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10 Easy Moves to Boost Your Fitness Anytime, Anywhere

Eric Dollinger

You’re rightfully proud of your daily trip to the gym after work, even on your busiest days.

But why do your joints feel so stiff that you hobble to the car? Why do you get winded going up and down the stairs? Why does your back ache?

The answer boils down to biology.

“The electronic and technological revolution has changed how much we move every day,” says Galina Denzel, co-author of “Eat Well, Move Well, Live Well.” “More things are coming to us…and that alone has changed how much movement there is in our days. We are a species that is programmed to conserve energy so [the lack of movement] impacts our body.”

One poll found that most people sit for 56 hours a week. When you compare that to the possible 3 ½ to 7 hours we spend in the gym each week, it’s obvious why our bodies feel like they’re deteriorating.

But there’s a way to reverse the damage: move.

“If you define movement as going to the gym, that’s not an accurate definition,” says Denzel. “Movement is everything that requires you to change position.”

You’ve likely read advice that urges all of us to park far away from our destinations and walk, or even walk to a co-worker’s desk instead of emailing.

But Denzel says you need more conscious movement to improve your health.

CONTINUE READING: 6 Tips to Help You Flex Your Workout Muscle

The good news is that doesn’t necessarily mean more trips to the gym. Just standing and stretching, or crossing your legs and shifting your body weight, can make a big difference in your overall health.

Biomechanist Katy Bowman, author of several books including “Dynamic Aging,” says such movements are crucial to maintain health. One of the worst things you can do for your body is sit in one position — as so many of us do — for hours.

“We all think that if we get a workout in each day, the sedentary [behavior] doesn’t matter. It does,” she says. “Research is highlighting that people who work our regularly [but are otherwise sedentary] aren’t healthier than people who don’t work out.

“Everyone is trying to finagle the perfect workout,” she says. “But it’s the sedentary behavior that’s swaddling your workout that causes the transformation.”

Basic stretching and movement — even in your office, while wearing your workwear— can help remedy and reverse the impact of a sedentary lifestyle. The bottom line: small moves equal major health benefits.

“You don’t have to wear a different outfit or special shoes or buy anything, or even leave your office,” says Bowman. “We are talking about very small movements, shifting your positions. You can have a very intense relationship with your office and computer and easily do these movements. You can move your computer to a table and work standing up a few minutes. You can walk over to a colleague’s desk. “

But while movement is good, completely switching gears may not be.

Bowman cautions having an all-or-nothing mindset. Some people are so intent on beating the “sitting is the new smoking” mindset that they stand all day. That can cause issues, too, such as varicose veins, torn joints and even cardiovascular issues, as it did for workers on assembly lines prior to the 1971 establishment of Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulations. Moderation and variety is key.

“If you spend a lot of time sitting, it’s vital to get up at least every hour — even if you simply stand up and walk around,” says Linda Melone, a certified trainer and founder of AgelessAfter50.com. “A few minutes of activity are enough to reverse the physiological changes responsible for weight gain and other health issues such as increased risk of inflammation.”

Easy, Effective Desk Exercises

Try these at-work-or-at-home exercises suggested by fitness experts to move toward better health.

1. Tone your triceps

Melone: Hold a water bottle, stapler or other object that provides weight resistance. Sit or stand straight and, grasping the object with one hand, bring it up and overhead with your elbow pointed toward the ceiling and “weight” down toward the center of your back. Keep your elbow pointed up as you slowly raise and lower the object. Repeat 12 to 15 times, then switch arms.

2. Improve your foot circulation; build lower leg muscles

Photo courtesy of Katy Bowman

Denizen: Stand with your feet hip-width apart and place a tennis ball under your foot. Roll the ball back and forth while placing a significant amount of your body weight over the ball. Do that for 2–3 minutes per foot or as long as you find it enjoyable.

Note: Massage and move your feet as often as possible. And avoid tight, uncomfortable shoes.

3. Firm your abs

Melone: Sit up straight in your chair, feet flat on the floor. Keeping knees bent and in position, alternately lift one leg and then the other an inch or two off the ground, focusing on using your abdominal muscles to do the work. For a bigger challenge, place both hands on your desk in front of you and lift both legs at once. Repeat 15 times or until you lose your form.

4. Stretch your spine

Photo courtesy of Katy Bowman

Bowman: Stand facing a wall, countertop, or back of a chair. Place both hands on the wall (or whatever you’ve chosen), slowly back up until your arms are fully outstretched, lowering your chest through your arms. Keep your legs straight and your weight back toward your heels so you can easily wiggle your toes. Relax your head and neck.

5. Stretch your body

Bowman: Think of how gymnasts throw their arms in the air and stick out their chests at the end of routines. You will do the same thing here as you reach your arms up until you can touch the wall above the doorway. Think of how the gymnasts lower their ribcages while extending their arms. Mimic that move.

If you can’t reach both arms up high enough, try extending one arm at a time, walking your fingers up the wall as high as possible.

Lowering your ribs will intensify the motion in your arms and shoulders.

Repeat both sides.

Note: Check your elbows. Do they always point outward? Try a few with your elbows pointing straight ahead and see how this movement changes the stretch in the arms, shoulders, and torso.

Do this every time you go through a doorway, holding a few seconds each time.

6. Build lower body strength

Photo courtesy of Katy Bowman

Melone: Stand with feet shoulder width apart, arms stretched out in front or crossed on your chest. Lower your hips toward your seat as if about to sit down, gently touch and then slowly rise back to starting position. Repeat 12 to 15x.

7. Strengthen your back

Melone: Sit up straight and grip the front of your desk with your hands shoulder-width apart. Push yourself away from your desk by rolling your chair backward, then slowly pull yourself back up by squeezing your shoulder blades together and focusing on using your back muscles to do the work (avoid shrugging). Repeat 12 to 15 times.

8. Build lower body flexibility

Bowman: Hold on to a doorknob. Place your feet at hip width with toes pointing straight. Start to sit back into a squat. Don’t keep your back straight. Instead, maintain the curve of your spine and allow your hip joints to move. Ideally, keep your upper legs are parallel to the floor and allow your glutes to support you. To stand back up, push off through your heel.

(Denizen said you can also do this holding onto a counter or other solid surface.)

9. Strengthen your quadriceps

Melone: Sit up straight in your chair and tighten your abdominals. Start with both feet flat on the floor, knees at a right angle. Slowly extend one leg out in front of you; hold for a few seconds, then squeeze your quadriceps (the large muscles in the front of the thighs), and return to the starting position (without resting between reps) until you complete 12 to 15 reps. Repeat with the opposite leg.

10. Strengthen your legs

Bowman: Stand up, barefoot, and move one leg behind you, tucking the toes down and keeping the torso upright (it is common to move the pelvis or upper body forward).

Note: This move can cause foot cramps. To avoid them, try doing the exercise more often, but for a shorter number of repetitions. Also, to reduce the load, try not to stretch the leg back too far. For a greater stretch, step farther back with your stretching foot.

Yes, working at a desk is a fact of life, but easy-to-do exercises — no special clothes needed — can help you build muscle and improve flexibility and circulation.

CONTINUE READING: 8 Fun Sports for Baby Boomers to Stay Fit

Ignore the Latte Factor and Other Time-Wasting Money Advice

Emily Guy Birken

Let’s say you need to cut back on your spending.

You turn to money-saving gurus to get some advice on making your money stretch further. All the personal finance experts seem to agree on what you need to do — cut back on little expenses here and there, so that you can save money on the everyday things you buy.

Once you’ve made these cuts, your newly freed-up money will flow like water and you’ll be able to afford all the things you dream of, right?

Well, no.

This kind of nickel-and-dime money saving advice is a pet peeve for many experts in the personal finance realm, in part because following the make-small-daily-cuts advice requires a major time commitment. You may very well be able to reduce your spending by changing your small daily spending habits, but this kind of advice tends to ignore the fact that there is a cost to your time.

While there is nothing wrong with paying attention to the small amounts of money you “waste” on a daily basis, you can save more money and waste less time by cutting back on the things you spend big money on, such as housing.

Here are the most common pieces of time-wasting money advice that you can feel comfortable ignoring, and what you should do instead:

“The Latte Factor”

This term, which was originally coined by financial expert David Bach, refers to the fact that small, regular expenses add up to large amounts. The classic example is buying a $5 latte five days a week, which adds up to a waste of $1,300 per year on coffee, although any kind of small, regular luxury can theoretically be cut for similarly big savings.

There is nothing wrong with Bach’s math in determining that a daily $5 expense turns into a yearly $1,300 expense. The problem is that this kind of advice seems to miss the point. The people who actually spend $5 every single day on coffee are not the ones who are paying close attention to where any of their money goes. Cutting out small luxuries like this will not make a dent in the finances of someone who is not keeping track of her money, since she’s unlikely to save each and every unspent $5 until she has $1,300 to put in the bank.

All this tip does is make people feel guilty for enjoying small luxuries or time-saving conveniences. According to Mindy Crary, a Seattle-based financial planner and money expert, “Spending $40 a month on something that makes your life easier or more enjoyable isn’t going to prevent you from reaching your financial goals. I’ve never seen a latte habit make or break somebody.”

As long as you are aware of how much you spend on lattes, conveniences, or other small, regular, and “unnecessary” purchases, then you can feel free to disregard people who wag their fingers over this kind of spending.

Clipping Coupons

According to certain reality shows, it is apparently possible to get hundreds-to-thousands of dollars’ worth of groceries for next to nothing by taking advantage of both coupons and store sales that make coupons go farther. Considering the fact that coupons are completely free and come directly to you in the mail (or even online or to your smart phone), this seems like a no-fail method of freeing up money in your budget.

Unfortunately, the reality of clipping coupons does not have much in common with the incredible savings that extreme couponers enjoy on TV. To begin with, collecting, cutting, and organizing coupons takes a great deal of time, and it becomes even more onerous if you are trying to stack your coupons on top of store sales. This kind of work is worthwhile for anyone who has more time than money, and who actually enjoys the game of using coupons. If that doesn’t describe you, then it’s just going to be a chore that wastes your time.

In addition, you will be hard pressed to find coupons for fresh food, like meat, dairy, or produce, meaning you would be saving money on foods that are not as healthy for you. Rather than changing your food-buying habits to accommodate coupons, it makes more sense to stick to purchasing the fresh and healthy foods you already eat.

Cherry-Picking Grocery Sales

Unlike clipping coupons, cherry-picking grocery sales can save you money on fresh foods and the items you already buy. With this strategy, you peruse the weekly circulars put out by each grocery chain in your area to determine who has the best prices on various items.

Each store will offer what’s known as “loss leaders” — advertised items that have a great sale price to get you in the door. The $1.99/lb chicken breast will entice shoppers to come to the store advertising it, and most people will just complete the rest of their shopping in the same place. Grocery cherry-pickers will plan their grocery shopping at several stores on the same day in order to take advantage of each chain’s loss leaders and get the best price for every item they buy.

This strategy can certainly work, but it takes a great deal of time. To begin with, you need to have a good idea of what a normal price is so that you can recognize a good sale when it happens. That often requires you to keep a price book or similar accounting to get a sense of what you normally pay for groceries. Then, the actual reading of weekly circulars and the driving around to various grocery stores adds many hours to your regular food shopping, not to mention the additional cost of driving to several stores every week.

Finally, the amount of money you can save by either cherry-picking sales or clipping coupons is relatively low, despite the extreme examples you might see in the media. That’s because food purchases are a relatively small part of your monthly budget. If you spend $800 per month on groceries, a 10% cut of your grocery spending is only $80, and it will cost you time to reach that $80 savings. For most people, the savings is not worth the time spent.

Running All Your Errands in One Trip

Every driver hopes to improve fuel economy and make those expensive trips to the gas pump fewer and farther between. Which means you can find any number of suggestions for ways to improve your fuel efficiency. While it certainly makes good sense to keep your tires properly inflated, keep your windows closed over 55 miles per hour, and keep a safe distance between you and the next car, some fuel-efficiency advice is merely a waste of time.

For instance, saving all of your errands up for a single day of driving will certainly reduce the number of miles you drive. However, this kind of errand-planning can cost you time, since you will be stuck running errands all at once, rather than spreading them out throughout the week. If you have a day to devote to errands, this is certainly a reasonable method for making a slight improvement to your fuel economy. But it is only a slight improvement, meaning it’s not worth your while if you are happy with how you currently handle errands.

Looking for Better Deals Before You Buy Anything

While the internet has made it possible to quickly comparison shop, it can often be a double-edged sword. It is very easy to find yourself refusing to buy something until you can get the very best deal. This means you often waste minutes or hours searching for a slightly better price online, only to score a couple of bucks off the original price. Unless you truly enjoy deal-hunting and can’t afford to spend the two dollars you have saved, this is a waste of time.

In addition, cheaper options sometimes also take longer. Just this spring, I ordered the cheapest ant traps available on Amazon to deal with the unwelcome colony that was making itself at home in my kitchen. The traps I bought were being sold by a third-party vendor. I saved about $3, but it took a week and a half for the traps to arrive, meaning I had to deal with ants for nine more days than I would have if I had just spent $3 more and bought the traps directly from Amazon.

DIY Car and Home Maintenance

People with basic car and home maintenance skills do have a leg up over the rest of us when it comes to saving money. Knowing how to change your own oil or tile your own floor can be a great way to save money.

The problem is that learning to do-it-yourself is not a quick process if you don’t already have the skills. You will need the time to learn and practice before you are completely comfortable handling these sorts of tasks. If you are not someone who enjoys learning these sorts of things, then it will be a tough slog trying to become competent.

In addition, you will often need to borrow or buy the proper equipment to do it yourself, which adds to the cost or the time involved. All-in-all, your time is often better served by letting someone else handle the car or home maintenance, since the financial savings will not make the time commitment worth it.

Where to Focus Your Money-Saving Energy Instead

In general, cuts to your daily expenses will result in small savings. That’s not a bad thing in and of itself, but it makes much more sense to find ways to save money on bigger expenses, since you’ll see much larger savings. It is easier to save $200 all at once than to stress over 50 different $4 purchases.

So, how do you decide where to cut expenses? Start with your largest expenses, and figure out a way to reduce them. For instance, your mortgage or rent is most likely your largest single monthly expense. Downsizing is a common suggestion for reducing this expense, but since that also takes money and time to implement, you might also consider less extreme ideas, like taking in a roommate, or putting part of your space on Airbnb. Similarly, you could explore the option of refinancing your mortgage, or negotiating your rent payment with your landlord.

Go through a similar thought exercise with each of your largest expenses. For instance, you might also commit to ride sharing to reduce your transportation expenses. Look for big changes that net big savings.

Focusing on these larger expenses will save you more money and cause you much less stress than trying to recoup the amount you spend on lattes.

READ NEXT: 5 Challenges in Adjusting to Retirement

Is Your Home Outdated or Charming?

Eric Dollinger

Whether you’re planning to sell your home or remain there indefinitely, it’s important to know that wear and tear can slowly erode your dwelling’s appeal.

Taken separately, faded kitchen cabinets, worn carpets, and walls that need painting may seem unimportant. However, as the need for improvements grows, your home gradually will lose its charm. If you’re planning to sell, this will reduce the amount that buyers are willing to pay. If you’re planning to stay, it will make your home less enjoyable to live in.

A home that has a lived-in look can be warm and inviting. The trick is not to cross the line from cozy to undesirable. It’s important to identify what needs to be updated and to follow through. If you live in a craftsman-style house you should take steps to preserve built-in cabinets, since they reflect the home’s architectural style. However, if your home contains inexpensive wood paneling that looks outdated and out of place, it’s time to make a change.

The same goes for an old shag carpet that doesn’t blend in with the rest of your décor. A set of furniture that has seen better days may hold great memories for you, but people who visit you will find it outdated.

Finding a strategy for updating your home

Although homeowner’s insurance can provide protection against disasters, such as hurricanes and fires, it’s up to you to do the routine upkeep that preserves a home’s livability. Updating your home doesn’t have to be costly, however. A few key improvement projects can make a big difference.

Here are five ideas for keeping your home up to date:

1. Clearing away the clutter

Sometimes all a home needs is a good cleaning, says Aaron Norris, vice president of The Norris Group, which purchases, remodels and sells homes.

It’s important to clear away any clutter that detracts from your home’s appeal. Too many wall hangings, countertop appliances, and collectibles can obscure the beauty that attracted you to your home in the first place.

“Clutter is something that takes away from the charm of a home,” explains Kentucky-based decorator Liz Toombs. “Clear it away. Visual clutter leads to stress and tends to make people not enjoy their space.”

If you’re trying to sell your home, prospective buyers won’t be able to visualize how their own furnishings will look if they feel overwhelmed by your clutter. Norris recalls one homeowner who filled his house with mounted hunting trophies. They made the house look more like a museum than a home and did nothing to attract buyers.  Even if you’re not trying to sell your home, there are benefits to removing the extra clutter in your home.

So what do you do with all your stuff? You can move it from living areas to an attic, a basement, or a garage, but eventually you will run out of space. To clear things away permanently, consider:

  • Donating unneeded items to thrift stores
  • Holding a garage sale
  • Selling items online
  • Renting a storage facility unit

2. Brightening your kitchen

The kitchen is one of the most important rooms in your home. It’s where people cook, eat, and socialize.

“Many kitchens are the hub of the house,” says Toombs. “They’re where everyone tends to gather.”

You don’t have to make a huge investment to update a kitchen, says Gary Kent, a longtime real estate agent. You can resurface cabinets rather than replace them. This involves covering exposed wood surfaces with a new veneer.

Another inexpensive way to refresh your kitchen is to install new liners in cabinets and drawers. It also helps to give kitchens a deep cleaning. Be sure to include the floor, the counters, refrigerators, ovens, and stovetops. Don’t forget about the inside of appliances.

Replacing kitchen countertops can be costly. Before you decide to take that step, determine if your existing countertops can be cleaned or repaired. If you decide to replace them with heavy materials, such as stone, make sure your cabinets will support the weight. Remember, some countertop materials require extra maintenance. For example granite countertops may need to be resealed periodically.

3. Replacing worn carpets

It’s common for people to keep carpeting in place too long, says Toombs. A badly worn carpet can make an otherwise charming home seem neglected.

“If a carpet looks bad, it’s time to replace it,” she said. “That can change the whole aesthetic of the space.”

According to fixr.com, the average cost for carpeting with pads is $30 to $40 per square yard. Norris says installing new carpeting is one of the least expensive ways to update a home. He recommends staying away from light colors that show dirt.

If you’re thinking of selling your home, it’s better to go with a “neutral” color, such as brown or grey, Norris says. If you choose a brightly colored carpet, it may clash with a potential buyer’s furniture.

Many people who are planning to sell their homes buy inexpensive carpeting to save money. However, if you plan to remain in the home for several years, an inexpensive carpet will need to be replaced again. It’s better to go with a high-end product that’s resistant to wear, Norris says.

If you notice excessive carpet wear in a high-traffic area, perhaps you need a different type of flooring in that space, Norris adds. There are several durable floor choices. Consumer Reports notes that says vinyl flooring is resistant to stains, dents, scratches, and discoloration. And before you ask, “Isn’t that outdated?” know that vinyl has come a long way. Ceramic tile also is known for its durability.

4. Adding a fresh coat of paint

If you’re looking for the best home updating value, nothing tops repainting the interior, says Kent. Include your ceilings and you’ll have a home that both looks and smells fresh and new (as old paint can hold onto odors).

“I always recommend starting with paint,” says Toombs. “It can completely transform a space and it doesn’t require a contractor. It’s pretty cost effective.”

According to the Cost Helper, the cost of paint supplies for a 1,500-square-foot home ranges between $200 and $300 for average-quality products and $400 to $600 for high-quality paint. Primers help seal walls and prevent mold. However, you can skip this step if you buy a product that is both primer and paint in one.

If you do the painting yourself, take your time and make sure you have enough drop cloths to protect your furniture and flooring. If you try to do too much too quickly, you’ll be more likely to make mistakes. Remember, anything you wear during your painting project is likely to be ruined, so choose old clothing.

If you hire a professional the project will cost more, but Norris says it’s worth it. The job will go more quickly with less spills and a better visual outcome.

If you don’t plan to sell your home, there’s no reason to stick with neutral colors, says Norris. You even can accent walls by adding a second color as your trim. Just be sure you choose colors you can live with.

5. Giving wood furniture a new look

With antique furniture, signs of wear can add to the charm. For non-antiques, signs of wear simply mean that your furniture needs to be replaced or repaired.

If your wood furniture has taken on a battered look, you can improve its appearance by refinishing it. This doesn’t require hiring a professional. Unfortunately, it does involve some labor-intensive sanding, followed by the application of paint or stain. For those who aren’t up to the task, Toombs suggests a short-cut.

Sometimes an older piece of furniture needs nothing more than a touch up with matching paint or stain, she says.

“It seems more daunting that it is,” she explains. “It really can be fun.”

Sometimes Toombs refinishes only the drawers to give dressers a new look. If you want to dress things up a bit more, remove the old knobs and replace them with new ones.

“Let’s say it’s an older dresser you’re using as a display piece in a hallway,” says Toombs. “You can pull the drawers out and choose a color that compliments the frame of the dresser. It requires some sanding and priming, but it isn’t nearly as labor intensive as doing the whole piece.”

Achieving a charming result

Keeping a home up to date is an ongoing process. Over time, all dwellings show signs of wear. Fortunately, a series of small improvements can give homes an updated appearance. If you maintain your dwelling properly, it never will lose its charm.

READ MORE: 10 Cheap Upgrades for a Fast Home Sale

Buying a Vehicle for You and Your Family

Eric Dollinger

2016 was a record year for car buying in the United States. Americans bought 17.55 million cars and trucks, a slight increase over 2015. An improving economy, low gas prices and easy credit are helping this auto industry boom. If you’re considering buying a car for yourself and your family, be sure to read this article first. You’ll learn about vehicle types, safety features, and whether new or used cars might be a better option for you and your family.

Vehicle Type

Once you have your budget set, it’s time to start looking at vehicle type. Your driving needs should help determine the type of car you buy. Let’s explore some of the main types of vehicles and the features of each.

Coupe: If you’re looking to have fun when you drive, the coupe is the way to go. Yes, the coupe can be efficient if you’re the only person riding in it and your only cargo is a set of golf clubs. But if you plan on having lots passengers and more cargo, consider a different vehicle type. That’s not to say you can’t have your coupe. The Scion tC boasts some of the best rear seat leg room and cargo of its type, but you may not want to make it your primary family car.

Sedan: If you’re going to have passengers in your car on a regular basis, start looking at sedans. If you have children or grandchildren that ride with you, then this is definitely where you should begin. Sedans, such as the Mazda 6, offer great safety, fuel economy, style and storage space at a low sticker cost. The downside of sedans is they generally have less cargo space and lower safety ratings compared to SUVs. And most don’t handle as well as SUVs in snowy conditions. If you’re set on getting a sedan and safety is your utmost concern, there are options available to meet your needs. We’ll get deeper into those safety features later on in this article.

SUV: One of the top selling points of SUVs is their collision safety and handling in winter weather conditions. The 2016 Honda CR-V earned a five-star safety rating from National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). SUVs also offer phenomenal visibility, headroom and storage due to their height. Because they’re higher off the ground, most people find them easier to get in and out of. Some SUVs can carry more than 5 people. If you’re going to drive with this many people on a regular basis, though, you may want to consider a minivan. The downside to SUVs is most have poor fuel economy and higher initial cost compared to other car types. The Mercedes G550 only musters 11 MPG on average. They’re also more difficult to park due to their size.

Hatchback: Sure, not everyone loves the look of hatchbacks, but they offer the price and fuel economy of a sedan plus the cargo storage of an SUV. The downside is they fall short on collision safety and snow handling when compared to SUVs. If you plan on having 3-4 passengers and stowing cargo, but want to be cost-efficient, look at hatchbacks. The Kia Soul has 61.3 cubic feet of cargo space when its back seats are folded down. This is about the average cargo space for a compact SUV with its back seats folded down.

Pickup Truck: Poor fuel economy and tricky handling are why pickup trucks are not the first choice for most people. There is one very good reason a person should consider buying one, though. Pickup trucks are ideal for transporting cargo. The Ram 1500 offers 74.7 cubic feet of storage in its flatbed – the best of any pickup. For comparison, the 2016 Ford Expedition EL has the largest trunk of all SUVs. Its trunk space is 42.6 cubic feet.

Remember, though, you can rent pickup trucks from places like Home Depot and Lowe’s. If you only need the pickup’s cargo space a few times a year, consider renting. Also, be warned. If you buy a pickup truck, you may get a lot more requests from friends and family for help moving their stuff.

Minivan: If you plan on driving more than four passengers regularly, consider buying a minivan. Sure, they’re not exactly the coolest car on the road but they offer up spacious comfort that even an SUV can’t rival. Minivans boast high scores in almost all categories of cost, safety and comfort. The Chrysler Pacifica was awarded editor’s choice by CarandDriver.com. If you have four or more kids, or do a lot of carpooling, consider buying a minivan.

Snow Tires: No, they’re not a vehicle type. But snow tires have been proven to reduce collisions in winter conditions. If you’re thinking of buying an SUV only for its winter handling, consider buying a sedan, minivan or hatchback instead and adding snow tires for the winter months. It’s a more affordable option that still provides great winter handling.

All-Wheel, Front-Wheel & Rear-Wheel Drive

These are the pros and cons for each of the three types of driving modes.

Rear-Wheel-Drive

Pros

  • A durable driveshaft that can handle potholes and the occasional curb.
  • Better handling, especially at high speeds. This is due to the fact that weight is more evenly distributed over the entire car.

Cons

  • Terrible handling in bad weather conditions. This is because the front wheels act as a guide and the rear wheels move the car. If the front wheels lose traction, it’s impossible to steer the car but it can continue to accelerate.

Front-Wheel-Drive

Pros

  • More affordable because of simpler manufacturing. This is because the engine and transaxle are built together and installed from underneath the vehicle.
  • Much lighter vehicle which makes for greater fuel efficiency.
  • Better traction in poor weather conditions.

Cons

  • Poor handling at high speeds. This is because most of the weight rests at the front of the vehicle. This unbalanced weight can cause the car to lose control when maneuvering at higher speeds.
  • Easily damaged because there are more parts to the drive shaft.

All-Wheel-Drive

Pros

  • Better acceleration in all driving conditions.
  • Improved traction for towing or driving on dirt or sand roads.

Cons

  • Added upfront cost due to the complex engineering and construction of the vehicle.
  • Requires more maintenance. This is because most vehicles with all-wheel-drive need extra care to maintain the drivetrain’s differentials—sets of gears that sense traction loss and allow the wheels to spin at different rates.
  • Less fuel economy due to the increased weight of the vehicle and the excessive load placed on the engine.

Engine Type and Fuel Economy

There are four options to consider when choosing the engine type for your next vehicle. These options are diesel, hybrid, electric and gas. Here are some of the pros and cons for each engine type.

Diesel

Diesel has returned to personal vehicles. Diesel engines burn fuel more efficiently than gas engines.

Pros: Diesel drivers notice a slight increase in fuel economy when driving at lower speeds. The fuel economy greatly increases at highway speeds. For example, Audi’s 3 2 Liter Diesel gets 10 miles more to the gallon than its gas counterpart. Diesel engines usually have longer lifespans than gas engines.

Cons: Diesel fuel costs slightly more than regular gas does. Also, it’s more difficult to find a diesel mechanic. This can make repairs cost a bit more. The sticker price of diesel cars is usually much higher than their gas counterparts.

Hybrid

This term describes vehicles that have combustion engines and regenerative braking. Regenerative braking uses the kinetic energy of the brakes to charge the battery.

Pros: Hybrids have better fuel efficiency in stop-and-go traffic. This is because the constant braking charges the electric motor battery. Hybrid vehicles use their electric motor battery to assist with acceleration and for driving under 15 MPH.

Cons: Hybrids have higher sticker and repair costs and lower fuel efficiency on the highway. Hybrid cars struggle to reach highway speeds as easily as gas cars do. Additionally, they usually lack sport-tuned suspension and other performance enhancements. This is because hybrid cars need to conserve weight to offset the weaker engine.

Electric

Electric vehicles have been around since the mid-1800s (yup). But it wasn’t until Tesla’s Roadster and Model S came on the market that people took them seriously. Tesla Motors showed that an electric motor can accelerate faster than a $400,000 Lamborghini Aventador can. The Model S and Roadster offered power, style and zero emissions—but this comes at a price.

Pros: Electric vehicles have an almost silent motor. The torque and acceleration is impossible to replicate in a combustion engine. It’s also possible to charge them at home using only renewable resources. Whichever energy source you choose, there are zero tailpipe emissions.

Cons: Electric vehicles have a limited range. This can sometimes be as little as 80 to 100 miles before needing a recharge. Unfortunately, charging stations are not as common as regular gas stations. Also, it takes much longer to recharge the electric car battery than it does to fill a gas tank. The sticker cost of most electric vehicles is high, starting at around $40,000.

Gas

Gas vehicles often get a bad reputation. They tend to get kicked off to the side when an innovative new form of transportation comes about. There are some obvious cons but also some forgotten pros to driving a gas vehicle.

Pros: Gasoline is still the most affordable form of fuel available for mainstream vehicles. Gas cars have a longer driving distance per tank than electric and hybrid vehicles. Also, there are far more gas stations than there are charging stations. And gas vehicles have a much lower sticker price than do diesel, electric or hybrid vehicles.

Cons: Gas-burning engines create a significant amount of pollution. This contributes to human health issues and environmental impact. Additionally, gas burning vehicles rely on fossil fuels which deplete over time.

New or Used

New cars can depreciate by almost 50% of their original value within three years. You could lose $10,000 in value simply by owning your new car for three years, no matter how well you maintain it. The plus side of buying a new car is that manufacturers often give several years of covered maintenance and repairs. This can offset some of the depreciation.

Consider buying a new car if you’re the type of owner who drives a car until the wheels fall off. Depreciation is only an issue if you plan on selling or trading your car in a few years. If you do plan on trading or selling your car soon, consider purchasing a used car. Vehicles that are only two years old have lower sticker prices but can still offer a drive-like-new experience. Used cars that are only a few years old can often be found with few miles on the speedometer and few dings on the bumper.

Buy or Lease

There’s a significant difference between leasing and buying a car. Leasing is more comparable to renting and buying a car is … well, it’s like buying something … with a loan (usually). In most cases, buying a vehicle is a more economical decision. It offers you much more freedom in what you do with the car and when you can get a new one. Leasing a vehicle is often only a good idea if you want to get a new car with the latest technology and only keep it for a few years. For example, if you want your teenage driver to have an incredibly safe car, but expect them to buy their own in 4 years, you may want to lease.

Your Budget

What’s a good rule of thumb for a budget? Your car payments and car insurance should cost no more than 20% of your monthly take-home. Carpaymentcalculator.net has a great calculator to help you figure out what your monthly car payment will be. This even includes tax on the loan. Carinsurance.com can help you get an idea about what type of car insurance you need and how much you can expect to pay for it annually. You can use these tools together to help figure out if a vehicle and the suggested insurance are within your price range.

Safety Features

In the last 30 years, the NHTSA has made a requirement that all vehicles have several key safety features. If you’re looking to buy a used car, make sure that it has the following features to help ensure your and your family’s safety:

  • Airbags and passive restraints
  • Inside trunk release handle
  • Tire pressure monitor
  • Electronic stability control

If you’re looking to buy a new vehicle consider getting one with the following safety features:

  • Antilock brakes
  • Traction control
  • Brake assist
  • Forward collision warning
  • Pedestrian detection
  • Blind spot warning
  • Backup camera
  • Lane departure warning

Learn more about the new car technology headed our way.

Don’t let buying or leasing a car overwhelm you. Put the time in at the beginning of the process to discover and prioritize what type of vehicle best meets your needs and the features that are most important to you to have. You can do most of your research and discovery online and narrow down your choices to those models that meet your requirements. Then head to a few car dealerships to test drive those on your short list. You’ll never know if a vehicle is right for you until you buckle-up in the driver seat (but don’t forget to try out the passenger seats as well!) and take it for a spin.

CONTINUE READING: How to Monitor Your Teen’s Driving

 

Deciding Whether to Move in to Help Your Child With a New Baby

Emmet Pierce

Moving in with an adult son or daughter to help raise a new baby can be an enriching experience for you and your extended family, if you can make sure your presence doesn’t place stress on their household.

While it’s easy to get through a weekend as a guest in someone else’s home, living there full-time is much more difficult, says Dr. Elizabeth Lombardo, a psychologist based in the Chicago area. Disagreements that can be ignored during a short visit likely will need to be addressed.

Before you decide to make such a move, it’s important to be sure that you and your adult child discuss what your role in the household will be. Make sure you know what the expectations are.

Working as a Team

When parents and grandparents are able to work together to raise children, the result can be an enriching experience for everyone involved, says Dr. John DeGarmo, an educator and the founder of The Foster Care Institute in Atlanta. Grandparents often bring a wealth of experience and wisdom to child-rearing. Because they’ve already raised children of their own, they can provide important advice and support for new parents.

If both of the new parents work outside of the home, having a family member present to help raise a baby makes it more likely that the child will receive adequate attention and care, says DeGarmo. This is especially important if your child is a working single parent. Having someone they know and trust to help care for their child can relieve some of the pressure that a working parent often feels.

Forming Strong Bonds

Another benefit from a multigenerational living arrangement is that the grandchildren and their grandparents often are able to form strong and lasting bonds, says Lombardo. “A lot of good things can occur,” she says. “You become closer as a family when you spend more time together. If children see their grandparents only once a year, it’s hard to have a close relationship.”

Also, parents who receive advice from their own parents are likely to make better parenting decisions, says Marcia Ryan, a counselor and parenting coach in Quincy, Illinois. “It really does take a village to raise a child,” she says. “You can bounce ideas off each other. If a situation comes up that the parents don’t know how to deal with, they have the support of the grandparents.”

Having more frequent exposure to their grandparents helps children gain a better understanding of the world and how much it has changed since their grandparents were young, says Ryan. One of the important ways in which grandparents enrich their grandchildren’s lives is by sharing stories about their own past.

Children learn from their grandparents that there was a time when there were no computers or smartphones. They also may gain a better appreciation for activities that don’t involve being connected to the internet, such as reading books and spending time outdoors.

Avoiding Conflict

Merging family lives is never easy, Ryan says. If you’re accustomed to running your own home, becoming part of someone else’s household may be a challenge. To successfully bond with your adult child — and his or her spouse or partner, if they have one — there will need to be compromise on both sides when disputes arise. For example, if there’s only one television, you may need to negotiate when you get to watch your favorite programs. Give and take is important when living in a multigenerational situation.

“You’ll need to negotiate,” says Ryan. “It can’t be your way all of the time.”

Be sure to have an open dialogue about household duties. As Ryan asks, “Who will do the cooking? Who will do the cleaning and laundry?” And you don’t want to end up feeling that you’re left in charge of the grandchildren more than was originally agreed upon.

One of your jobs as a live-in grandparent is to avoid taking sides when your grandchild’s parents have disputes. “Make sure you are supportive and not judgmental,” Ryan says.

If you frequently side with your adult child, their spouse or partner may come to see you as disruptive to the marriage. Recognize that you are a guest in their home. Your role is to help the parent raise your grandchild, not to intervene in their personal lives. “If there is a lot of arguing, it can lead to more stress in everyone’s lives,” Lombardo says.

To make sure your situation remains positive, Lombardo suggests holding weekly family meetings to discuss how things are going and to work out differences calmly.

Determining Financial Responsibilities

A growing number of grandparents are living with their adult children. According to the Pew Research Center, in 2014 a record 60.6 million people, or nearly 20% of the population in America, lived with multiple generations.

Before you move in with your adult child’s family, it’s important to have a discussion about financial responsibilities, says DeGarmo. You will need to work out how much you are going to contribute for such things as groceries, mortgage payments, and utilities.

Sharing expenses “certainly can be a huge source of stress,” says Lombardo. “Figuring things out before you move in is going to be key.” Talking about finances may be uncomfortable, but it can help you avoid misunderstandings later on. For example, you may feel that the time you spend taking care of your grandchild compensates your adult child for any added expenses you create for the household. If your child, or your child’s spouse or partner, doesn’t feel the same way, there could be problems.

Following the Parents’ Rules

In order to have a successful partnership between grandparents and parents, it’s important to establish some ground rules, Lombardo says. “When there are two parenting styles, there can be conflicts,” she says. “Before this happens, there are rules that people [need to] agree to.”

Typically, if there is a disagreement over how the child should be raised, it is the parent who has the final say, Lombardo says. If there is some aspect of their parenting that grandparents don’t agree with, “they should bring it up to the parents in a respectful way, as opposed to going behind their backs and doing what they want with the child.” If you can’t persuade your child and their spouse or partner to follow your advice, you should graciously accept their decision, she says.

Sometimes grandparents have trouble saying “no,” but children need to have consistent rules to live by, says Ryan. It’s a mistake for grandparents to have a separate set of rules that children follow only when their parents aren’t home. This confuses the children and causes conflict between the grandparents and the parents.

Deciding When It’s Time to Go

In order to avoid any misunderstandings, be sure to talk about how long you would intend to live with your child’s family. Perhaps you want to stay only until the grandchild is out of diapers. In some cases, a grandparent may want to live with their adult child’s family permanently. To avoid hurt feelings, this should be worked out before you move in, Ryan says.

Because you can’t know how well you will get along with your child — and his or her spouse or partner, if they have one — until you actually move in, you may want to begin with a trial period of several weeks, Lombardo suggests.

If things don’t work out during your trial stay, you will able to leave amicably on your planned departure date and keep your relationships intact, Lombardo says. “Have the understanding between all parties that, if this doesn’t work out, feelings are not going to be hurt.”

Providing Unconditional Love

To grow up to be happy and well adjusted, children need to spend plenty of time with loving and nurturing adults. This is a role that is tailor-made for grandparents, who often have more time than parents to spend with children. If you can adjust to living with an adult child and their spouse or partner, you will have the opportunity to play a very important role in the life of your grandchild, says DeGarmo.

“The more family members who provide unconditional love, the better off the child will be,” he says. “A lot of good things can occur.”

CONTINUE READING: Connecting With Grandkids at Any Age

Finding Your Best Used Car Bargain

Nancy Dunham

It’s still a golden time to buy a used car thanks in large part to the number of late-model cars, trucks and SUVs that have poured into dealerships due to the end of a large number of lease agreements, according to an analysis by NADA Used Car Guide, a division of J.D. Power.

The good news for shoppers is that the glut of gently used cars provides you with an unusually large selection of vehicles from which to choose. Plus many prices are lower than they have been since 2010. But that doesn’t mean every car on the lot is a gem.

“People get themselves into real trouble when they go into car shopping unprepared,” says Matt Jones, Edmunds’ Senior Consumer Advice Editor. “This is a major purchase. It’s not like a TV, where if you get it home and don’t like it, you can return it. You owe it to yourself to do research.”

That research should include calling various dealerships and finding a salesperson with whom you mesh. Work with the person on the phone or computer to ensure they’re attentive, return your calls and communicate well.

Choose the right salesperson

Do you want a detail-oriented salesperson? A laid back salesperson? Most of us aren’t sure. Many car experts recommend you walk into a dealership cold, tell the receptionist you want to work with the best salesperson. He or she will know whom to call.

A good relationship with a salesperson is vital — especially when you are considering used cars that have a wide range of vehicle histories — because they are the ones that can steer you to a car you hadn’t previously considered but that best suits your needs.

“You won’t be able to tell a car salesperson a scenario they haven’t heard before,” says Jones, noting they work with hundreds of customers each year. “They’ve heard ‘I recently got a divorce and need a low payment,’ to “my wife’s pregnant with triplets’ hundreds of times before. Those life changes are why people shop for cars.”

Of course you don’t want to completely rely on a salesperson, no matter how competent, when you shop for a used car. Consider these strategies from Jones and other auto experts to best assess used cars to get a smart deal on the one that’s right for you:

Establish your budget

Before you even start looking for a car, it’s imperative that you determine how much you are willing to pay. Don’t make the mistake of setting a monthly maximum. You want to know the total you will pay for the car — including taxes and delivery. Then decide if you will finance the entire price of the car. Zero financing means zero, but you may save more money if you pay at least a portion of the cost upfront, says Howard Lowenthal, finance manager, Bob Davidson Ford, Baltimore. Another note: Some buyers prefer dealerships with “no haggle” pricing. That’s fine, but you won’t likely get the lowest available price for a certain car, says Jones.

Check loan rates

Dealerships offer an array of financing options that often aren’t available through other lenders. You owe it to yourself though, to check the rates at your bank , credit union and other reputable lenders before you shop for a car. If you know those figures, you are better able to assess if dealer financing is a smart move for you.

Change your salesperson if necessary

Even if you think you chose the right salesperson based on the advice above, don’t be bashful about switching if the partnership isn’t working for you. Tell the sales manager you want to work with someone else. There will be no hard feelings, says Jones. The dealership wants you as a client and will be glad to accommodate you.

Keep an open mind

You may come to the lot seeking a certain make or model, but tap into the salesperson’s expertise. All cars – even the same models – vary especially among model years. Salespeople know what’s on their lots and — as mentioned above — they understand customers’ needs and can match them with various models. Listen when the salesperson suggests model options.

Understand the definition of a Certified Pre-Owned (CPO) car 

When most people talk about a CPO, they mean a lightly used car – usually 1 to 5 years old with less than 60,000 miles – that a factory-trained technician has “certified” as meeting all manufacturer requirements. If something was found amiss it was replaced or repaired. Warranties on these cars are sometimes better than those on new cars, says William J. McCormick, sales representative, Bert Wolf Auto Group, Charleston, West Virginia. But beware – just because a dealership reports a car is “certified” doesn’t mean it’s a CPO. Ask about the details of what “certified” means at the dealership. Is the dealership certifying the car or is the manufacturer? What are the warranties? It’s important to remember that auto warranties are not a replacement for auto insurance.

Be as critical as possible when you drive the car. Do you feel jiggles? Pulling? Disturbing noise? Odd rattles? Whining? Is there an odd smell? Potential buyers should tune into these and other abnormalities and question the seller about them, Steve Steeb, owner of Steve Steeb Service in Ann Arbor, Michigan, tells Popular Mechanics (PM). Also, make sure you test drive the car on a variety of roads, from bumpy back roads to highways. “I tell folks to trust their intuition,” Steeb told PM.

Edmunds has a list of recommended checks potential buyers make during test drives including: ease of entering and exiting; comfortable interior with plentiful head, hip and legroom; comfortable steering column seats (can be they adjusted?); easy to reach and understand control panel; visibility and blind spots; unusual smells or sounds; tire condition; brake feel (are they mushy?); and air conditioner temperature (does it blow cold air or is it warm?).

Insist on a vehicle report

When you go to a dealership, they will likely present you with a vehicle report that tells you the background of the car, specifically if it had been involved in an accident or otherwise damaged. But don’t stop there. If an independent technician repaired a vehicle, the information might not be on a CarFax or other vehicle inspection report. Also, check the car’s VIN (Vehicle Identification Number) to see if there are any recalls on the car, recommended Edmunds. You can easily do that online by going to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Dealers will tell you if there is a recall, but mistakes and oversights do happen.

Have an independent inspection

Most dealers report almost no one asks to do this and that’s a shame. Reputable dealers invite buyers to have used cars independently inspected because it underscores the quality of the car. And if a flaw is found, you’d rather know before you sign the contract than after. The only exception to this rule may be CPO’s with manufacturer-backed warranties, noted AutoTrader. Spending a few hundred dollars can save you thousands in repair costs later, the magazine noted.

There are plentiful used car bargains on lots today, but your deal will only be as good as your research. Spend some time analyzing your budget and needs, then go to dealers with an open mind. These are key to finding the best bargain on a used car that’s right for you.

READ MORE: Why Used Cars Aren’t As Bad As You Think

How to Sleep Better for Your Good Health

Eric Dollinger

More than 30 percent of Americans are perpetually sleep-deprived, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Sleep deficiency contributes to a wide range of potential health and safety problems. As we age, it’s important to develop and maintain good sleep patterns to help our long-term health.

Medical experts recommend that all adults should get between seven and eight hours of sleep each night, according to the CDC. And although it can be challenging for adults at any age to obtain enough quality sleep on a regular basis, some older adults have particular difficulties. Here’s why quality sleep is so important and how you can improve your sleep even as you age.

Dangers of Sleep Deprivation

Getting enough sleep is crucial for good health and basic safety. For instance, if you don’t sleep well or enough at night, you may deal with daytime sleepiness or fatigue. That lack of sleep can cause you to experience physical and mental symptoms such as slower reaction times, poor mood, inattention and trouble focusing.

Daytime sleepiness or fatigue can make you more likely to experience falls or less able to avoid accidents. If you operate machinery or a motor vehicle without enough sleep, you can put yourself and others at risk. For instance, the performance of a driver after 17 hours without sleep is as bad as driving with a blood alcohol level of .05 percent, and that of a driver after 24 hours without sleep is as dangerous as a driver with a blood alcohol level of .10 percent, according to the Sleep Health Foundation.  Learn more about recognizing the signs of drowsy driving and tips to avoid falling asleep behind the wheel.

In addition to the environmental dangers of activity without proper sleep, losing sleep can also contribute to a number of serious health problems. For instance, sleeping less than seven hours per day is associated with an increased risk of developing chronic conditions such as obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke and frequent mental distress.

Common Sleep Problems

A lack of sleep can be dangerous or damaging to the health of any individual, but older people are often at greater risk for losing sleep. As you age, you may not be waking up with crying babies or lying awake worrying about a stressful situation at work, but changes to your body’s internal clock may cause you to wake up earlier.

Older adults often report having trouble falling asleep, sleeping fewer hours, waking up frequently and getting less quality sleep. In some cases, these sleep problems are the result of medications or existing conditions, such as diabetes, bladder control issues, cardiovascular conditions, arthritis or other chronic pain conditions. Diabetes or heart disease, for example, may cause you to wake more during the night to use the bathroom. However, if you’re experiencing sleep problems and you don’t have existing conditions and aren’t taking medications that could affect your sleep, you may have a primary sleep disorder, according to Healthline.

Some of the common sleep disorders experienced by older adults include:

Sleep apnea, which is marked by breathing that repeatedly starts and stops during sleep. If you’re frequently sleepy during waking hours and your partner says you snore often, you may have sleep apnea.

Restless legs syndrome (RLS), which is characterized by a nearly irresistible urge to move one’s legs and typically worsens with age. If you have an uncomfortable, “pins and needles” feeling in your legs while resting, you may have RLS.

Circadian rhythm sleep disorders, a group of sleep disorders that cause a disruption to the body’s internal clock that manages the sleep-wake cycle. Common warning signs are having difficulty falling asleep at night or difficulty waking up in the morning.

Insomnia, or habitual sleeplessness, often caused by poor sleep habits, depression, anxiety, lack of exercise, chronic illness, or certain medications. If you can’t fall sleep at bedtime, or wake up during the night and can’t go back to sleep, you may suffer from insomnia.

Periodic Limb Movement Disorder (PLMD), which causes involuntary movements of the arms and legs, which often disrupt sleep. PLMD is characterized by periodic jerking movements in the limbs (but not the tingling sensation associated with RLS). Many people with RLS also have PLMD, but those with PLMD don’t necessarily have RLS.

How to Get Better Sleep

If getting enough quality sleep each night is a challenge for you, there are several steps you can take to improve your chances. Consider the following ideas to try to boost your ability to get to sleep and stay that way all night long.

Avoid using electronic devices at least one hour before bed. The screen’s blue light can disrupt your Circadian rhythm, or natural sleep cycle.

Stick to a schedule. Try to go to bed at about the same time every night and rise at about the same time every morning.

Avoid drinking liquids before bed. Especially if you tend to wake up regularly during the night to empty your bladder, try not to drink anything for an hour or two before going to sleep.

Monitor your food intake before bed. You’ll rest better if you’re neither hungry nor stuffed when you go to sleep.

Pay attention to the effects of nicotine, caffeine and alcohol. Nicotine and caffeine can make it difficult to fall asleep. Alcohol may make you feel sleepy at first but can often lead to wakefulness later in the night.

Create a quality sleep environment. Make sure your bedroom is dark, comfy, cool (between 60 and 67 degrees Fahrenheit) and quiet to promote the best possible sleep.

Should You Get Help?

If you’ve tried lifestyle changes but still can’t get enough quality sleep, you probably need to discuss your sleep issues with your doctor.

Start with your primary care physician, as they may be able to connect your sleep problems with an existing condition or a medication that you take. In some cases, simply changing medications may solve the problem.

However, if your sleep challenges continue or can’t be connected to an existing issue, you may need to see a sleep specialist — your primary care doctor can likely refer you someone. A sleep doctor will discuss your symptoms and conduct a physical exam. They may ask you to keep a sleep diary for a few weeks, or undergo a sleep study. In a sleep study, you sleep all night in a clinic, with sensors to monitor your breathing, body movements, heart rate and brain activity.

After a sleep study, the doctor can usually use the information gathered to diagnose whether you have a sleep disorder. If you do have one, they may treat the disorder with sleeping pills, hormone therapy or a device — for instance, if the diagnosis is apnea, you may need a CPAP device.

Together, you and your doctor can devise the best plan for achieving a good night’s sleep each night so that you can experience the safety and health benefits of being well-rested.

READ MORE: Is Sleep Procrastination Keeping You Up?

6 Ways to Save Money on a Large-Scale Home Renovation Project

Alaina Tweddale

A major home renovation can dramatically increase the amount of enjoyment you get out of your home: A new deck, pool, or patio can create enjoyable new spaces to entertain. A kitchen renovation can turn a functional space into a family gathering place. A master suite addition can create a private sanctuary.

Still, busting the budget is the number one challenge home remodelers face. Even a smaller-scale project like a new wood deck can easily run $10,000 or more. Upgrade to composite material and you could quadruple your cost. Seemingly small construction decisions can have a big impact on your wallet, and those charges can quickly add up. The good news is that there are steps you can take — before you start building — to keep more of those pennies from leaving your pocket.

1. Plan your big picture.

The more decisions you make up front, during the design phase, the smoother the project will run — and the lower your overall cost will likely be.

“It’s usually the extras for doing work that was unexpected and that comes up during the actual construction that causes cost overruns,” says architect William J. Hirsch, Jr. To avoid these overruns, Hirsch suggests drawing up a detailed plan, either on your own or by hiring an architect, before you start any construction or demolition.

To DIY your plans, Hirsch suggests using either graph paper or an online software program. Highly rated programs include Virtual Architect Ultimate and TurboFloorPlan Home & Landscape Pro. “The ultimate goal is to document and communicate as much as the homeowner can about the renovation,” says Hirsch.

“If something is shown on the plans or in the notes, the builder will be obligated to provide it,” says Hirsch. “If it is not on the plans, the homeowner will have no guarantee it is included in the builder’s price and contract.” Those written specifications are what a builder will use to spec out a job, create a quote, and determine what work ultimately gets done.

The more you can specify up front, the better off you’ll be financially. To avoid surprises, get as detailed as you can during the planning phase. For example, when planning a kitchen remodel, include the appliances, sinks, faucets, countertops, base cabinets, upper cabinets, light fixtures, garbage disposal, fume hood, backsplash tile … The more detail you can include up front, the fewer surprises and unexpected expenses you’re likely to face as the project progresses.

What may seem like small choices can come with big consequences for your contractor. The shower faucet choice, for example, will affect which valve needs to go in the wall. The type of flooring will affect the type of sub floor. These details aren’t intuitive for many homeowners, but a quick internet search can yield a detailed checklist for just about any project.

“I’ve done 3,500 jobs and I can only remember twice that someone picked everything out before we started,” says Danny Lipford, home improvement expert and host of Today’s Homeowner television and radio shows. He also owns Mobile, Alabama-based remodeling company Lipford Construction. While getting overly specific isn’t necessary during the planning phase, waiting to make those choices at the last minute means you can’t shop for sales and might be limited to in-stock inventory, which may cause putting the project on hold while you wait for product delivery.

“Some things may take three to four weeks to be delivered, but your contractor could be ready for you in a week. Any scheduling that works against you will end up costing you money,” Lipford adds, because the contractor will have to wait to proceed.

2. Hire the right help.

Gathering quotes is important, but not just so you can review each contractor’s bottom line bid. That’s just one small part of the overall equation. Upfront conversations can help you understand questions that are important to ask other contractors, what services are included with which bids, and what type of expertise a specific contractor brings to the project.

In fact, the contractor with the lowest bid may be the one to avoid. An unrealistically low offer could be a warning sign of sub-par construction quality or inferior building materials. It could also mean that they haven’t fully accounted for all the costs associated with your project, which could lead to unexpected financial surprises as the renovation unfolds.

A quality bid will be one with line items that account for even the most minute of details; for example, which roofing shingles will be used, what size window frames have been selected, which valves and faucets will be installed. If specific materials are not explicitly spelled out in the bid, the contractor could buy materials that are lower quality than you’d ultimately want.

There isn’t a standard requirement for what’s included in a contractor’s bid, so it’s up to the homeowner to compare contracts to make sure they’re accounting for the same project details. If you like a contractor but his bid includes less detail, ask him what materials and fixtures he plans to use, and then have that information built into his bid. The more information that’s included up front, the less likely you are to be hit by surprises later on.

It’s also important to hire a contractor who regularly does the work you’re hiring them to do. “If they do big commercial projects, you don’t want them in your house,” says Lipford. Likewise, if your project is mid-range, don’t hire an upscale renovator. You want the person who’s intimately familiar with the type of work you want done, so they’re familiar with the needs of customers like you, who live in homes like yours.

Continue Reading: Yes, You Can Hire A Reputable, Budget Friendly Contractor — Here’s How

3. Do some of the work yourself.

Even if you’ve hired a general contractor to manage the overall project, you may be able to cut costs by doing some of the unskilled labor yourself. For example, a homeowner can agree to prep the project before a team of contractors arrives on site. That could include removing furniture, tearing up old linoleum, and demolishing non-load-bearing walls. “Right there you’ve saved a bunch of money and you’ve used almost no skill. You’ve just used labor,” says Lipford.

You can make similar moves on the back end. You may decide to paint the space yourself, buy your own finishes, or hire a separate plumber to come in and install fixtures. Set your project up this way and “the contractor realizes he can roll in in a few days and be done. You’ve saved him a dozen phone calls and a dozen selection issues. The homeowner has done all the grunt work,” says Lipford, which means the contractor doesn’t have to lean on his expensive skilled laborers to do work that requires a much lower skill level. He can send them on to his next job, instead. “You can easily save 30% by doing the non-skilled labor yourself,” he added.

Tara Saxton, president of KTM Exteriors & Recycling, agrees. “It’s not something you need to be licensed to do, so, with a little bit of muscle and a few trips to the dump, you can save some money,” she says. Still, she warns, have a professional test your property for damaging materials like lead paint or asbestos before you tear down your own walls or exterior, particularly if you own an older home. If your home tests positive, save the demolition work for the experts who know how to minimize and clean the resulting dust, which can be harmful to your health.

4. Avoid changing your home’s layout.

“When you start moving plumbing and electrical, your renovation costs will increase significantly,” says Saxton. “If you’re over budget or are satisfied with the current layout of your home, keeping it the same will keep the renovation costs lower.”

If you hire a draftsman to draw your renovation plans, he should know to balance your desire to move plumbing fixtures or air conditioning duct work with the costs associated with those changes. “Many architects will move a wall a foot” if they’re asked to, says Lipford, but they may not consider that the $2,500 cost may be a budget buster for the homeowner. Still, it’s up to the homeowner to have upfront conversations with the contractor about how changes will affect the project’s bottom line.

Even so, there are times when those added costs make sense. If skipping the work “represents a significant compromise in the overall result of the project, you have to weigh that carefully,” says Lipford. It might cost more to move a pipe, yet skipping it could also diminish the quality of the end result.

5. Decide where to splurge … and where to skimp.

A high-end renovation can break the bank, but that doesn’t mean you can’t strategically create the illusion of a more expensive upgrade. Lipford recommends splurging on features that are permanently installed — bathtubs, cabinets, and windows, for example. Another philosophy is to save high-end finishes for high-traffic areas of the home, like the entry, kitchen, and dining room. These are the areas where homeowners and guests spend the most time, which means details are more likely to be noticed and enjoyed.

Still, for most home renovation materials, it’s a safe bet to buy those that fall between the highest and lowest priced options: the mid-range price points. In general, that range will ensure “you’ll have something that won’t cause you problems but that will also last a long time,” says Lipford. “There’s not a lot of return on investment for higher-end products because no one else will realize you spent $10,000 more” for the superior product.

Still, where you are looking to cut costs, Lipford suggests less expensive options in areas where it’s easier to remove and replace. For example, “countertops are easy to pop off and put back on,” Lipford says. “If you can’t afford granite, put in the laminate. Then, upgrade it when you can.”

6. Check your insurance coverage.

Many general contractors carry a general liability policy with a $1 million limit but, if someone is injured on your property, that coverage may not be enough. Your insurance professional can help you decide if you need a temporary umbrella policy or additional homeowners coverage for the duration of the project.

In short, a little upfront planning can go a long way toward preventing expensive surprises. The more time you spend planning before you start the project, and the more you’re willing to do yourself, the lower your overall costs are likely to be.

READ MORE: Home Money Pits: Protect Yourself from Unexpected Expenses

New Car Tech Headed Our Way

Eric Dollinger

Many car buyers make purchasing decisions based on the technology fitted to their new ride.

In fact, more than half of car buyers claim they would wait six to 18 months to get all the technology features they desire, and 77 percent rank their technology desires above their preferred color when it comes to their next car purchase. And brand loyalty? It’s out the window. Sixty-five percent of people would switch brands to get the technology features they want.

With these statistics in mind, let’s take a look at tech for your car—both what’s currently available and what we’re likely to find in our cars in the coming years.

Modern Car Tech Available Now

Keyless Entry

Having been widely available since the 1990s, keyless entry is a common feature on many of today’s cars. But there have been some updates.

Keyless entry was first introduced by Ford in 1980. It was featured in the Ford Thunderbird, Mercury Cougar, Lincoln Continental and Lincoln Town Car, and adopted by the likes of Renault, Nissan and GM soon after.

The first versions used a keypad that required a code to unlock the vehicle. Soon, more sophisticated systems were developed that turned keys into radio transmitters that sent a coded signal by radio waves to a receiver unit in the car.

Keys have evolved even further so that these days there are a number of (mainly premium and luxury) automakers that offer smart keys. Used in conjunction with car doors that have touch sensors, these hands-free smart keys (or keycards) rely on a proximity-based system of opening. The mere positioning of the key close to a vehicle unlocks the car as soon as the driver places their hand on the door handle.

In widespread use by a number of carmakers, these smart key systems have a range of names: for example, Toyota calls it Smart Key, Nissan has its Intelligent key system, Keyless Go is available with Mercedes-Benz cars, while BMW uses Magic Key.

Keyless entry systems can also be gesture-based. For instance, one keyless system enables the owner to open the trunk by making a kicking motion with their foot under the rear of the car – particularly handy if your arms are full of shopping bags.

A related development is keyless start, which eliminates the need to insert your key into the ignition. The car’s engine is instead started with a start/stop button.

Self-Healing Tires

Tires that resist puncture or can heal themselves are a huge benefit to drivers for obvious reasons. On average, punctures occur every 46,600 miles (75,000 km), but they always seem to happen at the most inconvenient times: while traveling with children, in bad weather or heading to an important appointment.

There are two types of self-healing tires: run-flat tires and self-sealing tires.

Run-flat tires are self-supporting tires, which enable a car with punctured tires to continue at a lower speed (usually around 50mph) and for a limited distance (up to 50 miles). These tires are fitted to a number of automakers’ products (BMW, in particular, is a fan of the technology).

Self-sealing tires are still in development, though they are slowly entering the market. Most use the latest rubber technology to seal tread punctures of up to 5mm (0.2 inches) in diameter.

Michelin Selfseal, for example, uses a rubber compound that immediately plugs any holes in the tread. Other versions include Kumho Tire’s ‘K-Seal’ technology, Hankook Tire’s Sealguard and Pirelli’s Seal Inside.

But that’s not all. Scientists in Leipzig, Germany, have developed a new rubber technology that promises to enable tires to fix themselves at room temperature over seven days with carbon and nitrogen additives that allow crucial bonds in the rubber to reform.

These compounds and technologies are still relatively new, but hopefully, in the next few years we can expect to be able to avoid unscheduled roadside stops to change a tire.

The Connected Car

Connectivity is a big buzzword in the automotive world at the moment, as manufacturers enable their vehicles to communicate with the outside world, becoming part of the Internet of Things (IoT).

The ability to tether a smartphone to a car and use its functions with a car (i.e. Apple CarPlay or Android Auto) is just the start.

Companies such as BMW and Audi are now embedding SIM cards—the same ones you’ll find in your cellphone—in their new cars to enable them to communicate with cloud servers, offering immediate access to emergency and breakdown services, a call center concierge who can book anything from a movie ticket to a hotel room, or information on available parking spaces at your destination.

Onboard apps can also sync with your calendar and email, access your contacts, stream an unlimited number of music tracks and even, in the not-too-distant future, communicate with internet-enabled devices in your home (heating, lighting, even a stove). These onboard systems will help ensure your car integrates seamlessly into your connected lifestyle.

Car Tech in The Near Future

Car Seat Technology

Most of us are now accustomed to electrical seats that allow us to adjust our position with a button or toggle. Some vehicles even save our seat positioning preferences.

And heated and cooled seats are also regular fixtures in modern cars. Plus, many luxury cars include massage functions to ease our backs on long journeys.

But car seat technology is likely to evolve even more in the coming decades as autonomous, or self-driving, functions in cars will mean that we’ll no longer be bound by the need to sit upright and face forward.

Seats that morph into beds (think the best international airline seats) will be possible, allowing drivers (or car users, as we would become) to relax and even sleep. Alternatively, they will swivel around to enable the driver and front-seat passenger to face those seated in the rear of the car, creating a more communal space.

Car seats will also play a part in improving the wellness of car occupants. As cars in the future become personal mobility vehicles, they may be able to monitor the health of their users—for example, we will find seats checking heart rates of those sitting in them, thanks to sensors embedded in the upholstery and seat belts. If the system, via the sensors, detects a rising pulse, it can either activate a relaxing massage program or alert the driver (or even emergency services via connectivity technology) of the danger.

Mercedes-Benz and Hyundai have already released concepts of such technology at the Consumer Electronics Show, while other brands are developing similar systems.

Navigation Systems

GPS systems are becoming more advanced and more accurate as they incorporate connectivity technology to get information such as real-time traffic conditions and as engineers prepare them for the demands of autonomous cars.

Currently, connected cars constantly transmit their speed and GPS coordinates to a cloud server, which simultaneously provides data about the locations and speeds of nearby cars. This means that traffic information is being constantly updated by a huge automotive hive mind. Therefore the GPS system in your car is able to use this information to change your programmed route and lead you away from any congestion, saving you time and presumably, stress as well.

The next step for GPS systems will be tied to self-driving cars. Current GPS systems are accurate to around eight yards of the vehicle’s position. Autonomous cars’ positioning systems need to be accurate within inches of where the car is within a driving lane. The Hyundai Ioniq, which was recently seen on the streets of LA, is accurate to within 20 inches.

Distraction

Much of the new automotive technology—especially systems that enable access to smartphones and connected services—will likely make drivers’ lives easier and more convenient. But there is one obvious downside.

Connectivity to smartphones, email, SMS messages, social media and music streaming services in the car can create distractions for the driver—distractions that can cause fatal collisions.

According to Distraction.gov, 3,477 people were killed and 391,000 were injured in motor vehicle crashes involving distracted drivers in 2015. In the U.S. at any given moment, it’s estimated that 660,000 drivers are using cell phones or manipulating electronic devices.

The situation is unlikely to improve, especially as younger generations are even more wedded to their devices.

In an attempt to address the issue of distracted driving, manufacturers and tech companies could find themselves being forced by legislation to introduce airplane mode-like features to disable the use of cell phones while a car is in motion.

In the meantime, we all need to be vigilant to avoid distractions while driving. Here are a few tips:

  • Switch off your cell phone and place it in the glove compartment when driving.
  • If you have connected car technology, use it when answering calls.
  • If possible, sync your car with Bluetooth so you can answer calls without looking at your phone.
  • If you don’t have a Bluetooth option in your car, invest in an aftermarket solution, which can cost less than $100.
  • Set your GPS destination before starting your journey.
  • Ask a front-seat passenger to change the music.
  • Try to keep conversation calm and to a minimum. Even that is a distraction.

However, although distraction is a major issue at the moment, this could be a (relatively) temporary phase in the history of car use.

This is because the next big leap in automotive technology – autonomous or self-driving features – will be upon us perhaps sooner than you might expect. Tesla, Volvo and BMW already have some limited self-driving capabilities, but these will be increasingly common by the end of the decade.

So if you think that car tech is advanced now, you ain’t seen nothing yet.

The Hartford Center for Mature Market Excellence® and the MIT AgeLab explored vehicle technology adoption among mature drivers. These technologies are becoming more available in new cars today, so it’s important that all drivers learn how they work and how to use them effectively. This is especially true for mature drivers, as many technologies can enhance the driving experience as we age.

 

5 Ways to Be Your Best Self in 2018

Michele Lerner

Whether you set goals, make resolutions, or just relish the thought of turning the page on the calendar to a new year, committing to self-improvement is always a good idea. Following through on that commitment, of course, is the hard part. The “Just Do It” Nike slogan can be a good place to start.

If you generally want to feel better this year, it makes sense to consider your physical, mental, and emotional well-being simultaneously, since they are interconnected.

Here are some tips on becoming your best self in 2018:

1. Give yourself a chance to change.

Don’t put too much pressure on yourself for instant success in any new endeavor, whether this means joining a new book club or starting an exercise routine. Fitness centers are notoriously packed in January and then empty by February, in part because of frustration when immediate results don’t materialize.

“When you’re trying to motivate yourself, appreciate the fact that you’re even thinking about making a change,” wrote Alice Domar, Ph.D., director of the Domar Center for Mind/Body Health and author of Be Happy Without Being Perfect in Oprah Magazine. “And as you move forward, allow yourself to be good enough. Perfectionism can undo what you’re trying to achieve.”

2. Start small and stick to a routine.

If you’ve set yourself a broad goal such as to make new friends or to become physically fit, try to break down that goal into smaller achievable actions. Perhaps you can begin with a plan to exercise 30 minutes a day for three days each week or to try a yoga class to see if you like it.

Researchers have found that it takes most people 30 to 60 days to develop a new habit. If you establish a routine such as setting an alarm to walk at 7 a.m. or to meditate for five minutes at noon, and do it for a month or more, you’re more likely to keep doing it for the long term. If you’re a recent retiree or plan to retire soon, it may be tempting to sleep in and yet you may feel stronger and healthier if you stick to a schedule. Planning out your week and your month with healthy physical and social activities can keep you feeling optimistic about reaching your goals.

3. Do something new.

On the other hand, if your life feels like one big routine, it’s probably time to shake things up:

  • Learn a new skill by taking a writing class or an art class or a cooking class. Take an online class or attend one at a nearby college.
  • Volunteer — even if it’s just once — someplace new, to explore new possibilities for helping others.
  • Travel is also a good way to open your mind to new perspectives. Even if you don’t have the cash to take an overseas trip, you can get a similar benefit by going to different neighborhoods in your own city, trying exotic foods, or taking a day trip to somewhere nearby.

4. Develop your spirituality.

Before you can live a fulfilling life that meets your desire to live with purpose and meaning, you need to understand your values. Whether you worship regularly in your religion of choice or not, you can explore the deeper meaning in life and your core beliefs simply by thinking about them and the world around you.

Some of the ways to increase your spiritual wellness include writing about your feelings and expressing gratitude for anything you can appreciate in your life, trying a yoga class, or meditating. There are numerous apps that can guide you through short meditation sessions to help you handle stress and anxiety or to sleep better, such as Calm or Headspace, which explains why meditation helps, as well as teaching you how to do it.

5. Get moving.

Staying active physically is known to have numerous health benefits both physically and mentally. Even if you’ve never exercised before, you can still gain from starting to move around. While many people associate exercise with losing weight, exercise can also help you maintain balance and flexibility, reduce the impact of illness, improve your sleep, boost your mood, and help your brain function in multiple ways.

Getting started doesn’t mean you have to push yourself to join a gym or take up a vigorous sport. Try activities like yoga, Tai Chi, walking, dancing, swimming, or water aerobics that can be easy to learn and less stressful on the body than something like running.

For people who dislike exercise or think it’s boring, try listening to music while you walk, window shopping in a mall, watching TV while on an exercise bike or treadmill, or turning any activity into social time. Walking or golfing with a friend or playing with a dog can distract you from the fact that you’re accomplishing your exercise goal.

For some people, an activity tracker can be a great motivator, especially if you set it to compete for the highest number of steps walked with friends or family members.

Bonus Tip: Focus on others.

So far, the focus has mostly been on you: how you can stay active physically, keep motivated, and follow your self-improvement plan. But an important part of being a better you includes turning your attention outward.

Research has shown that strong personal relationships with friends and family can reduce stress and lead to better health and longevity. Being present and available for those close to you can sometimes require deliberate attention to your schedule and theirs. Consider scheduling a regular day and time to visit a friend, spend time with children or grandchildren, or have a weekly call with a long-distance friend.

In spite of today’s ease of connecting with people through social media, many people feel lonely and disconnected.

Volunteer, or join a reading group or hiking group, to stimulate your mind while providing a chance to make new friends. Volunteer work can serve multiple purposes — giving you a sense of purpose, stimulating a new interest, and connecting you with new people. Whether you decide to tutor children, coach a team, or support an ongoing interest in a political cause or a neighborhood endeavor, you’ll benefit as much as the organization does.

While no one wants to start a new year feeling overwhelmed by new goals and obligations, choosing a few things to jump-start your mind and your body can bring fulfillment to you and the people around you.

READ MORE: 7 Ways to Stay Motivated to Exercise