3 Ideas for Using Your Tax Refund for Your Home

Will you be one of the seven in 10 Americans who get a tax refund this year? If so, you could be looking at close to $3,000 to spend. This is based on the fact that last year, over 110 million Americans received refunds, with the average tax refund being $2,860.

So what do Americans like you do with $3,000 or so burning a hole in their pocket? You might think they go on a shopping spree or book a vacation, but Americans are actually quite practical with that extra money. Most use the money to pay off debt or they put that money towards a savings account, such as retirement savings.

Here's another practical way to use that extra money that can benefit you in the long run--invest in your home. Your home is likely one of your biggest investments. Why not take an extra couple thousands dollars and reinvest it this way?

Here are three ideas for how you can use a tax refund to reinvest in your home for the long term.

Repaint or Re-side Your Home 

Last year my husband and I invested in new siding for our house. Our L-shaped beach bungalow was built in 1971 and had never been re-sided. The original clapboard was cracked and chipping, and no amount of paint could make it look better. I'm glad we decided to re-side because, when the contractors removed the original clapboard, they found water damage that we didn't realize had happened. The new siding, which is vinyl but molded to look like cedar shakes, is 100 percent maintenance-free. Plus, it makes our house look prettier, improving our curb appeal, should we ever sell.

Add Insulation or Replace Windows (or both)

Maybe you've noticed that your energy bills have spiked, even with keeping tabs on your thermostat, weather-stripping your windows and turning off lights when you leave rooms. There is a chance that you simply need to add insulation to your home, replace your windows or both. Just adding an extra layer of fiberglass insulation in your attic can do wonders for your energy bill. New window aren't cheap, but you'll earn back the investment in a couple of years of reduced energy bills. Plus, with regard to improving curb appeal, new windows are attractive to homebuyers.

Invest in a Standby Generator

We live in a beach town in New Jersey that was one of the hardest hit during 2012's Superstorm Sandy. It's no surprise that nearly every house in our neighborhood has a standby generator. These are the generators that run on natural gas or propane. Unlike portable generators that can be noisy and require manual set-up, running cords and gasoline, standby generators cycle on automatically as soon as the power goes off. Once you've lost power for an extended period of time and suffered the inconveniences that come with being powerless, you quickly realize the importance of a standby generator.

Cummins home standby generator

Cummins is the brand homeowners trust for reliability, durability and power. With a Cummins standby generator, your family won’t be left in the dark.

Cummins has an online quiz you can take to evaluate your home generator needs. This Cummins quiz helps you determine how much power your home needs to keep running when the power is out and can help you select the right standby generator for you. Take the quiz now at https://homegenerators.cummins.com/

Another reason to use your tax refund to invest in a standby generator--hurricane season is just around the corner. Hurricane Season is officially May 1 through December 1, butyou never know when during the season you could get hit. Remember: Superstorm Sandy happened days before Halloween--and days before the hurricane season would have been officially over.

Realtors tell me that when it comes to selling a home in hurricane-prone states, a standby generator can make your home stand out from others. This makes them more attractive to buyers who are looking for this premium amenity and, dare I say, necessity in a place where power outages come with the weather.

Leah Ingram, Freelance Writer, Lifestyle and Money-Saving Expert

Leah Ingram

Leah Ingram is a freelance writer, lifestyle and money-saving expert. Her mission is to help you feel more confident about your spending, regardless of income.

 

She is the author of Suddenly Frugal: How to Live Happier and Healthier for Less, which compiles Leah’s unique money-saving advice, including how a family can save $25,000 a year. Her second title in the Suddenly Frugal series is Toss, Keep, Sell!: The Suddenly Frugal Guide to Cleaning Out the Clutter and Cashing In.

 

Currently, Leah is working on a personal finance book, chock full of ideas to help middle-class families pay for college. That book, tentatively called College Money Hacks, will be out from Career Press in Fall 2017.

 

For more information, visit Leah's website at http://www.leahingram.com/about/.

Weather Related Tips for National Preparedness Month

This September, Cummins is partnering with meteorologist and FEMA-certified disaster expert Cheryl Nelson to offer weather preparedness tips for every season through a comprehensive video series and complementary guide available on our home generators website

The guide, downloadable here, provides seasonal advice for safely facing severe thunderstorms, hurricanes, high heat and winter storms, as well as general preparedness tips. In addition, we have specific tips for senior family members, children and pets in our infographic.

While most people know to have water, batteries and canned goods on hand, there are many other critical steps to take when preparing for a severe weather incident. A few of the unique tips found in our severe weather preparedness brochure include:

  • Keep important documents such as birth certificates, insurance cards and medical history on a flash drive.
  • Have a paper map of your area. Remember that your GPS may not work following a disaster.
  • Keep a disaster prep kit in your car in case you need to evacuate quickly or are away from home when disaster strikes.
  • Consider buying flood insurance, but keep in mind it takes 30 days to activate.
  • Invest in a home standby generator to keep your power on in the event of a long-term power outage caused by a disaster.
  • Include a photo of you with your pet in your disaster kit in case you are separated and later need to prove ownership.

While September is a time to highlight disaster preparedness, Cummins encourages preparedness year-round. Please visit https://homegenerators.cummins.com/ahead-of-the-storm to see all of our weather-related prep tips.

Cheryl Nelson, Certified Broadcast Meteorologist

Cheryl Nelson

Cheryl Nelson is an Emmy-nominated and AP award-winning Certified Broadcast Meteorologist, TV Host, FEMA-Certified Instructor and Weather and Preparedness Advisor for Cummins. You can visit Cheryl’s website at www.CherylNelson.net and follow her on Twitter and Facebook @CherylNelsonTV. 

14 Tips to Make Your Home and Family Safer This Fall

As the summer heat begins to fade away, fall is the perfect time to step up disaster preparedness, both inside and outside the home.

Whether it’s making sure you are prepared for the heart of hurricane season, confirming you and your kids have a family-communicated disaster plan, or ensuring your home is ready for Old Man Winter, now is the time to get all your ducks in a row.

To prepare the outside of your home, take a look around your property:

  1. Inspect your gutters and make sure they are clean so water can drain properly.
  2. Are bugs getting into your home? Perhaps you need to seal gaps and cracks around windows and doors to keep both bugs and the cold air out.
  3.  Don’t forget to look up. Inspect your roof for any damage or leaky vents.
  4.  How are your driveway, sidewalk and steps holding up? Be sure to repair anything that needs attention.
  5. Trim any dead branches or trees that may be leaning over your home.

To prepare the inside of your home, remember these tips:

  1. After all the spring and summer pollen, now is a good time to repair dirty filters. 
  2. Clean your clothes dryer exhaust duct and the space behind the dryer and remove any lint or dust that may have accumulated.
  3. Hire a professional to check out your furnace, fireplace and chimney.
  4. Insulate water pipes that may be prone to freezing temperatures.
  5. Now is also the time to test your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.

Make sure you and your family are all on the same page:

  1. Have a family-communicated disaster plan and kit for each family member, as well as a meeting place if you were to all get separated.
  2. Build a mini-disaster kit for your child to keep at school.
  3. Have back-up battery chargers for electronic devices to ensure you can stay connected with loved ones if you experience a power outage.
  4. Consider investing in a standby generator to maintain your home’s power in the event of a weather-related or non-emergency power outage.

Cummins QuietConnect™ home standby generators deliver peace of mind, giving you confidence that your home and family are prepared for whatever Mother Nature throws your way. QuietConnect generators are also extremely quiet and incredibly affordable. They even add to your home’s resale value.

With a little planning, a little elbow grease and the right equipment, your family’s preparedness will be in great shape this fall. In the meantime, enjoy the cooler temperatures and vivid fall colors as we transition to autumn.

 

Cheryl Nelson, Certified Broadcast Meteorologist

Cheryl Nelson

Cheryl Nelson is an Emmy-nominated and AP award-winning Certified Broadcast Meteorologist, TV Host, FEMA-Certified Instructor and Weather and Preparedness Advisor for Cummins. You can visit Cheryl’s website at www.CherylNelson.net and follow her on Twitter and Facebook @CherylNelsonTV. 

6 Tips to Prepare Your Home and Property for Hurricane Season

Even though hurricane season runs just six months out of the year, when storms hit, they do significant damage - about $26 billion annually, according to researchers at MIT.

When it comes to actual damage, two elements cause the most--water from storm surge or relentless rains and wind. Secondary to wind and water are the destruction both leave behind. Power outages. Flooding. Building destruction.

With all that in mind, I've put together the following tips and video to help you prepare for hurricane season. These are being presented on behalf of Cummins Inc., manufacturer of home standby generators, with whom I've partnered. Three of these tips are DIY - or do it yourself - things you can easily do yourself to help minimize or hopefully even prevent damage. You should definitely hire a professional to tackle the other three tips.

 

DIY Hurricane Prep

When it comes to do-it-yourself hurricane preparation, I suggest sticking with activities that are easy for you to do and which do not put you at risk of hurting yourself. For example, one tip requires you to go up on a ladder. If you are unsteady on your feet, by all means get someone else to go up on that ladder. Or hire a professional. When in doubt, don't put yourself in danger.

The tips below all focus on keeping water away from your home's foundation. That's because water can do severe long-term damage to your home.

1. DIY Clean Your Gutters

You should clean your gutters twice a year. You do it once in fall, not only because it is hurricane season, but also to prepare for winter. You don't want water gathering in your gutters and then freezing. That's a great way to make your gutters rip away from your house. You clean your gutters again in spring because of those proverbial April showers. Again, you want your gutters clean and free of debris so water can move down and out. And speaking of out, make sure the down spouts are clear and aimed away from your house so water goes away, too.

2. DIY Prepare Your Landscaping

Another way to keep water from getting into your home's foundation is through your landscaping. You want all soil and mulch to slope away from your home, not towards it. This keeps water moving in the right direction.

3. DIY Seal Foundation Cracks

Water is like a ninja when it comes to affecting a home's foundation. It's going to find a way, somehow, to get to it. Stop the ninja dead in its tracks by using foundation crack epoxy sealer. You can find it at your local hardware store.

Hire a Pro for Hurricane Season

Sometimes you've just got to hire a pro. It goes along with the notion of not being penny wise and pound-foolish. In times like this, it makes sense to spend the money to get a job done right, because DIY just won't cut it.

Here are three hurricane season prep jobs for which you should bring in a professional to get your home ready for impending storms.

1. Pro to Trim High Branches

When I want to trim a few low-hanging branches here and there, I can easily get clippers from my shed and do the job myself. But when I have dead branches hanging high above my house, I hire a professional tree service to trim those and any other branches that might come lose in a storm. These folks know exactly how to trim a tree to keep your home safe and to keep the tree alive.

2. Pro to Install Sump Pump Alarm

The first summer we lived in our house, Hurricane Floyd hit. That was 1999. I'll never forget looking out my back door and seeing my neighbor go by in a canoe. There was that much water in our backyard. Thankfully, our basement remained dry during the height of the storm, thanks to our sump pump. Unbeknownst to us, all of that pumping of water eventually knocked the sump pump off kilter. Shortly, thereafter it stopped working all together--even though we didn't lose power. We were none the wiser, until I went downstairs the next day to do laundry and stepped into 12 inches of water. If you live in a place where your basement floods, always have a pro install an alarm when installing a sump pump. If we'd had an alarm, we would have known right away that the sump pump had stopped working, and we could have stopped our basement from flooding.

3. Pro to Install Standby Generator

Around the same time as Superstorm Sandy in 2012, we got a portable, gas-powered generator for our four-bedroom home. We thought we were so smart. Problem is, we never stopped to consider two post-hurricane scenarios. One, we couldn't leave our street to buy gas, because of downed trees and blocked roads. And, two, we couldn't get gas at all, even if we could get out of our street. That's because so many gas stations were without power and therefore couldn't pump it. In hindsight having a home standby generator to power our entire home would have made so much more sense.

Cummins home standby generator

Unlike portable generators that can be noisy and require manual set-up, running cords and gasoline, standby generators restore automatically when the power goes out, even if you aren’t home.

Cummins home standby generator installation

Standby generators are connected directly to your home’s electrical and natural gas/LP systems, so there are no trips to the gas station and no running out of gas. To see if a standby generator is right for your family, visit homegenerators.cummins.com, where you can find details about the products, how they work and how you can prepare. There’s also a handy sizing calculator where you can estimate your power needs.

Final thought when hiring a pro: don't wait until there is a hurricane in the weather forecast. You'll likely never get someone in to take care of the job in time.

Leah Ingram, Freelance Writer, Lifestyle and Money-Saving Expert

Leah Ingram

Leah Ingram is a freelance writer, lifestyle and money-saving expert. Her mission is to help you feel more confident about your spending, regardless of income.

 

She is the author of Suddenly Frugal: How to Live Happier and Healthier for Less, which compiles Leah’s unique money-saving advice, including how a family can save $25,000 a year. Her second title in the Suddenly Frugal series is Toss, Keep, Sell!: The Suddenly Frugal Guide to Cleaning Out the Clutter and Cashing In.

 

Currently, Leah is working on a personal finance book, chock full of ideas to help middle-class families pay for college. That book, tentatively called College Money Hacks, will be out from Career Press in Fall 2017.

 

For more information, visit Leah's website at http://www.leahingram.com/about/.

Important Tips to Endure Dangerous Heatwave Conditions

We’ve barely entered the summer and already parts of California, Nevada and Arizona have already had record-breaking temperatures.

In some of these areas, it was so hot that planes were not permitted to fly, roads buckled and power outages occurred due to strain on the power grid from excessive use of air conditioning.

Heat waves of this magnitude are not just an inconvenience, they can be dangerous, even life-threatening, if proper precautions aren’t taken. There were 45 heat-related fatalities in 2015 according to NOAA. Of all natural disasters, heat holds the highest 10-yr average of fatalities with 113.

During the hot summer months, a home standby generator like the Cummins QuietConnect will keep your A/C running if you lose power.

Cummins home standby generator

People who are sick, the elderly and young children are most susceptible to heat-related-illnesses. However, anyone can suffer from a heat-related illness if they over-exert themselves or simply don’t take extreme heat warnings seriously. Whether your region is experiencing a heatwave or record-breaking temperatures, I’ve compiled some tips on behalf of Cummins to keep your family, friends and neighbors safe this summer.

Safety Tips for Extreme Heat

  • Never leave children or pets alone in hot vehicles – even for a second.
  • Stay inside during the hottest part of the day (10am-4pm) and limit time outside in the sun.
  • If A/C is not available, stay indoors on the lowest floor in a well-ventilated area with fans. Keep shades and blinds closed.
  • Stay hydrated with plenty of water - even if you’re not thirsty.
  • Don’t drink alcohol, soda or other caffeinated beverages as they make dehydration worse.
  • Avoid strenuous activity and postpone outdoor games and events.
  • Use sunscreen, wear a hat and light-colored clothing.
  • Visit air-conditioned public spaces such as malls, movie theaters and libraries to keep cool.
  • Check on family and friends with special needs and those who may not have A/C or live alone.
  • Keep your pets indoors and make sure they have access to a cool space and plenty of water.
  • Listen for weather updates from the National Weather Service (NWS) on a NOAA weather radio.
  • Go to a designated public shelter if your home loses power during periods of extreme heat. Text SHELTER + your ZIP code to 43362 (4FEMA) to find the nearest shelter in your area (example: shelter 12345) and listen to your local officials for shelter locations.

Preparing for Extreme Heat Conditions

  • Consider a home standby generator like the Cummins QuietConnect that will turn on automatically and keep your A/C running and your entire house on if you lose power.
  • Properly install window air conditioners (sealing any cracks) and insulate if necessary.
  • Check A/C ducts for proper insulation and clean filters.
  • Install awnings, blinds or light-colored drapes and keep them closed to keep sunlight and heat out.
  • Upgrade your windows and weather-strip door to keep heat out and cool air in.
  • Get trained in first aid and CPR.

Cheryl Nelson, Certified Broadcast Meteorologist

Cheryl Nelson

Cheryl Nelson is an Emmy-nominated and AP award-winning Certified Broadcast Meteorologist, TV Host, FEMA-Certified Instructor and Weather and Preparedness Advisor for Cummins. You can visit Cheryl’s website at www.CherylNelson.net and follow her on Twitter and Facebook @CherylNelsonTV. 

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