Scammers use technology extensively through false email messages, fake pop-up windows, malicious website links, and fraudulent phone calls on both landline and mobile devices.

The scams involve quick cash, stealing your medical identity and most have a sense of urgency. When it involves financial solutions immediately, you should be suspicious.

These can include calls or emails requiring you to act now to collect a prize, avoid a fine or jail, or save someone from a dire situation – always step back before acting. If a pressing need involves money, chances are it’s a scam.

How to fight back on your phone?

DO register your phone number with the DO NOT CALL REGISTRY at https://www.donotcall.gov/ or 888-382-1222. This service will not block scammers, but legitimate telemarketers will stop calling within a month. I have found you have to do this yearly.

DON’T answer unrecognized calls unless you’re expecting a call from an unknown number.  Let the call go to voicemail, then review the message. Most con artists will hang up before leaving a message.

DO independently verify facts from any callers asking for money or sensitive personal information.

DON’T share private information in social media posts that may be useful for imposter scams, including phone numbers, home addresses, and names of relatives. (Also, don’t accept unknown friend requests and keep your account settings private.)

DO be wary of government imposters. Officials from the IRS, the Social Security Administration, Medicare, and other government agencies will never call you unless you contact them first or they’ve sent mail correspondence explaining a situation that requires your attention.

DON’T say “yes” to an unknown caller.  Scammers may be trying to obtain a recording of your voice, which can be used to verify approval of charges to your phone, cable, or internet bill or a credit card. If you sense something sketchy, hang up quickly.

As we age, people start to think about what the best option for their living arrangement is: active adult living community 55+, independent/assisted living communities, multi-generational homes, or aging in place. Whatever you decide there are ways to help you live longer in your home independently safely.

Walk Your Way to Health

All types of physical activity deliver health benefits. For seniors, a daily walking routine is often the best option. Harvard Medical School cites various studies that have confirmed that walking counteracts the effects of weight-promoting genes, reduces cravings for sweets, eases joint pain, and boosts immune function.

Achieving these benefits may require only 20 minutes of walking a day, five days a week. To gain even more from your walks, take them outdoors, with or without a friend. These short bursts of activity can improve your mental outlook in addition to your physical health.

Embrace One-Floor Living

Talk to a universal design specialist to learn how to prepare your home so you can age gracefully. You may need to make significant renovations, or your home may only require a few small changes to accommodate one-floor living.

If your house doesn’t lend itself to a first-floor bedroom, can’t accommodate assistive equipment in the shower, or requires more renovations than you’re willing to make, consider moving to a different home.

It will be easier to change your address now than to wait until health issues dictate a move. You’ll have more time to make decorating decisions and get settled in, so the new house becomes “home” to you and your family.

Get Comfortable With Technology

Technology is rapidly changing many aspects of life, from opening up new ways to receive medical care, new options for staying in touch with family and friends, and new says to manage tasks around the home.

If you aren’t already familiar with tablets and smartphones, take a class at your local library or community center, and learn the basics. (Obviously in person classes will have to wait until we are no longer under a stay in place order, but you may have a family member that through Face Time, Skye, or other video chat options could help you learn about your devices to help you, maybe even a grandchild). You’ll be pleasantly surprised by all the benefits these devices can offer.

Robots and smart homes will play a significant role in independent living. Soon, you’ll be able to control your entire home, from opening windows and unlocking doors to changing the thermostat and ordering delivered meals—all with your voice!

  • Loose or leaky gutters can lead to drainage issues that can allow water into your basement or crawl space.  Downspouts should be clear of debris and drain away from the foundation.
  • The grade around your home should be sloped away from the foundation to prevent water from pooling up and entering the home.  Use compact soil to increase the grade so that water flows away from the foundation. 
  • Check any wood trim surrounding windows, doors, railings, or decks for rot.  This can easily be done by using a screwdriver to probe the material.  You’ll want to repair any trouble areas before the spring rains begin.
  • Examine the roof’s shingles and flashing around skylights, vents, and chimneys from the ground.  Missing or damaged shingles should be replaced.
  • The exterior of the chimney should be examined for signs of damage. Have the flue cleaned of debris from any winter fires you may have had in your fireplace.
  • Concrete slabs should be inspected for signs of movement or cracks. All exterior concrete should drain away from the home’s foundation. Fill cracks with a concrete crack filler. When weather permits, power-wash and then seal the concrete to increase longevity.
  • Check outside hose faucets for freeze damage. Turn the water on and place your thumb or finger over the opening. If you can stop the flow of water, it is likely the pipe inside the home is damaged and will need to be replaced. While you’re at it, check the garden hose for dry rot.

Have a qualified heating and cooling contractor clean and service the outside unit of the air conditioning system. Clean coils operate more efficiently, and an annual service call will keep the system working at peak performance levels. Change interior filters on a regular basis. 

Working from home can be a big adjustment, mentally, emotionally and physically. You may even find yourself having to rig up a new at-home workspace so you can stay focused and plugged in—literally. Here are nine important things to remember when it comes to using your electrical system safely and responsibly:

  1. Test your home’s smoke alarms to be sure they’re in good working order.
  2. Avoid overloading your outlets.
  3. Use proper wattage for lamps and other light sources.
  4. Remember that extension cords should only be used on a temporary basis
  5. Never plug a space heater or fan into an extension cord or power strip.
  6. Never run extension cords underneath rugs, carpets, doors or windows.
  7. Keep papers and other combustibles at least three feet away from outlets and heat sources.
  8. Keep all cords out of the way to prevent tripping hazards.

Unplug computers and office appliances at 5:00 p.m. to save energy AND keep your work/life balance in check. 

What better way to usher in spring than by celebrating all that our amazing planet has to offer? April is National Garden Month, or, as National Today likes to call it, “Mother Nature’s colorful antidote to cabin fever.” We couldn’t have said it better! Since most of us are staying home, now is the perfect time to get in on all the fun. Here are a few ways to enjoy National Garden Month right in your own backyard:

1. Plant something new. 
Whether you’re a seasoned pro with the best-looking flower beds on the block or you’ve never so much as pulled a weed, it’s time to think outside the box. Do a little research about the climate and soil in your area and plant something you’ve never dreamed of planting before. If you go with an herb, fruit or vegetable, you can enjoy your bounty all summer and into the fall.   

2. Make it a part of your kids’ learning.
If you’re currently homeschooling, you can get your whole family involved in National Garden Month by incorporating activities into your kids’ daily learning. From preschool to high school level, there are countless free resources available online. Ideas include coloring sheets, plant and insect identification, historical research, plotting and planning and of course, planting.   

3. Have a picnic. 
Celebrate National Garden Month without ever getting your hands dirty. A backyard picnic is a great way to get some fresh air and enjoy a change of pace. All you need is a tarp or blanket to enjoy a meal outside picnic-style. You can always up the ante by playing music, putting out pillows and lanterns or preparing a fun drink or food spread. 

If you’re not feeling joy in your living space these days, first, I get it (you’re not alone!), and second, it’s probably time for a change. Luckily, even the smallest tweaks to your home can add up to big results and a new perspective. Try these afternoon projects for a quick change: 

1. Rearrange your furniture.

Nothing says fresh like a new room layout. NOTE: For your safety, please don’t rearrange furniture unless you have at least one other family member present!

2. Clean your vents and baseboards.

It may not be the most exciting project, but you won’t believe the difference it’ll make. Getting all that dust and grime off vents and baseboards gives any room an instant facelift. Great way to get the family involved while we are in shelter in place orders for most areas.

3. Rearrange the items on your shelves. 

Books, knickknacks, vases and picture frames can all be rearranged on shelves, mantels and tables for a brand-new look. We recently changed some furniture in two rooms and it did change our perspective for the better.

4. Give your cabinets and kitchen appliances a wipe-down.

Similar to vents and baseboards, kitchen appliances and cabinets can be deceptively grimy, giving the whole room a dull appearance. Wipe them all down and give the space a much different feel. Especially the kitchen near the range/cooktop!

5. Hose down your outdoor furniture.

Whether you live in a warm climate and keep furniture out all the time, or you’re getting it ready for spring after a long winter, your patio tables and chairs could probably use a good cleaning. 

6. Organize your closets.

There’s nothing like opening a closet door and seeing a perfectly neat and organized space. When you tackle your hall and bedroom closets, you’ll also likely find things to donate. 

7. Replace lightbulbs, air filters and detector batteries. 

Most of us have a burnt-out bulb somewhere. When you go to change lightbulbs, you can create new ambience with a new type of brightness or softness. And while you’re at it, go ahead and change out air filters and the batteries in your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. Nothing to make you want to do this than a 2/3 am wake up call with a chirping smoke detector!

Happy Spring! Here are some maintenance items though not comprehensive by any means, for a couple of projects for the month to consider. They are important for the upkeep of your home.

Kitchen

Check your fire extinguisher (if you have one). You’ll want to verify that the lock pin is intact and press the test indicator to take the pressure reading.

Clean your garbage disposal. Giving your garbage disposal a thorough cleaning will help keep bacteria and resulting odor at bay.

Bathroom

Clean showerheads. You can use a simple vinegar soak to remove sediment and mineral deposits, so water flows unobstructed.

Living Areas

Test smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.  Test the button on your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors to make sure the siren still works. Be sure to replace the batteries if you don’t hear the alarm sound.

Clean the fireplace.  Cleaning your chimney will help prevent soot buildup and chimney fires.

Inspections, appraisals, and automated valuation models, while related, all have different functions but can be easily confused. Let’s take a closer look.

Inspections:  A property inspection is ordered by the buyer and is meant to be an unbiased look at the condition of the property. While not necessarily required by the lender, an inspection protects the buyer from purchasing a home that requires expensive repairs or otherwise doesn’t live up to its list price. A property inspector will examine the condition of the property inside and out, running through a checklist of areas including, but not limited to, the roof, electrical panels, wiring, plumbing, appliances, doors and windows. If any issues pop up, the inspector makes note and provides the buyer with a report.

Many reported issues will need some attention but won’t affect financing. If major repairs are needed however, the lender might want to have those issues addressed before they provide any funding.

Appraisals: Once the inspection has been completed and reviewed, the lender can order an appraisal. The appraisal will consider comparable homes in the area as well as other factors such as lot size, nearby schools and crime rates. The goal of the appraisals is to determine the true value of the property for the sake of the lender.

The key difference between an inspection and an appraisal is that an inspection aims to assess the physical condition of the home itself, while an appraisal solely determines the market value of the real estate.

AVMs: An automated valuation model is a digital evaluation of the value of a home. An AVM will quickly research the database of similar homes in the area and compare them with the value of the subject property. AVMs are often used to assess the value of a property portfolio and have the advantage of saving time and money since no one physically visits the property. However, AVMs can’t take into account the true condition of a property and often aren’t enough to secure a conventional loan for a home buyer.

If you’ve made a resolution this year to get your credit on track, getting started can feel a bit daunting. After all, it can sometimes seem as if credit agencies want to keep you in the dark about how scores are calculated. Not to worry – with some diligence on your part and a little insight into the world of credit scorekeeping, you can get back on track in 2020.

Credit scores follow an algorithm first developed by the data analytics company FICO years ago. For a while, credit scores weren’t the primary force behind a credit decision but over time the impact of a credit score became more and more important. Most every loan program available today has a minimum credit score.

There are five characteristics of your credit history that make up your three-digit score: your payment history, account balances, the length of your credit history, the types of credit used and how often you’ve applied for new credit. Credit scores will improve much more quickly by paying attention to the two categories that have the greatest impact on a score: payment history and account balances.

Payment history accounts for 35 percent of the total score.  When someone makes a payment more than 30 days past the due date, score will fall. An occasional “late pay” won’t do much damage to your score but continued payments made more than 30 days past due will. Preventing late payments is key to recovering your score.

Account balances compare outstanding loan balances with credit lines and make up 30 percent of your score.  If a credit card has a a $10,000 credit line and there is a $3,300 balance, scores will improve, as the ideal balance-to-limit is about one-third of the credit line. As the balance grows and approaches or exceeds the limit, scores will begin to fall.

The remaining three have relatively little impact. How long someone has used credit accounts for15 percent of the score, but there’s nothing anyone can do to improve this area other than to wait. Types of credit and credit inquiries both make up 10 percent of the score. By concentrating on payment history and account balances, scores will improve significantly over the next few months.

It’s Halloween and the last two months of the year are upon us. For many people, this starts a stressful season of overbooked calendars with holiday parties, festivals, concerts, recitals, travel, and family visiting. Many are overwhelmed or become cranky, dare I say Scrooge or Grinch like due to the stress or not being able to enjoy one season at a time. I know many have posted on social media about the multi-holiday displays up in August/September each year. I must admit I’m a one holiday at a time type of person and do not put up my Christmas tree until the day after Thanksgiving or that weekend. Someone sent me this graphic to make me laugh about my one holiday at a time viewpoint.

How can we not be overwhelmed and step back to enjoy each holiday? Here are some ideas to hopefully help make your holidays less stressful and overwhelming, maybe enjoyable and productive.

Make a Plan

I suggest sitting down with a cup of coffee/tea and a notebook or computer with a monthly view calendar handy (I prefer to print off blank copies of each month), and write out all the events, parties, recitals, concerts, festivals, church/synagogue, gifts you want to do. Then I suggest taking a short walk or break from the process to clear your mind, then come back and review your list.

Ask yourself: Is this realistic? Are there items you could remove and still be satisfied? Are there things you can do now to make it easier to do all these things?

Develop a Budget

Determine how much you are going to spend on each gift and stick to it. Should you look at other options with family: only give gifts to younger ones, draw names, setting a budget per gift, or skipping gifts. It is important to have these conversations with your family including extended family. (see blog on “What Are Your 2019 Goals” about finances)

Shop Ahead

If you know what you are planning to get each person, you can watch for sales, pick up while out during the year, or purposely shopping small business or festivals/markets.   I used to do this for years, and it really made a difference especially the year I was due with my daughter to arrive 6 days before Christmas. I had everything bought and wrapped by early October and it made the last part of my pregnancy relaxing.

Declutter

I don’t know about you but decorating an already cluttered home is not my idea of enjoying the holidays. The last couple of years, I have started going through my different seasonal decorations and selling/donating items I no longer use or want. This has been cathartic and made my life less stressful. I have decided simpler is better for me.  (see blog on “How Organized Is Your Home?”)

Here are some other ideas to help you get started:

  • Clean out the refrigerator and pantry especially check your spice expiration dates before baking.
  • Declutter bedrooms and donate items to a shelter or discard broken items. Great way to involve your kids.
  • Refresh the bedrooms & bathrooms guests may use and declutter if needed. Make sure your own and your children’s rooms are decluttered to offer a quiet space to seek refuge.
  • Clean out the coat closet or make space for guest coats especially if you live in cold weather areas. Donate anything that no longer fits or you do not need to a local shelter.
  • Set up a space to keep wrapped gifts and have your gift-wrapping items handy with everything you need. I have a gift-wrapping box that keeps wrapping paper, tissue, tags, ribbons, gift bags all in one place.


Cook & Bake Ahead

There are items you can make ahead and freeze to make your life easier, but it takes being intentional, planning and doing it. This helps if you have last minute guests or parties to attend to have items pre-cooked or baked or for quick meal ideas for your own family.

Make Holiday Reservations

It is best to book early in most cases for travel especially for airfares, lodging, and car rentals. Sometimes you can get a great last-minute deal and a travel professional may be able to help you find the best for your budget. (see blog on “Holiday Travel Tips”)

Plan Fun Events for Self & Family

Don’t forget during the hustle and bustle to plan some fun events for yourself and your family. This could include bucket list items or volunteering as a family. These types of events are just as important as the others and are usually remembered and treasured by family.

Prepare Holiday Cards/Letter

Take your family photo or I’m sure you have plenty to make a great collage from the year already. Then update your address list and start preparing your holiday cards. This will allow you to get first choice on stamps too! 

Make the Holidays Meaningful

Discuss with your family what is important reflecting on what they like and did not like from the prior year or two. It may surprise many that grown children miss some of the traditional items that we thought they had outgrown. Be intentional with priorities and keeping what is important to you and your family.

Make personal time and Self-Care a Priority.

Don’t forget to make some time for yourself: hair, nails, massage, outing with friends. Put it on your calendar now! 

It is important to leave some open space on your holiday calendar, or you could wind up with exhaustion or emotional meltdowns (not just your children but your own). Take time to slow down and enjoy the season, make it meaningful and make great memories.

Happy holiday season!