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!

Seven Steps You Can Take Today to Gain Control of Your Household Budget

Does your household budget feel like it is getting away from you? Somehow, we may feel if we could just make 10-15% more each month things would be so much better. But what if we could save 10 or 15% a month? You can, if you are willing to do some work, and perhaps make some sacrifices. Here are 7 steps you can take today to get control of your household budget.

  1. Know Your Total Income VS Your Total Expenses

It is hard to get control of your budget if you don’t know your total net income vs your total net expenses. This will quickly show how big your challenges are and how significant your steps may have to be to get it under control.

  1. Cut Down on Energy Use

Here’s a way you can help the planet along with your budget. Minimize your energy use by lowering or raising thermostats by a few degrees. Close off unused rooms and shut vents. Make sure you are using the sun to your advantage. Turn off lights when rooms are empty. Consider hanging small loads of laundry to dry instead of using the dryer. Turn down your water heater. It is a budget-friendly step you can feel good about!

  1. Reduce Cellphone, Internet and Cable Costs

Face it. These have probably gotten out of hand. Reel them in by comparing rates with new providers or asking current providers about other, less expensive options. It may take a digital diet to get things back under control. Do you need 150 cable channels? Did you know you could get dozens of free channels with an inexpensive digital antenna? Revisit and reimagine how you could use technology less expensively.

  1. Eat at Home More Frequently

The cost of a dinner for two with drinks at a nice restaurant can buy a LOT of groceries. Consider sharpening your cooking skills and dining at home more often. Leftovers are a bonus and there are no tips or delivery fees to pay.

  1. Pay Off High Interest Credit Cards First

Research what your interest rates are for each of your outstanding credit card balances and pay more on the highest ones first. Then move onto the next and next.

  1. Track What You Are Spending Money on Each Day

The best way to find financial leaks is to track your daily expenses. Those latte’s can add up quickly and may be better replaced by a travel cup of coffee from home.

  1. Schedule an Insurance Review

Contact our independent insurance agents for a review of your auto, life and homeowners’ insurance policies to make sure you aren’t spending too much. They may be able to save you money!

You can get control of your finances once you make the commitment to get started. Begin today and start seeing the benefits of your efforts within weeks!

8 Upgrades to Help You Sell Your Home Faster for More $

There are usually two points of focus when selling a home. Sellers generally want to sell a home quickly and for the most money possible. Sounds pretty simple, right? If you are considering putting your home on the market, here are some affordable upgrades that can help you sell it for more, faster.

  1. Replace the Front Door

Buyers will appreciate the appearance and security a nice new steel door brings to a home. The front door is often one of the first impressions your home will make to prospective buyers. A new door can provide big value for a comparatively small investment.

  1. Improve Security 

Security has moved to the top of the list for many prospective buyers. Adding even some simple security features like alarms and cameras can make a positive impact. Avoid obvious security features like door or window bars however, that can create an impression of crime being an issue in the neighborhood.

  1. Add Some Smart Features

More homes are being constructed from the ground up with smart features like lighting and heating and cooling. Even a smart thermostat is a modest investment that can be a big plus for a potential buyer. Be careful, however, not to overspend on a complete smart home remodel, however.

  1. Upgrade Landscaping

Trimming trees and bushes, manicuring lawns and adding colorful flowers is an inexpensive way to improve curb appeal to a home. It also demonstrates that the home is well-cared for which can lead to higher offers.

  1. Modernize Lighting

You may not have the budget for a major kitchen or bath remodel but you may be surprised the impact upgraded, modern LED lighting can make in a space. Changing lighting fixtures is often a DIY project that is budget-friendly.

  1. Revisit Window Coverings

We often end up with window coverings that provide privacy as opposed to adding to the attractiveness of a space. Consider replacing blinds and shades with more appealing options that allow the sunshine in and improve the atmosphere. It can be a relatively small investment that can pay big dividends..

  1. Organize Garage Space

Investing is some garage cabinets, shelving and storage hooks can provide a cleaner, more organized look to even the most troublesome space. Even organizing tools on a pegboard can make a good impression.

  1. Invest in Staging Your Home

Take advantage of inexpensive staging tips to upgrade the appearance of your home. By adding a fresh plant, flowers or other accent pieces, you can add a bit of sizzle to how your home shows in images and in person. Keep in mind, more homebuyers are relying on attractive images to gain their attention.

Selling your home faster and for more money doesn’t necessarily mean making a major investment. Make prudent decisions in areas that can make a big positive impact!

Smartphones: How and How Much We Use Them May Surprise You

How much time do you spend on your smartphone each day? How many times per day do you think you tap on or swipe the screen? Just how many people own cellphones? Considering we didn’t start calling them smartphones until 1995, these little devices now hold a firm place in our lives. In fact, recent surveys indicate that almost 50% of us say we “couldn’t live without” our smartphones. It is just one fact about smartphones that may surprise you.

How much time do we spend on our smartphones?

The average American spends about 2 hours and 51 minutes per day on their smartphones. That’s almost three hours, roughly the time it takes to watch a Major League Baseball game…everyday.

How often will users tap or swipe their phones each day?

Smartphone users will tap or click on their smartphone almost 2,700 times each and every day.

Just how many people own smartphones?

As of 2019, the number of worldwide smartphone users has climbed to 2.71 billion users. That number has grown by 100 million in the last year alone!

We check our smartphones A LOT.

Over a third of smartphone users in the United States check their smartphones at least twice each hour.

What country has the most smartphone users?

It may not be a surprise that China has the most smartphone users at 782 million. The country with the highest penetration of smartphone users is the United Arab Emirates (about 82% smartphone usage with the lowest being Bangladesh (less than 5.5%).

What about young people?

If it seems every young person is looking down at their smartphone, it may be because of people 18-29, almost 95% have a smartphone.

Then how about seniors?

Senior use is high as well. Research indicates that 46% of those aged 65 or older are using smartphones. Not just cellphones, but smartphones.

How much smartphone use is attributed to apps?

This is a bit amazing. Surveys say that 89% of all smartphone use involves some app or another. Only 11% of people visit websites directly on their smartphones. 

If you are searching for terrific rates on auto, home, life, renters or business insurance, grab that smartphone and connect with one of our independent agents. We’ll be glad to do the shopping to find exceptional coverage at a price you can live with!

Seven Steps to a Better Night’s Sleep

Poor sleep can lead to a myriad of problems including depression, weight gain, and lack of energy. If you find yourself struggling to get a consistent, quality sleep at night, try these seven steps to an improved sleep experience.

  1. Invest in a Quality Mattress

Invariably, people who purchase a quality, comfortable mattress wish they had made the decision years earlier. When you consider the amount of time spend in bed (33% of your life!) and how critical sleep is to your daily life, investing in a superior mattress is a wise decision and one of the first steps you should take to improve your sleeping experience.

  1. Create an Inviting, Restful Atmosphere

Your bedroom should be a replace to recharge. Most people will sleep better in a quiet, dark space that is cool. Avoid TV or other device screens that emit light. Use darkening curtains. Consider a fan if the ambient noise seems soothing. Invest in quality bedding and pillows that provide comfort. Don’t point digital clock or clock radios at head level.

  1. Pay Attention to What You Eat and Drink Prior to Bedtime

Most people sleep better when they are neither hungry or full. Avoid large meals close to bedtime. Minimize intake of caffeine, alcohol, and tobacco as bedtime approaches. While alcohol may help you initially fall asleep it can have negative affects later in the night.

  1. Try to Maintain a  Consistent Sleep Schedule

Try to keep a similar sleep schedule every evening, including weekends. Your bedtime schedule shouldn’t vary by more than 20 or 30 minutes nightly. Try to carve out time for a quality 8 hours of sleep.

  1. Include Physical Activity in Your Daily Routine

Make sure you have physical active periods throughout the day, but not too close to bedtime.

  1. Limit Your Worries

Resting your mind is important when it comes to getting a good night’s sleep. Try to limit thinking about unfinished business. Writing down your concerns and what you need to accomplish the following day can help clear the mental slate. Meditation can help, as can taking steps to get organized so you feel like there are less loose ends.

  1. Consider Aromatherapy

Lavender is considered one of the great natural aromas for getting the body and mind to relax. Consider natural lavender oils and even a light spray on pillow and sheets prior to sleeping.

If the above steps don’t seem to help and if sleep deprivation is manifesting itself in physical issues, consider scheduling a visit with your physician. Taking the time, making the effort and investing in a good night’s sleep can pay amazing dividends!

How Average Are You? Compare With This 12 Point Checklist

We often hear about the “average American” but what exactly does that mean? While there’s nothing wrong with being average, most would hope to rise above it. This though, can depend on what we are comparing ourselves to. For example, you may want above average intelligence but you probably don’t want above average credit card debt. Here’s a twelve point checklist on “average Americans” so you can see how you compare.

  1. Student Loan Debt

If you hear recent graduates complaining about student debt, it is not without good reason. At the end of 2017, the average student graduated college with $28,650 in student loan debt.

  1. House Payments

Recent statistics peg the average house payment in the United States to be about $1,030 monthly. Of course, living expenses vary dramatically across the country so using an average of 15% of monthly income may be a better gauge.

  1. Age of Vehicle

The average age of vehicles on American highways today is at an all-time high. The average car on the roads is 11.8 years old, either because they are making them better or new cars are getting too expensive!

  1. Savings

The average American has just over $8,800 in liquid savings in a bank or credit union. This does not include investment accounts or retirement plans.

  1. Age at First Marriage

The average age at which we get married is headed upward. Today, women average 27 years old and men 29 at first marriage. That compares to 23 and 26 in 1990 and a surprisingly youthful  20 and 22 in 1960.

  1. Number of States Visited

Research performed in 2016 determined that the average American has visited just 12 states in their lifetime.

  1. Time Spent Daily Using a Smartphone

We love our smartphones. Recent surveys indicate we are now spending about three hours and ten minutes each day connected to our devices.

  1. Time Spent CommutingWhile again this will vary by location, the average commuting time in the U.S. is just over 26 minutes each way, daily.
  2. Hours Spent Sleeping

It is recommended adults get 7-9 hours of sleep nightly, but estimates say that 40% of us average less than that.

  1. Household Monthly Electric Bill

The average electric bill in the U.S. is $117.65. This is based on 914-kilowatt hours of usage at an average price of 12.87 cents per kilowatt-hour.

  1. Height and Weight

The average adult American man weighs about 200 lbs. and is just above 5’9″. The average American woman is said to be about 5″4″ and 159 lbs.

  1. Cups of Coffee Per Day

Research indicates the average person in the United States drinks two cups of coffee per day.

Here’s to hoping that you are above average in all the ways you want to be!

Some Very Common and Unique City Names in the United States

It can make you question the imagination of the European settlers of our country. Drive across the country and you are likely to see towns, cities, and counties of the same name over and over. Some, perhaps, are understandable. Washington, for example, was after all, the Father of our Country. It would make sense then that proud Americans would eventually name 88 separate places in his honor. Columbus is also a favorite name for a location as 54 cities, villages, counties and other locales are named after the explorer. There are 41 locations named Springfield, (not including the imaginary home of Homer Simpson). There are 35 Franklin’s and 30 Greeneville’s. Unless you live in Louisiana, Hawaii, Alaska or Oklahoma there is a Riverside in your state.

Some popular names have interesting stories behind them. There are 36 places, for example, called Marion in the United States.These places are generally named after American Revolutionary War officer Frances Marion, also known as the Swamp Fox. One has to admit Marion is a better community name than Swamp Fox.

Although multiple cities share common names, some stand alone. New Orleans, for example, is the only city of its name in the U.S. In fact, there is only one other New Orleans in the world. The other is in Barbados. In search of Las Vegas? There are only two places to look in the United States. There, of course, is THE Las Vegas in Nevada but there is also a Las Vegas, New Mexico. There are three cities called Indianapolis, three named Minneapolis and 18 called Saint Paul.

There are plenty of candidates for the most unusual, unique and even humorous names in the country. They include :

  • Bat Cave, North Carolina
  • Booker Hole, West Virginia
  • Truth or Consequences, New Mexico
  • Monkey’s Eyebrow, Kentucky
  • Hot Coffee, Mississippi
  • Ding Dong, Texas
  • Chicken, Alaska

There is a Frostbite in Minnesota and a Frostproof in Florida. Of course, in the United States, you can travel to Athens, London, Paris, Moscow, Berlin, Lebanon, and Lima without leaving the country.

The city with the shortest name in the country is Amo in Indiana. The longest city name without spaces or hyphens in the U.S.? Mooselookmeguntic, Maine.

It’s a big country with lots of unique places and names. That is unless you live in Riverside, Springfield, Washington or Marion.

Gambling in America: Bet You Didn’t Know This

Most of us associate gambling in the United States with cities like Las Vegas, when in fact, gambling was used, in part, to fund the original 13 colonies. Gambling actually was one of the causes of friction between the Colonies and Britain prior to the American Revolution. Gambling has been a part of this country since its inception, although it is still controlled and maintained by a variety of rules and regulations on a statewide basis.

Here is a quick look at gambling in America and some interesting facts we bet you didn’t know.

  • In the country’s early days, New Orleans emerged as the gambling center of the United States.
  • The Gold Rush of 1849 increased the number of prospectors and gamblers in Northern California. It wasn’t long before San Francisco replaced New Orleans as the capital of gambling in the U.S.
  • As Westward expansion continued in the mid-1800’s cities like Deadwood, Denver, Kansas City, Dodge City and others became major gambling centers with lavish gambling houses and where gamblers were seen as the elite. Riverboat gamblers were particularly noted for their expensive jewelry and smart outfits.
  • Horse racing became a form of entertainment for the wealthy in the mid to late 1800s, with, of course, gambling a big part of “the sport”.
  • Many believe the roots of organized crime started with gambling and drinking houses in Chicago in the later 1800s. It would become a problem for the city for generations.
  • In the early 1900’s most gambling was forced “underground” by political and social forces in the country.
  • Horse racing began making a comeback in the 1920s and through the Depression of the 1930s, some gambling like Bingo was legalized to help churches increase funding.
  • In the 1930s and 1940s, gambling was largely an illegal enterprise, operated by such “gangsters” as Bugsy Deigel.
  • In the 1950s and 1960s, legalized gambling in Las Vegas and Nevada began to reshape the state, creating it as the center of gambling in the United States.
  • In the 1970s, 80s, and 90s, gambling expanded to places like Atlantic City and along the Gulf Coast in Mississippi.
  • Today, 18 states have legalized commercial casinos and 30 have some form of legalized gambling.

Don’t gamble with your family’s future. For a complete insurance review, contact one of our independent agents to quote a loss-prevention program to protect your assets. There’s no cost or obligation. We look forward to assisting you.

Drive-in Movie Theaters: Are They Making a Comeback?

While there were several attempts at “outdoor theaters” previously, the first “official” drive-in movie theater wasn’t opened to the public until June 6, 1933, in Camden, NJ. By 1940, there were over 40 drive-ins coast to coast which exploded to over 4,000 nationally in the 1960s.

Drive-in movie theaters became popular for several reasons. Parents could pack up the kids in pajamas and have a night out. Families could enjoy a movie together, without a crying baby annoying other viewers. Drive-in movie theater admissions were often priced “by the car” and were a terrific family value. Drive-in movies were also a great place for couples to get some alone time in the comfort of their own car.

Drive-ins had it all. They had slight hills that would raise your vehicle to an appropriate viewing height. They had relatively inexpensive refreshments (you could also pack your own). Drive-in movie theaters also had personal speakers, restrooms and frequently featured multiple, first-run movies.

In the 1970s, the popularity of drive-in movies began to wane for many reasons. Most blame the introduction of Daylight Savings Time, which pushed back movie start times considerably. VHS tapes were also introduced at this time and increasing gas prices discouraged the use of cars. Increasing land values also made using large swaths of land for drive-in movies impractical.

The decline was rapid, and today, less than 350 drive-in movie theaters are operating. That has actually dropped about 100 from the year 2000. With the COVID-19 pandemic however, is there a possibility drive-in movie theaters could make a comeback?

Some movie theaters have installed exterior screens to turn free standing traditional movie theaters into drive-ins. Using low power FM transmitters, these theaters transmit quality audio right to customers cars. While customers can appreciate the “social distancing” aspects of these modern drive-in movie theaters, the costs of operation remains a challenge for owners.

First-run movies are expensive to show. The space needed for a drive-in movie theater is significant. There’s the issue of staffing and restrooms to contend with. Plus movie theaters make a significant amount of money from concessions that drive-in customers could avoid by bringing them in themselves.

While there may be a renewed interest in drive-in movie theaters, it is unlikely they will make a significant comeback. If you can, support one of the remaining theaters that may be in your region and relive some terrific memories of the past. You just may create some new ones.

Do You Remember These “One Hit Wonders?”

When it comes to music, a one-hit wonder is an artist that has a successful hit without a follow-up hit. Throughout the years, they have ranged from unique, novelty songs to major hits that have become the anthem of a generation. Here are some one hit wonders and just a bit about their background.

Who Let The Dogs Out” – Baha Men (2000)

This Bahamian group may have had only one hit, but they have won over 25 Gold and Platinum Awards, a Grammy for the Best Dance Music Song and a Billboard Award. They’ve also been around for a while, first formed in the 1970s and still active. Even today if you yell “Who let the dogs out?” you are likely to get a response of “Woof, woof, woof, woof, woof.” Along with some odd looks, of course.

Come On Eileen” Dexys Midnight Runners (1982)

You’ll recognize this familiar tune after just a few seconds. Dexys Midnight Runners (without the apostrophe) is an English Band that took its name from dextroamphetamine, a recreational drug taken to provide enough energy to dance all night long. Or at least enough to get through a one hit wonder.

I’m Too Sexy” Right Said Fred (1991)

Right Said Fred is actually a set a brothers, Fred Fairbass and his older brother Richard. Fred is now in his 60s and continues to pursue his second big hit. Maybe he should try ”I’m Too Sexy for AARP”.

Ballad of the Green Berets” Sgt. Barry Sadler (1966)

In the mid 1960s, support was still strong enough for the Vietnam War that a military ballad sung by an active serviceman skyrocketed to #1 on the charts. The Pentagon sponsored a 15-month tour after the success of the song.

Whoomp” (There It Is)” Tag Team 1993

This mega hit reach 4x platinum level on the charts, and is thought to be one of the most popular one hit wonders of all time. An easy to remember chorus is probably one of its selling points.

Mickey” Toni Basil (1981)

From Philadelphia, Toni had a very successful career as a choreographer, working with The Talking Heads, Tina Turner, David Bowie, Bette Midler and more. She is perhaps best known for her cheerleading-themed classic Mickey. Not exactly thought-provoking, but certainly catchy.

Virtually every generation has had its share of one hit wonders. We won’t know the next ones however, until they don’t have another hit. Mind blown.