Our Blog

Leaf Peeping Planning Guide

Millions of people each year look forward to the magnificent colors on display in autumn. Fall offers irreplaceable views, whether you’re atop a mountain ridge or thick in the folds of a forest. In addition, the crackle of leaves underfoot and the earthy smell of the soil tempts the senses even more.

Some advance planning can help make fall foliage trips that much more enjoyable and awe-inspiring.

Peak Viewing Times

Areas of the northern-most latitude will start to show color earlier than more southern areas. Generally speaking, the leaf-viewing season begins in late September and runs through early November for much of North America. Peak times for viewing depend on areas of travel and time of year. For large swaths of Canada and the United States, plan trips for late-September to mid-October. The Weather Channel offers maps and charts at www.weather.com/maps/fall-foliage for the peak times for many areas of the U.S.

Pick Your Destination

Anywhere with deciduous trees provides the opportunity to witness blazing autumn color. During leaf-peeping season, travelers can go coast to coast and see awesome vistas. Some regions are particularly known for their leaf displays. New York’s Catskill and Adirondack regions are prime spots for visitors in the autumn. Those who live further north will find that leaves in Vermont are such an attraction that routes are published indicating where to enjoy the best views. Further south, Central and Eastern Virginia peak in late October. And don’t forget the shores of the Great Lakes, which are awash in reds, oranges and yellows by mid-September. The travel resource Frommer’s offers more leaf-peeping locales to visit.

Pack The Right Gear

While most people are not without a smartphone that can capture amazing high-resolution imagery, serious leaf photographers may want to take out their prized camera equipment for leaf-peeping excursions. Also bring along a map or a GPS-enabled device so you can explore back roads and areas off the beaten path more readily.

There are plenty of apps that can help with foliage-finding adventures, so a phone is a handy tool. When packing, also bring along hiking boots, comfortable layered clothing and any equipment you’d normally take for an afternoon in the great outdoors.

Another idea is to hit the ATM machine prior to the visit. Many smaller towns and their local shops may not take credit cards, so it’s best to have cash on hand for food and souvenirs.

Extend The Day

Make leaf-peeping part of a larger series of events for the day. Scope out vineyards where you can sample local wines or plan trips around orchards, where you can come home with beautiful photos as well as fresh-picked apples and pumpkins. You may find a county fair or street festival while exploring.

Steps Anyone Can Take to Protect Local Wildlife

The opportunity to experience local wildlife is one of the many alluring features of spending time in the great outdoors. Unfortunately, wildlife is being threatened in many parts of the world as the human population increases and spreads to regions that historically have not been home to large numbers of human beings.

Numerous local, national and international environmental organizations are dedicated to protecting local wildlife. But such organizations can always use a helping hand, and the following are some simple steps anyone can take to protect local wildlife.

Sign up for local trash pick-ups

The organization Environment America reports that scientists have found fragments of plastic in hundreds of species. For example, researchers found such fragments in 44 percent of all seabird species. Local park and beach cleanups can help reduce that figure and make these beloved spaces look even better. Signing up for park or beach clean-ups also provides a great reason to get outdoors.

Make an effort to cut back on your energy consumption

This effective approach can benefit local wildlife and animal lovers’ bottom lines. The Animal Welfare Institute notes that many power plants rely on fossil fuels, the extraction of which can be harmful to local habitats. That ultimately and adversely affects local wildlife. Reducing energy consumption can cut back on the need to extract fossil fuels, and it also can lead to lower energy bills for consumers.

Support eco-friendly legislation

Legislators fighting to protect local wildlife need all the help they can get. Individuals can lend a hand by supporting legislators who are working to maintain local habitats so wildlife can continue to thrive. Share information about political issues related to local wildlife via social media and volunteer to help local politicians and nonprofit organizations spread the word about the importance of protecting the species who call your region home.

Do not get too close to wildlife

The beauty of wildlife can be hard to resist, but the AWI urges animal lovers to keep their distance from animals they see in the wild. Do not handle young animals found in the wild, no matter how vulnerable they appear to be, as the AWI notes that it’s not uncommon for mothers to leave their young alone for long periods of time while they forage for food.

Wildlife faces an uncertain future in many parts of the world. Individuals can do their part to protect wildlife and ensure their long-term survival.

How to Protect Nature When Enjoying the Great Outdoors

Few getaways can reinvigorate the mind and body like a day spent in the great outdoors. The rewards of a day spent outside aren’t just figments of the imagination. The online medical resource WebMD notes that exposure to the great outdoors can improve sleep cycles, boost self-esteem, reduce anxiety, help people focus, and bolster the immune system, among other benefits.

The relationship between people and nature is not a one-way street. Just as nature takes care of people, people must do their part to protect nature. Whether nature lovers are hiking, relaxing at the beach or engaging in another outdoor activity, the following tips can help people protect the serene settings and landscapes they love so much.

Leave nothing behind

Anti-littering campaigns have been prevalent for decades. Despite that, litter remains a significant problem. A 2020 study from Keep America Beautiful, a nonprofit dedicated to preventing litter, found that there are nearly 50 billion pieces of litter along roadways and waterways across the United States. Each piece of litter that finds its way into nature can be prevented. When spending time in nature, individuals can commit to brining out whatever they bring in. Leaving nothing behind reduces the issues associated with litter, including the negative effects it has on wildlife and marine life, and helps to maintain the idyllic look of natural settings like forests and beaches.

Reduce reliance on plastics and recycle the plastics you do use

Plastics adversely affect the health of the planet in various ways. But a staggering percentage of the plastics humans use are never recycled. A 2108 study published in the journal Science Advances found that, of the 8.3 billion metric tons of plastics that have been produced since 1950, only around 9 percent has been recycled. Plastics take roughly 400 years to degrade, so much of the plastics that have not been recycled are ending up in the world’s oceans. In fact, projections from environmentalists suggest that oceans will contain more plastics than fish by the middle of this century. By reducing reliance on plastics and recycling the plastics they do use, nature lovers can do their part to combat this significant threat and protect the natural settings they enjoy so much.

Plant trees

Planting trees could help combat the issue of rising carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere. According to Greenpop, an organization devoted to urban greening and forest restoration projects, trees absorb CO2, removing it from the air and storing it as they release oxygen. A day outdoors planting trees is a fun activity for people of all ages, and it’s also a highly effective way to help the planet.

The great outdoors is a respite for millions of people across the globe. Taking steps to protect nature is a great way to ensure it’s accessible and there to enjoy for generations to come.

How to Easily Maximize Coupon Savings

Many items, including food and clothing, can strain a budget. As a result, many shoppers make it their mission to save money on their purchases, and coupons can be a great way to do just that.

According to a 2014 survey from the discount coupon site RetailMeNot, 96 percent of respondents regularly use coupons. In fact, Hawk Incentives, another deal resource, found that 40 percent of coupon users feel smarter when taking advantage of a deal. While there are some people who use coupons periodically, an entirely different type of shopper has mastered the art of maximizing coupon savings.

Learning how to follow such shoppers’ lead can save consumers substantial sums of money.

• Look for deals in your local newspaper. Begin by perusing newspaper inserts from local papers and match up the circulars to the stores you frequently visit. Pick the best deals you can find for products you actually use. You will not be saving money if you clip and utilize coupons but end up buying items that you don’t need and/or won’t use.

• See if you can stack coupons. Some stores will enable you to use both a manufacturer’s coupon and a store coupon at the same time. This is called stacking. Shop at stores that allow stacking to get better deals, particularly on food.

• Use discount code sites. Regularly check sites and apps like RetailMeNot for codes for favorite retailers. This is easily done before you head to the check-out line. Popular stores frequently run deals, and you may not realize there is a discount even if you’re in the store already. Oftentimes codes can be scanned directly from your phone. Other apps and resources enable you to load offers directly to a store rewards card. Investigate these possibilities for more savings.

• Automatically update your shopping cart. When making purchases online, utilize a plug-in site like Honey, which automatically scans its database of usable discount codes for the retailer you’re using. See if there are any applicable codes that can earn you a discount on the spot. If not, Honey will tell you that you have the best price.

• Sign up for mailing lists. While you may not want to inundate your inbox with spam, retailer newsletters and mailing lists will inform you about discounts and sales others may not know about. If you’re concerned about your email program getting flooded, designate a filter that will group these promotions into a separate folder.

• Keep coupons close. Coupons are only good if they’re available for use. Have a holder for print coupons or store digital coupons in a folder on your phone that can be easily accessed.

With these strategies in mind, consumers can increase their coupon savings considerably.

How to Find a Car That Fits Your Budget

Drivers in the market for a new or pre-owned vehicle over the last couple of years likely discovered that the process of buying a car or truck is as difficult as ever. Prior to and during the COVID-19 pandemic, factory closures, supply chain issues, semiconductor chip shortages, and a bevy of other complications led to fewer vehicles on lots and much higher sticker prices on cars that were on the lot. That has caused people who are on strict budgets to reevaluate priorities and timelines.

According to Ivan Drury, Edmunds’ senior manager of insights, consumers can’t expect to walk into the dealership thinking they’re going to find incentives or bargains right now. Plus, they may not even be able to see or test drive a vehicle they want. That reality makes now a great time for car shoppers to rethink their buying strategies.

Choose a different vehicle class

Tyson Jominy, Vice President of Data and Analytics at J.D. Power, says vehicle inventory in November 2021 reached record lows. Although there has been some improvement in 2022, consumers may still have to make some concessions if they need a vehicle promptly. SUVs and pick-up trucks have been some of the hardest inventory to find. Considering a sedan or even a compact car may be the only way to get a new car quickly.

Wait it out

Those with the luxury of time may continue to wait for inventory to increase and prices to decrease. Tech experts, including Intel CEO Pat Gelsinger, expect chip shortages to persist into 2024. If a person’s vehicle is in good condition, it may be more economical to hold on to it a little longer and do the maintenance required.

Seek out no-markup dealerships

It may take some investigation, but there are certain dealerships that are not adding astronomical markups, also called “market adjustments,” to the costs of their vehicles. These dealers may advertise online, and car buyers can always call ahead to ask about markups.

Take what you can get

Lots filled with a variety of makes, models, colors, and features are no longer the norm. Shoppers will be afforded more flexibility in price if they’re willing to take what’s available.

Check with different lenders

The Federal Reserve increased interest rates in the middle of 2022 and it initially planned to increase rates a few more times throughout the year. People, particularly those who do not have the best credit, can do themselves a favor and shop around at different banks for the best loan rates – the loan may be less costly than what’s offered through the dealership. Also, certified pre-owned vehicles tend to come with promotional interest rates that are lower than the average APR, which makes them a viable alternative.

Vehicles are still expensive and in short supply, necessitating changes to how people buy their cars or trucks.

Tips for Labor Day Getaways and More

Labor Day marks the unofficial end of summer. Even though summer officially ends a few weeks after Labor Day, a new school year begins for most students by Labor Day, and the lazy, hazy days spent on the beach give way to a new school year.

It’s no wonder that so many people want to capture the last of the summer magic before it’s gone for another year; Labor Day getaways help people hold on to summer just a little longer. Explore these tips to make Labor Day trips a bit more safe and convenient.

Leave extra time

Roadways are bound to be busy with other Labor Day weekend travelers, particularly for those headed to seaside locales or campgrounds. One way to avoid some of the traffic is to depart from home in the wee hours of the morning or late at night. Leave plenty of time to get to your destination so you won’t be tempted to speed or drive erratically. Utilize GPS and mobile phone mapping apps to identify routes that can help you avoid traffic.

Be cautious of the weather

Extreme temperatures can be a concern even this late in the season. The American Red Cross urges travelers to remain hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids while en route to destinations or while engaging in Labor Day fun. Avoid strenuous exercise during the hottest part of the day. Strong storms can blow through in an instant, so keep track of weather alerts and find shelter if a thunderstorm approaches while on the beach or in other areas where lightning strikes occur more readily.

Plan ahead

Labor Day vacationers number in the millions. Hotels and motels will be in demand, driving up rates, and airfare prices could soar. Book early to secure the best prices available and to guarantee you have accommodations.

Consider a bundled vacation

Package deals at destinations can save you a considerable amount of money. Fly.com allows users to search the site for destination-appropriate packages that can combine airfare with hotel and car rentals to save money.

Look for lifeguards

If the plan is to swim in a lake, river or the ocean, select areas that have lifeguards available. Always swim sober and with a buddy. Even strong swimmers can be caught off guard by the power of water, which can include rip currents or rushing rapids.

Watch alcohol intake

Never drink alcohol while operating a vehicle en route to and from Labor Day festivities. Have a designated driver available if need be. Also, vacationers must recognize that alcohol can contribute to dehydration. Choose non-alcoholic and decaffeinated beverages to stay hydrated in warm weather.

Consider smaller airports

It may seem more convenient to utilize larger airport hubs for travel, but driving a little further to smaller, regional airports can help you save money on fares. Plus, these airports may be less crowded, helping to calm stress and make the overall trip a little easier.

Labor Day travel is about to heat up, and a few tips can make plans go more smoothly.

Distractions That Can Affect Efficiency At Work

Busy workdays are the norm for many professionals. Though most workers undoubtedly would prefer to feel busy rather than bored, it’s easy for professionals to succumb to burnout if they don’t get periodic breaks from the demands of their careers.

Burnout is a significant issue for working professionals. A recent survey of 1,500 working professionals from various sectors and backgrounds by the job aggregator site Indeed found that 52 percent of respondents were experiencing burnout in 2021. That marks a nearly 10 percent increase from a similar survey Indeed conducted prior to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Various factors, some of which are beyond individuals’ control, can contribute to burnout. Professionals who want to avoid burnout without taking a step back from their careers can look for ways to be more efficient during the day. Overcoming these common distractions can improve efficiency, which should help professionals free up time and reduce their risk of burnout.

Smartphones

A 2015 CareerBuilder survey of hiring and human resources managers from various industries found that employers cited smartphones and texting as the biggest productivity killers in the workplace. Professionals no doubt recognize how distracting their phones can be during the workday, and they may feel powerless to avoid them. But they’re not. Alter notification settings so the phone only delivers the most important notifications (i.e., children’s schools, meeting reminders, etc.) during the day. Turn off notifications from news, sports, and entertainment apps.

The Internet

The CareerBuilder survey found that employers believed the internet is the second biggest productivity killer. Professionals with a lot on their plates should do everything they can to avoid surfing the internet during the workday. The internet can be a rabbit hole, and even individuals who only intend to take a brief break from work to check the news or clear their head may soon find themselves moving from website to website while their work piles up. If it’s a mental break you need, get up and take a brief walk around the office instead of surfing the internet.

Emails

Emails are another significant distraction during a typical workday. To overcome the seemingly endless flood of emails coming from coworkers, friends, and family during the day, professionals can work in offline mode for a predetermined period of time each day. This affords the opportunity to work on specific tasks or projects without being interrupted by emails. Emails will still accumulate while the computer is in offline mode, but professionals won’t be notified as each message is delivered and will be able to work distraction-free until they turn offline mode off.

Meetings

Meetings may be well-intentioned, but they often compromise productivity and distract professionals from their jobs. A recent study titled “Meetings in America” commissioned by Verizon Conferencing found that 90 percent of professionals admitted to daydreaming during meetings, while 39 percent admitted they had fallen asleep during meetings in the past. Managers can help employees get more done and limit distractions by scheduling fewer meetings or reconsidering just who needs to attend meetings more carefully.

A distraction-free workday might seem unlikely, but professionals can take various steps to overcome the most common distractions in an effort to be more efficient.

Community Service Projects For Kids

The importance of giving back to one’s community is a value that parents can instill in their children at an early age. Learning about worthy causes in local communities can help develop empathy in children and give them insight into those who live outside of their social and economic spheres. In addition, encouraging children to take part in community service can teach them skills they would not necessarily learn in the classroom.

Getting involved in community service as a child may lead to a lifelong commitment to giving back. The following are some ways children can get involved in community service projects.

Spend time with seniors

Children can visit seniors in nursing homes or assisted living facilities, provided that the visits are cleared with the home’s staff. Kids can work alongside seniors on craft projects or participate in games like bingo.

Collect food for the needy

Volunteering with a local soup kitchen can teach children about the plight of the less fortunate. Kids also can collect canned or boxed food and deliver it to food pantries so that no needy family has to go hungry.

Improve school grounds

Working with the principal of a local school, children can make plans to improve the grounds Ideas include repairing play equipment, planting trees, adding a vegetable or flower garden, or installing buddy benches where friends can find each other and hang out.

Donate eyeglasses

Kids can gather used eyeglasses and donate to an organization that recycles them for the needy.

Send care packages

Kids can reward first responders and military personnel who live in their communities by putting together care packages for them and their families.

Pick up litter

Children can gather like-minded friends and participate in a beach or park cleanup.

Service projects are great ways for kids to get involved and give back to their communities.

How Much Should a Backpack Weigh?

Backpacks are handy tools that carry an array of gear. Students rely on them to hold books, while hikers and campers utilize backpacks to carry items such as food and beverages that keep them safe on trails. Even office workers may turn to backpacks to carry laptops or other tools of the trade.

Backpacks are handy resources, but overstuffed backpacks may cause injury. Backpacks should only carry the weight that people can handle, and there are guidelines that can help people safely utilize backpacks.

The weight of a backpack depends on the age of the person using it. Generally speaking, adults should not exceed 20 percent of total body mass when loading backpacks. That means a healthy person weighing 200 pounds should not carry more than 40 pounds in his or her backpack.

In regard to children, researchers indicate that a child’s backpack should weigh no more than 10 percent of what the student weighs. Those findings are based on a Spanish study involving 49 primary school-aged children. Therefore, if a child weighs 70 pounds, he or she should only carry up to 7 pounds in the backpack.

Individuals also should follow a few other backpack recommendations to alleviate injuries. It’s not a good idea to wear a backpack hanging from only one shoulder. A backpack should be worn on both shoulders, and ideally with a lumbar strap. This will help to prevent muscular pains by providing well-rounded support.

A backpack with wide, padded straps can minimize pressure on the shoulders, back, and collarbone. Backpacks made of lightweight material will not add much additional weight to what’s being carried. Another tip is for children and adults to pack the heaviest item carried in the backpack closest to the center of the back to minimize strain.

Failure to follow guidelines may result in pain and injuries and have negative effects on balance, which may increase the risk of falls or other injuries.

Whenever possible, individuals may want to use trolley backpacks, which are on wheels. They can be dragged, alleviating the need to carry heavy loads.

How to Be a Smart Credit Consumer

Financial planning encompasses a host of strategies designed to help people enjoy the fruits of their labors. Financial planning is often associated with saving for retirement. However, smart credit management is an integral component of financial planning that can begin paying dividends long before adults are ready to retire.

Capital One notes that the benefits of a good credit score include lower credit card and mortgage interest rates, which can save individuals tens of thousands of dollars over the life of their home loans. In addition, the Federal Trade Commission reports that the better an individual’s credit history, the easier it is for that person to establish utility services, including electricity and internet service.

With so much to gain, individuals should do everything they can to be smart credit consumers. These strategies can help consumers use credit to their advantage as they look to gain from this vital component of financial planning.

Recognize the factors that affect your score. A credit score is generated using a formula that takes various factors into consideration. These factors include payment history, credit utilization rate, length of credit history, and credit inquiries, among others. Each variable is important, but paying balances in full and on time each month is a great way to build a strong financial reputation in the eyes of creditors. In addition, avoid overutilization of credit, especially if you can’t pay balances in full each month.

Check credit before looking for a job. One easily overlooked benefit of being a smart credit consumer is its impact on individuals’ ability to find a good job. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau urges individuals to check their credit reports before they begin looking for a job so they can correct any mistakes that may be on their reports. That’s because some employers look at applicants’ credit reports as part of their background checks. Smart credit consumers recognize that monitoring their credit is just as important as utilizing it wisely. Consumers can access reports from each of the three main credit reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion) for free once every 12 months.

Don’t wing it. Much like successful retirement planning is often the culmination of decades of hard work, strategizing and saving, becoming a smart credit consumer involves commitment to a well-developed plan to utilize credit. Impulsive use of credit can quickly compromise individuals’ credit histories and financial reputations, so develop a plan to use credit wisely and stick to that plan. A successful credit utilization strategy should be rooted in paying bills on time, and ideally in full, each month to avoid potentially costly interest charges. Identify any bad credit utilization habits and do your best to eliminate them. If necessary, work with a financial planner to develop your credit utilization strategy.

Various strategies can help individuals become smart credit consumers and reap the rewards that a strong financial reputation has to offer.