements – Every resolution is difficult, but they don’t have to feel like an endless trudge. When you reach small checkpoints or goals, acknowledge the hard work you’ve done and reward yourself.

If you’re looking to lose weight, you can reward yourself with a relatively healthy snack when you lose your first ten pounds. While it can be easy to use these rewards as an excuse to fall off the bandwagon, they can also serve as a good motivator to keep you excited for your goal.

4) Make it public – The easiest way to cripple your resolution before you’ve started is to keep it secret. There is a reason your social media feeds were filled with resolution announcements on the 1st.

When you tell others your goal, you are making yourself accountable to more than just yourself. No one wants to disappoint their loved ones, and that motivation can keep you strong when you feel weak. It may feel bad to let yourself down, but letting those who care about you down can feel much worse. Use it to your advantage.

5) Accept your limits – Just because you’ve slipped up doesn’t mean your resolution is a failure. Few are able to achieve their goal with no setbacks. In fact, USA Today says 70% of successful goal setters said their first slip actually strengthened their resolve. So don’t let that one cigarette ruin all the work you’ve done. By accepting the mistake and looking at what you can do to avoid it in the future, you’ll make make reaching your goal even easier.