December 23, 2017

A front door that shouts "season's greetings"

In December, many homeowners focus on decking the halls, trimming the tree, and hanging stockings by the chimney with care. But not enough emphasis is put on the pathway and portal to all this indoor holiday cheer, some experts say. The solution? From the first day of Christmas onward, focus on making a great first impression via your front porch, door and entryway—with no partridge in a pear tree required.

Get more tips for outdoor holiday decorating by reading my latest story for CTW Features, published here.

December 10, 2017

Exotic furballs

There’s a reason why hamsters, guinea pigs and gerbils are popular first pets for many kids: they’re harmless, gentle, spatially efficient, inexpensive and low maintenance companions who don’t need to be walked or groomed like a dog does. But these critters typically don’t live long (a hamster’s lifespan is as short as two years), and children often lose interest after a while with these ubiquitous pocket pals. As they age, kids often crave more unique animal mates that fascinate and entertain as well as impress friends. While you’ll probably be quick to quash requests for a snake, tarantula or piranha, here’s an idea that could work: consider an exotic small mammal species, including rarer breeds like a chinchilla, hedgehog, degu or sugar glider.

Discover more about these lesser-known compact companions by reading my latest article for Chicago Parent magazine, available here.

December 3, 2017

Want better Wi-Fi? Make it mesh

Whether you’re trying to stream a Netflix movie to your smart TV, upload new photos to Facebook while making dinner, or listen to a podcast as you shovel the front walk, buffering delays can quickly sour your wireless experience. Problem is you’ve got too many devices divvying up the Wi-Fi signal pie at the same time, all reliant on a router that may be too far away to be effective. Now, there’s a solution that can prevent Wi-Fi dead spots in your home and amp up the signal, allowing you and your family to be on multiple devices simultaneously without internet interruptions. It’s called mesh networking, and it comes in the form of plug-and-play “node” devices that different brands bundle into starter kits.

Learn more by reading my newest article for The Costco Connection magazine on this topic, available here.

November 26, 2017

A silver lining for first-time home buyers

The thought of buying your first home can be exciting. But the reality is that times can be tough for first-time purchasers. Socking away enough for a down payment is tricky. And finding a home that fits your finances isn’t easy, either. Yes, it’s still a strong seller’s market. But that doesn’t mean buyers can’t find signs of hope. In fact, fresh data suggests a more positive outlook than many would have you believe.

Learn all the details by reading my latest article for The Mortgage Reports, available here.

November 5, 2017

Micro-saving magic tricks

Little by little, the bird makes its nest, it’s been said. And the same is true of your nest egg. Because even small savings today can make a big difference later, helping you fund major goals like buying a home, paying for college, or retirement.

But wait, you say: I’m no good at setting aside money, and I have little left over after I pay my bills. The good news? Even if you’re not an experienced saver, it’s never too late to start. And opportunities for conserving cash present themselves regularly in the form of micro-saving.

Learn helpful tips on how to micro-save by reading my article on this topic for USAA by clicking here.

October 22, 2017

Work chic

One of the perks of working from home is the ability to roll out of bed on your own clock and get down to business in a bathrobe, if you so desire. But another major perk is the opportunity to create a workspace that’s as conducive to comfort as it is productivity—an efficient yet expressive area that’s the antithesis of that cold, cramped cubicle some poor soul is occupying right now in a company building somewhere.

Eager to transform one of your rooms into a stylish and functional home office? Read my latest article on this topic, as published in the Daily Herald, by clicking here.

October 9, 2017

A silver code, but no silver bullet

The horrific mass shooting in Las Vegas that occurred in early October reminds us that any location can be vulnerable to active shooter incidents. And hospitals are no exception.

From preparing for superstorms and guarding against a terrorist attack to thwarting cyber-thieves trying to hack into patient records, hospitals have a lot of security-related concerns today. But perhaps the most worrisome threat of them all comes in the form of an armed and unpredictable assailant who can unleash sudden, unspeakable violence in your facility: an active shooter, defined by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security as an individual actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a confined and populated area, typically through the use of firearms.

Make no mistake—active shooter incidents are on the rise across America. Between 2000 and 2006, these incidents occurred around six times annually but increased to 16.4 times a year between 2007 and 2013. Within hospitals, these horrific events (called a "code silver") now happen at a frequency of more than one a month; in fact, one study found that there were 154 shootings in hospital settings and 235 victims (20 percent of whom were hospital employees) either killed or injured from 2000 through 2011. Within that span, 29 percent occurred in the ED, 19 percent in patient rooms, 41 percent on hospital grounds, and 23 percent in the parking lot.

I covered this topic in a recent story for The Joint Commission's EC News newsletter, read by hospital administrators. Click here to access the article.

October 1, 2017

Handy heat without the hazards

Now that the calendar has turned another page, we're getting closer to cold weather. That means you'll likely be turning on the furnace soon. But in areas not served by central heating, you may have to rely on a portable heating device to warm things up.

Be warned, however, that electric space heaters were responsible for over 10,000 fires (accounting for 46% of all home space heater fires), 210 civilian deaths, and $305 million in property damage between 2009 and 2013, per National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) data.

Learn how to protect yourself and your family when using a portable electric heater by reading my article on this topic, featured in the October 2017 issue of The Costco Connection magazine. Click here for the full story.

September 19, 2017

Conjuring up fresh frights

Writing regularly about real estate, health care, technology, finances, pets and jobs throughout the year is fun and stimulating, certainly. But this time of the calendar brings me extra excitement, because I get to promote Halloween-themed events and topics, too - such as the upcoming season of Midnight Terror Haunted House, located near my neck of the woods in the south 'burbs of Chicago.

Read my latest article about this annual fright fan favorite and how it plans to freshen up the fear for 2017 by clicking here.

September 12, 2017

Put the focus on fun to improve your savings habits

Squirrels stockpile nuts for a good reason—they want to be prepared when resources are scarce. Therein lies an acorn of truth that humans can take to heart: saving now can pay off later.

Problem is, building a nest egg is hard work. That's because we often don't have many dollars left after paying our bills. And poor habits like impulsive spending, living beyond our means, and not keeping track of our money can quickly exhaust our finances. The solution? Set realistic savings goals and stay disciplined. And don't be afraid to sometimes spend money on things you like to do, too, which can build good saving skills.

For tips on how to set fun savings goals, read my newest article for USAA Stories, available here.

September 3, 2017

Why buying a home near your favorite grocery store matters

Buyers need to think about many factors before purchasing a home. These include price, neighborhood amenities, area schools and commute time.

New data suggests that nearness to your preferred food store should also be pondered. Shopping convenience is one perk. But a bigger one is the effect that grocer can have on your home’s value. This nearby store may affect your flipping or renting prospects, too.

Learn more about why choosing a residence in close proximity to your preferred food store can have a big impact by reading my latest story for The Mortgage Reports, available here.

August 21, 2017

Why lottery playing is thirsty work

Gas, tobacco and cold beverages may be what gets customers in the door at convenience stores. But don’t discount good old-fashioned luck in the form of lottery scratch-off and computer-generated tickets. They represent a consistent revenue stream for convenience operators, generating about $8,000 in sales weekly and 9% of total convenience sales. And with Powerball jackpots hitting record highs lately, the c-store is likely to remain a popular destination for luck seekers.

Read my latest story for CSP Magazine, available here, on what store shoppers also purchase when they play the lottery at 7-Eleven, Kwik Trip, Sheetz, Circle K and other convenience stores.

August 8, 2017

Is your child ready to enter the mobile age?

She’s mastered the tablet without too many tantrums. He gets his homework done before turning on the game console. But is your son or daughter ready for a mobile phone? Since the dawn of the smartphone era, it’s become an age-old question—literally.

Learn more about what the experts recommend by reading my latest Costco Connection magazine article, "The great smartphone debate," available here.

August 1, 2017

Playtime for Polly

Few things warm bird lovers’ hearts more than seeing their winged companions busy at play. But avian amusements only go so far in a cage lacking bird-friendly baubles, trinkets and toys. That's why it's important to hang, clip and place fun stuff inside the bird's home. Read about some of the latest pet bird toys in my newest monthly column for Pet Age magazine by clicking here.

July 17, 2017

Home buyers cope with stressed-out shopping syndrome

From sweating the down payment to fretting about interest rates creeping up to worrying about overpaying, home buyers face a lot of fears today—particularly in a market where sellers seem to have all the leverage. But with the right help, an organized approach and a positive mindset, they can feel more in control and better manage the process, say the experts.

Learn more about stressed-out shopping syndrome by reading my latest CTW Features article on this topic, available here.

July 3, 2017

The rec room reimagined

In the 1970s, wood-paneled rumpus rooms were all the rage. By the 1990s, that space often morphed into a game room or dedicated home theater. Today, those concepts have blended into a 21st century entertainment room—a modern multipurpose area where family and friends can binge watch their favorite shows or engage in serious lights-out movie watching, partake in a PlayStation 4 war or roll the dice in an old school board game, and socialize with snacks or bring out the tots’ toys.

Read about how to create the ultimate entertainment room in my latest piece for The Costco Connection by clicking here.

June 19, 2017

Joining the cloud crowd

A copy of that family photo you took with your smartphone went directly to it. All those messages you sent using the Gmail app are stored there. And that Dropbox file you’re preparing to download continues to call it home.

Indeed, the cloud is an increasingly popular place where all manner of data congregate and everyday tasks – from critical to trivial, professional to personal – get completed. Yet, despite promising greater convenience, lower computing costs, and improved productivity, far less dental business occurs in the cloud than you’d think, say the experts. Learn more about the pros and cons of cloud computing in my latest article for AGD Impact, available here.

June 11, 2017

Coercive immersive

2016 was the year immersive content went big time. NBC broadcast the Olympics in 360-degree video. Pok√©mon Go got millions of smartphone-mesmerized people out of the house. Virtual reality made the cover of Time. And major players rolled out headline-grabbing VR devices, including Samsung Gear VR, Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, and Google Daydream View. The era of affordable and viable VR for the masses had arrived. But virtual isn’t the only game in town. There’s also augmented reality and mixed reality vying for consumers’ attention.

In my newest article for EContent Magazine, I explore the current state of virtual and augmented reality content and what innovations the future may bring. Read it here.

May 29, 2017

Gen Z is not so receptive to digital ads: here’s why

Here’s a worrisome thought for marketers that can keep marketers up at night: Gen Z—a key demographic born between the mid-1990s and early 2000s—comprises 27 percent of the global population, commands $44 billion in purchasing power, and represents the first true generation of digital natives. But your efforts to reach them via digital ads could fail miserably, new research suggests.

A recent study by Kantar Millward Brown titled AdReaction: Engaging Gen X, Y and Z reveals that only 25 percent of 16- to 19-year-old respondents to the study’s survey expressed a preference for online search ads; merely 23 percent indicated a preference for video on laptops or PCs, 22 percent for mobile display ads, and 21 percent for mobile video ads.

Learn more about why young consumers are cold on digital ads by reading my latest article for EContent Magazine, available here.

May 8, 2017

Yes, home prices are up--but buyers can reap benefits down the road

Real estate prices keep rising. And that’s a steep climb for many home buyers nowadays. But the silver lining is that what goes up today can go up even higher in the future—at a time when the hurdle of home buying is far behind you.

New data show that it’s a rewarding time for sellers. But buyers can cash in on those same rewards years from now by doing their homework, purchasing a worthy property in a good location now, and keeping their homes maintained. Learn more about these strategies by reading my latest article for The Mortgage Reports, available here.

April 30, 2017

Beware: that home for sale could be hazardous to your health

Prospective buyer beware: that home for sale you’re eyeing could be a ticking time bomb – perhaps a termite headquarters, lead-based paint mecca, former meth lab site or environmentally polluted property. And you won’t know for sure unless you do your homework, according to the experts.

Learn how to sidestep a property with hidden health hazards by reading my newest piece for CTW Features, available here.

April 19, 2017

The robots may be coming for your job — are you ready?

Hear that metallic clatter off in the distance? It’s the sound of self-driving cars, package-delivering drones, ultra-smart voice-activated digital assistants, hospital robots, and countless other machines encroaching on the boundaries of your workplace. Yes, the bad news is that the age of automation has arrived. But the good news is that most jobs are probably safe from its influence for a long time, and such technology can present opportunities and rewards for workers willing to embrace or get ahead of it.

My latest article for AARP The Magazine covers the threat of technology encroachment in the workplace and how you can make yourself a more indispensable employee in the age of automation. Read it by clicking here.

April 11, 2017

Publishers perk up their ears for smart speakers

Publishers spent a lot of blood, sweat and tears getting their content up to speed on mobile over the past few years. But that’s a platform primarily geared to eyeballs and fingers.

Now, they’ve got to devote attention to the eardrum and vocal chords that can be heard loud and clear on smart speakers like Amazon’s Alexa-powered Echo and Google Home, featuring Google Assistant, say the experts. To do otherwise is to risk being drowned out by the sound waves of competitors and overlooked by consumers eager for immediate gratification audio.

Learn more about this tech topic by checking out my latest article for EContent Magazine, available here.

April 2, 2017

An aviary beyond the ordinary

They say the cure for feeling cooped up is to spread your wings and fly. But many pet stores are content to confine sales of bird cages—the most crucial avian commodity that bird owners purchase—to a limited supply and a small selection. That’s an opportunity missed, say the experts, who recommend expanding your offerings to cater to consumers increasingly seeking larger, higher-quality enclosures for their feathered friends.

My latest monthly pet bird trends and products column for Pet Age, which this time around focuses on bird cages, can be read here.

March 19, 2017

Why it's still a great time to refinance your mortgage

If you currently have a mortgage loan, it’s normal to worry that you may be paying too much on the interest. After shopping around, many homeowners find that they often can take advantage of lower rates by refinancing. Recently, however, mortgage rates climbed slightly. What’s more, the Federal Reserve just announced an interest rate hike, which could also make mortgage rates go higher.

In a climate with rising rates, many borrowers choose to put refinancing plans on hold. But despite rates ticking up, experts say now remains a good time to consider a refi and lower your mortgage payment. Learn wide by reading my latest article for The Mortgage Reports, available here.

March 5, 2017

Social studies

In an increasingly challenging climate for electronic publishers, content providers and digital marketers – where the gray clouds of ad blocking, content competition, short-attention-span consumerism, and monetization pressure loom menacingly over the horizon – social media is the silver lining.

Far from being the fad or gimmick it was once considered years ago, social today offers incalculable value for brands to keep users engaged with targeted messages, offers and content: all with an efficiency and expediency that levels the playing field for Davids and Goliaths alike. And the prospects for engagement are tantalizing: consider that the average user logs 1.72 hours per day on social platforms, comprising 28% of total online activity.

Read more about the current state of social media by checking out my newest article for EContent Magazine on this topic, available here.

February 26, 2017

A parting of the ways—with perks

Shakespeare wrote that parting is such sweet sorrow. But it can certainly be more sorrowful than sweet if you are let go or resign from a company without reasonable recompense. To sugarcoat matters, a severance agreement may be offered on or before your last day at work. This agreement may include a package that provides various benefits and severance pay that’s separate from your final paycheck.

U.S. labor laws don’t typically obligate employers to pay severance, and you shouldn’t expect it if you’re being terminated for cause or are a low-level and at-will employee. However, many companies offer it and may be willing to up the ante on what’s included in your severance deal, say the experts.

Learn more about how to negotiate a severance package by reading my newest article for AARP The Magazine, which you can access here.

February 19, 2017

More homeowners heading to HELOCs

If you’re a homeowner who survived the real estate market downturn from a few years back, chances are the value of your home—and your equity in it—has increased. And therein lies an opportunity: the chance to tap into that equity in the form of a home equity line of credit (HELOC), which can be a great way to finance a home improvement project, pay down debt, help pay for college or even purchase a car.

This option has proved to be increasingly popular in recent years—in fact, for 17 consecutive quarters spanning 2012 through mid-2016, residential HELOC originations increased, according to ATTOM Data Solutions.

Learn more about the pros and cons of HELOCs by reading my latest real estate article for Newspaper Media Group by clicking here.

February 1, 2017

Portable power in a pinch

Emergency power generators sure come in handy during outages, natural disasters and situations when you’re removed from the grid. But traditional gasoline-powered units can be heavy and loud, produce harmful and smelly exhaust, and require maintenance and the storing of combustible fuel on your property. Fortunately, there’s a new breed of backup power generators: the portable power station, fueled by lithium batteries, which offers more convenient movability, recharging flexibility, and compatibility with your devices. And countless consumers stand to benefit—from homeowners to apartment dwellers, campers to tailgaters, and construction site workers to backyard partiers.

Read about this new technology in my latest story for The Costco Connection magazine, available here.

January 22, 2017

Fun is a cinch with a chinch

Hamsters, mice and guinea pigs may rule the small animal roost in American homes. But the chinchilla is another soft and cuddly critter that should be considered. They enjoy a longer lifespan (up to 15 years) than many other pet rodent breeds, their fur is among the softest and most pettable and their bushy tails and jumbo ears give them a distinctive adorability. They’re also fairly low maintenance compared to a lot of other pets.

Read more about chinchillas, and how pet stores should feature them, by reading my latest small animal column for Pet Age, available here.

January 8, 2017

Farewell, free social marketing

The free lunch is over, social media marketers: prepare to pony up and devote even more of your budget to paid promotion on Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and their ilk. That’s the conclusion reached after digesting the findings of a recent report by Gartner, entitled “Digital Channel Survey 2016: Social Marketers Expand Tactics for Results.” According to the report, four out of five industry professionals who spearhead social media marketing programs indicated they would place paid advertising programs via social media over the next 12 months—with 42 percent this group embarking on paid social marketing endeavors for the first time and 38 percent already having paid programs intact.

Learn more about why and how social media marketers need to switch gears and shift into paid social strategies by reading my latest article for EContent Magazine, found here.