Want to Add Value to Your Home? Consider Upgrading Your Landscaping
Many homeowners who are focused on improving the value of their homes will take on expensive interior projects like a kitchen or bath remodel. These, of course, can pay big dividends but they can also be extremely costly. If you are looking to make a big impact for the money, you may want to consider improving the outside of your home with upgraded landscaping.
Many outside landscaping and gardening projects can be accomplished by the homeowner. Landscaping materials are often reasonably priced and can impact curb appeal dramatically. Here are some landscaping ideas you may be able to take on as a do-it-yourselfer.
Tackle those Overgrown, Mature Bushes
Many homes are surrounded or at least accented by large, mature bushes that may be outdated or cumbersome. These can be frequently trimmed way back and allowed to freshly regrow. Granted, these deeply trimmed bushes my look a little raggedy for a season, but they will pay you with new growth in the seasons ahead. If cutting them back doesn’t provide enough change, consider removing them and replanting them with something new immediately.
Use Bricks or Stones to Build Garden Borders
If front yard garden or bushes are just bordered by your lawn, consider adding a brick or stone raised border. The border can be built arching out into the yard to add depth and interest. Add soil within the border to raise the ground level and accent in mulch. This can also be a prime area to add some color with flowers in the spring.
Create a Mulch Border Around Trees
Trees on a lawn area can be accented by created a circular boundary around the based of the tree. This can be done by removing some of the dirt around the tree and replacing it with mulch or by adding a border and filling it with mulch. This is also a clever way to hid exposed roots and make mowing just a bit easier.
Don’t Forget Landscape Lighting
There are a multitude of brilliant landscape lighting products today that will make your yard shine. Landscape lighting can also add additional security. Solar lights are simple to install and virtual maintenance and energy free!
Need ideas? Grab a magazine while at the grocery or perform some online searches for idea starters. Landscaping can be a rewarding way to upgrade the appearance and value of your home.
Is your homeowners’ insurance keeping up with the value of your home? Have you made any significant improvements in recent years? Talk with one of our independent insurance agents for a no-obligation review. We look forward to assisting you!
Weird Stuff You May Not Know About Grocery Shopping
At some point or another we’ve all done it. We likely do it with someone else or by ourselves, but we rarely do it in groups. For as frequently as we do it, we know relatively little about it. Of course, what we are talking about is grocery shopping.
Have you ever found yourself saying, for example, “I’ll be back in a minute, I am just going to run up to the grocery store?” Odds are it will be more than a minute…far more. The average shopper spends 40-45 minutes per regular visit to the grocery, not including travel time. Add five minutes to that average if you are shopping on a Saturday or Sunday. Maybe the reason it takes so long is there is so much to look at. The mainstream grocery stores carries about 40,000 items!
What do we spend the most on? It may not surprise you to find out it is on processed foods and sweets. These account for about 25% of the total grocery bill for the common family.
If you think these stores are raking in the cash, you are right. The normal grocery store sells in excess of $455,000 weekly, translating to about $65,000 daily. That’s a lot of bananas.
Did you know that grocery stores actually have a “rush hour”? They are busiest during weekdays between four and five pm. If you want to avoid the crowds shop early in the day. Mondays and Tuesdays are the slowest days for grocery stores. Online shopping is a growing trend in groceries, but be careful. Online grocery shoppers tend to spend about $40 more than in-person shoppers. This may be, in part, because online shoppers tend to be more brand-loyal.
Most grocery shoppers are still female. Even in multi-person households, 70% of shoppers are women. The average shopper in stores, by the way, is 44 years old.
If you use a shopping list when going to the grocery, you are in the majority. More than half frequently or always use a list. Sticking to that list is another story. The most frequently purchased items in a grocery store, by category, are soda, milk and bread.
If shopping carts seem to have gotten bigger, there’s a reason behind it. Stores have discovered that the larger the grocery cart, the more shoppers will put into it. Who would have thought?
Simple tips include shopping with a list and sticking to it. Don’t shop when hungry and be open to buying less expensive brands. Shopping for groceries may never quite be enjoyable, but it can be less expensive.
Tapping Into The Genius of Your Staff to Make Your Business Better
When you think about the assets of your business you may think about the equipment, furnishings, inventory, technology and financial resources. Many companies talk about how their employees are one of their greatest assets. But what is it about those employees that makes them so valuable? Is it because they are experienced or well-trained? Is it that they know your customers and care about the products and services they represent? It could be all of this and more. But are you tapping into the genius of your staff to make your business better? All it may take is the right questions. Here are some questions to ask your staff that may help bring out their inner genius to help grow your company.
- “What questions are you most frequently asked about our company?” Front-line employees are often asked and answer the most questions regarding your company. These questions provide insight into misperceptions about your organization. It can help identify areas where your customers are not properly informed or knowledgeable about your business.
- “Can you name the three top areas where you see waste in our business?” Asking for a specific number of responses may help them consider your question more deeply. Staff often sees waste frequently that ownership or management may miss.
- “What incentives work best to motivate you?” You may even want to provide examples. Many companies are surprised to learn more flex time or time off is more important than compensation. Perhaps working from home helps single parents to minimize day care costs. Perhaps simple recognition in front of co-workers is important. You may find differing incentives work best for varying individuals.
- “What tools or assistance do you need to help your performance?” Don’t assume you are providing everything your staff needs. Perhaps they are missing a piece of technology. Maybe there’s additional education and training that would help. You may find a manager is not providing as much assistance or guidance as necessary.
- “What talents do you have that we are not fully tapping into?” You just may discover hidden talents, skills and ambition that you previously didn’t know existed.
The mere process of asking about their thoughts and opinions is often a morale booster. You may find some genius thoughts and ideas to propel your company to the next level.
Is your company properly protected against a slip and fall injury claim? Are your vehicles appropriately covered? Do you have high enough limits to cover your property including inventory? Protect all of your assets with a business insurance review. Our independent insurance agents just may have some genius ideas to help insure you better for less.
Life Insurance: Buy What You Can Afford
There are a myriad of formulas that can help you determine how much life insurance you should carry. Some use a multiple of your annual income, others will consider your current debt and dependents. Is there a simpler way to determine how much life insurance a person should have?
It may be as simple as purchasing an amount that you can afford.
You see, if you secure more life insurance than you can afford or if you place a priority on other things in life, you may not be motivated to keep that life insurance in force. Of course, if the policy is not kept in force through timely payments, it fails to do its intended job. So while some large amount of life insurance may be warranted and beneficial, if it doesn’t fit in your budget, it does little good. This is particularly true with whole life insurance that can build value the longer it is kept in force.
What this means, of course, is that even if you don’t feel you can afford the amount of life insurance that may be appropriate for your situation, you should at least acquire something to get started. Perhaps you’ll start with enough to cover final expenses and debts like credit cards and student loans. This will at least provide some comfort and peace of mind for those left behind. As your financial situation improves, revisit your life insurance plan to see if you can adjusted upward. The point is to get started at some level now.
We can help. Our independent insurance agents can shop multiple companies to find the best coverage and price for you. They can explain your options when it comes to term or whole life insurance. They can help you get started while perhaps even setting a goal for future coverage.
The process is simple. Just answer a few basic questions and make your first premium payment to bind your coverage. If you are in reasonable health, there likely won’t even be a physical medical exam required. You’ll have at least some coverage and be started on your path to more financial security for your family.
Don’t wait. Remember, the younger you are when purchasing life insurance the less expensive it can be. Contact us today.
The 10% Rule: Should You Drop Your Comprehensive & Collision Insurance?
One of the most frequently asked questions about automobile insurance for those who own an older vehicle is when is it no longer economically wise to carry comprehensive collision coverage on that vehicle. For most, the 10% rule is a reasonable guideline. Here is how it works.
The 10% Rule Defined
The 10% rule is based on the premise that you should consider dropping your collision and comprehensive automobile insurance coverage when the cost of such coverage meets or exceeds 10% of the book value of the car. It sums that the MOST you can get to repair your vehicle is its book value so paying 10% or more for that protection provides diminishing returns.
Let’s take, for example, your vehicle has a book value of $5,000. Ten percent of this value would be $500. If the premium for the comprehensive collision coverage portion of your policy exceeds $500 annually, it is probably no longer a good value to maintain that coverage. You may be better off reducing coverage to just liability. Of course, it will depend on your tolerance for risks. You my also lose some other valuable protection by eliminating comprehensive collision coverage. It is best to ask your independent insurance agent how such a reduction will impact your coverage.
Why Minimum Coverage May Not Always Be Best
Understandably, most don’t want to pay any more than they have to for automobile insurance. This, like most things in life however, doesn’t necessarily mean you should get the cheapest or least expensive plan available. Just because states have minimum standards does not mean that may be sufficient for you. You may benefit considerably through the acquisition of under or uninsured motorist insurance, a rent-a-car provision when experiencing a loss of use or even higher minimums of overall coverage. This is particularly true for those who have more financial resources at risk.
One of the best solutions when you have questions about your automobile insurance coverage is to get an auto insurance review. If you prefer, your review can also include a quote from multiple insurance companies who compete for your business. This allows you to base your choice on value, not just price. Contact one of our independent insurance agents and get started today! Get the protection you need without overpaying for your automobile insurance.
This Biggest Cause of House Fires May Surprise You
It wasn’t that long ago fires could destroy major cities virtually overnight. London, Chicago and San Francisco are among the examples. Wooden structures crowded together, poor and inadequate fire fighting equipment and narrow streets all contributed to these catastrophic fires. Today, better planning, zoning and building codes have all lead to the decrease in house fires. Well-equipped fire fighting agencies have also contributed to the decline. That’s not to say house fires aren’t still a problem Each year there are an average of over 350,000 homes that catch fire, resulting in an annual average death toll of over 2,600 people along with 11,000 injuries. The resulting financial losses from these house fires is nearly $7 billion.
What however, is the major cause of modern house fires? The top five list may surprise you.
- Candles. We love the warm glow and tempting aromas of the house candles in our homes, but they are the fifth major cause of house fires in the United States, especially in the fall and winter holidays, when their use is so popular. Never leave lit candles unattended and keep them away from loose and flammable materials.
- Electrical Wires and Equipment. Frayed and damaged wires, short circuits in outlets and old switches are among the fourth main cause of house fires in the United States today. If you notice dimming lights or switches or outlets that don’t perform perfectly, have them replaced.
- Smoking in Bed. This may be hard for those who don’t smoke to believe, but smoking in bed remains a significant cause of house fires, at number three on our list. Making bedrooms a no-smoking area can help.
- Heating Equipment. From space heaters to furnaces, the equipment used to heat our homes is the number two cause of fires in our houses. Furnaces should be checked annually and filters replaced quarterly. Space heaters should be used sparingly and never while unattended.
- Cooking. The number one cause of house fires today is cooking. In fact, about 42% of all housing structure fires are cooking related. It may be another good reason to order out.
Yes, house fires are much less of an issue than generations ago but they are still a concern. If you want to be assured you have enough insurance coverage on your home, contact our independent agents. They can shop to find the homeowners insurance best for you!
The Benefits of Downsizing Your Household
Many people decide to downsize their households as they get closer to retirement age. There are a lot of good reasons for that, but there are benefits to downsizing even sooner. Here are just some of the benefits you can enjoy by downsizing your household.
There’s Less Clutter
There are multiple benefits to having less clutter. Some of them are mental and emotional. Having less stuff provides a bit more emotional freedom. There are also more tangible aspects, like not having to pay for storage space. Don’t kid yourself. Even if items are in a spare room, a basement or attic you are paying to store it in insurance rates, utilities and space that could be used more productively or eliminated all-together.
Smaller Living Space is Easier to Maintain
As we get older, we want to be less bound to cleaning and maintaining our living space. You can enjoy those benefits now. Downsizing to a condo or townhome can minimize outside maintenance and limit how much interior cleaning and maintenance is required. This is time you can use much more enjoyably.
Downsizing is Less Expensive
Generally, downsizing will save you on living expenses like property taxes, insurance, energy costs and even mortgage payments. You are not paying for excess space that is rarely used. Why have two or three rooms for visitors when rooms may only be used once or twice a year? Why pay for a pool if it is used infrequently?
Take Advantage of Built-Up Equity
Downsizing may allow you to take advantage of equity you have built up in your current home. Your home may have been perfect to bring up young children but as they grow into adulthood, that space may no longer be needed. It may be a good time to “cash in”.
It may be time to take another look at how much space you really need to live comfortably and explore your options. When you realize the financial benefits, it may be worth putting that money elsewhere to provide a better future. Is downsizing for everyone? No, certainly not. But unless you give it some consideration, you may not know if the time is right for you.
Does your homeowners’ insurance still fit your home? Contact us for a no-obligation quote on homeowners’ insurance. Our independent insurance agents may be able to find the best fit for you!
Five Cost-Effective Marketing Ideas for a Small Business
If you have a small business, you understand the importance of name recognition and keeping new prospects and customers flowing in. You are also probably faced with minimal resources when it comes to advertising and marketing. Here are five cost-effective marketing ideas small business can use to gain more attention and customers.
- If you have a storefront, maximize use of the space available. There are advantages and disadvantages to a bricks and mortar location. One of the benefits is the visibility it provides you. Make use of sidewalk and window signage to gain attention. Have brochures, your own coupons and business cards available at the counter or check-out area. Keep in-store displays attractive and provide attentive service.
- Build an email contact list. Many potential customers are more than willing to provide their email address for an incentive. It may be an entry for a prize or an instant discount. Start building an email marketing list and carefully utilize it to announce sales and promotions or to send digital email coupons. Email is an extremely cost-effective way to keep your company in front of prospects and to stay connected with customers.
- Co-promote with like-minded businesses with a similar target audience. Build mutually beneficial relationships with other businesses who have the same target audience. Mortgage brokers can work with real estate agents, jewelers with wedding cake bakers and home improvement contractors with furniture or appliance stores. Share the costs or flyers and advertising and work on a referral network.
- Use social media and content marketing. Start a blog about your area of specialty. Build your reputation as an expert in your field. Use social marketing to promote the blog and your business. Set aside time each week to freshen your social media and blog content and to respond to comments and emails. Create short videos about your product and services and upload online.
- Get involved. You can easily increase the visibility of your business by participating in civic events and creating a fundraiser for a favored charity or non-profit. Encourage staff to get involved. Community involvement is the right thing to do and it can increase your visibility and improve your reputation.
Are you getting the most from your business insurance plan? Are you overpaying? How would you know? We invite you to contact one of our independent business insurance specialists for a business insurance review and price quote. There’s no-obligation and nothing to lose. Contact us to discuss your business today!
Why an Independent Agent is Your Best Option for Life Insurance Quotes
Congratulations! You made the decision to either acquire or increase the amount of life insurance coverage you carry. Maybe the decision is participated by a marriage, the birth of a child or maybe you just decided it’s time to start adulting. The next question is where to get started. Who can help you through the process?
There’s cousin Billy but last week he was cleaning pools. There’s that guy from high school but you haven’t talked to him for years. How about you seek out the help of a professional? Great! Now what?
You should understand that insurance agents fall into two basic camps. There are what are called captive agents, those that represent the products of the insurance company they work for. Captive agents may work for some pretty big, well known, name brand companies. On the other hand, there are independent agents. These independent agents offer the products of a multitude of insurance companies. Some are well-known companies you have heard of and others are smaller, lesser known companies who offer some terrific life insurance programs.
Why is an independent agent your best option when it comes to life insurance?
First, while a captive agent works for a insurance company, an independent insurance agent works for you. They will seek out life insurance programs from different companies to see which may work best for you. They are not held captive to offering just one company’s products.
Independent insurance agents tend to know a lot about the various plans offered by a variety of companies. They know what companies specialize in various forms of insurance. This knowledge can be put to work for you in finding optimum coverage at a price you can feel comfortable with.
See for yourself. Contact one of our independent agents and request a no-obligation quote for life insurance. They can help you determine whether term or whole life insurance is better for your situation. They will then go in search of an insurance company to best fulfill your needs.
Choice is good. It is just one reason an independent insurance agent can work best for you. Contact one of our agents today to get started.
Independent Agents and Car Insurance: How They Can Save You Money
Who doesn’t want to save money? Driver’s have been known to shop for a car for weeks to save a few hundred dollars or drive miles to save a few cents per gallon on gas. We are always looking for the best price on oil changes, tires and other routine maintenance. Yet somehow that doesn’t always apply when it comes to automobile insurance. Oh, we may shop once every few years or so, especially when we experience a significant rate increase or customer service issue. But for the most part, many just continue to pay for their insurance month after month, renewal after renewal.
What is it about auto insurance that makes us reluctant to change or even compare? Perhaps we perceive it is too difficult to switch or the process is too confusing. Maybe we believe once we’ve checked for the best deal it will always be the best deal. It could be we just feel we are too busy to consider a change.
This is why working with an independent insurance agent can be so beneficial. You see an independent insurance agent is not restricted to just offering the products of once insurance company. Our independent agencies can seek quotes from multiple companies, effectively doing the shopping for you. You will be presented with a choice of options where you can select the plan best for you. One of the best aspects of working with an independent insurance agent is you can make this request to compare annually or whenever you wish. This helps ensure you are getting the most value for your auto insurance premium.
You have a choice when selecting an insurance agent. You can choose a captive agent who can only represent the policies of his own company or choose an independent agent who can seek out multiple quotes from a variety of companies. The choice is yours. Of course, we think it makes more sense to select an independent insurance agent.
Discover the difference an independent insurance agent can make when comparing automobile insurance premiums. Contact us today!