Six rules to help keep your teen driver safe

Orlando teen driving, Orlando safety, Orlando teens, Orlando real estateIf you worry about the kind of car your teen will drive, you’re not alone.

In a survey commissioned by USAA, 81 percent of parents put reliability first when choosing a vehicle for their teens, followed by a high safety rating. The good news is that teens also want cars with the latest safety features.

“Being safe is the new cool,” says Shelby Fix, a 21-year-old safer-driving advocate and automotive journalist. “There are cool colors and options, but side-impact air bags and hands-free devices – that’s what’s in the new, cool cars.”

Fix, known as The Car Coach 2.0, says new technology turns teenagers’ heads almost as fast as slick makes and models.

The daughter of automotive expert Lauren Fix, Shelby raced go-karts at age 7 and was raised on talk of crash-test ratings. She grew up hearing the mantra of a mother who loves cars, but loves her kids more – “You can replace cars, but you can’t replace a child.”

That’s why the decision parents and teens make about that first set of wheels is so crucial. “Your car is like your outside shell when you’re in it,” Shelby says.

She’s learned six key factors to look for:

* Newer cars with newer technology. A used car may lack the technology that could save your child’s life. In addition to electronic stability control – which helps drivers keep control of the vehicle – and side-impact air bags, base prices for newer cars are including built-in rearview cameras and park-assist systems.

* The right size. Avoid sport utility vehicles, which have higher rollover rates and can prove tougher to maneuver; and tiny cars, which may offer less protection in a crash. Shelby recommends moderate-size vehicles for more stability and easier, more predictable handling.

* Sedan style. Don’t give your teen more power than he or she can handle. “Even though sports cars have a strong performance image, a lot of accidents are speed-related,” Shelby says.

* Crash-test ratings. Check the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s Top Safety Picks each year on its website,

* Accident history. If you’re in the market for a used car, get a vehicle history report. It can alert you if a car’s been in an accident or damaged in a flood.

-* Mechanic’s signoff. Have an Automotive Service Excellence-certified mechanic check the vehicle to make sure the used vehicle you’re purchasing is a good one.

Check out the vehicles that made USAA’s 2013 Top 10 for Teens list. They had to be USAA Preferred vehicles and have an MSRP below $25,500. In addition, each vehicle’s safety, reliability, insurance cost and overall value were considered. The cars are:

1. Dodge Dart

2. Dodge Avenger

3. Honda CR-Z

4. Chrysler 200

5. Honda Insight

6. Volkswagen Golf

7. Hyundai Elantra

8. Nissan Versa

9. Kia Optima

10 Chevrolet Malibu

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Best backyard bets for your buck

Orlando Real Estate, Kissimmee Real Estate, Poinciana Real Estate, Heathrow Real Estate From entertainment systems and fully functional kitchens to luxurious furnishings and decor, it’s easy to drop a bundle on improving your outdoor living spaces. The choices seem to be unlimited. But no matter how much you love your deck or patio – and most Americans do – you probably don’t have an unlimited budget for equipping your outdoor space.

Beyond table ware and seating, what are the best creature comforts to invest in? Which products and amenities will ultimately-provide the most enjoyment and bang for the buck when it comes to outdoor upgrades? Narrowing the options to those with the greatest benefits and versatility is a smart approach. Here are some outdoor accessories that will prove to not only enhance your summer entertaining, but will create pleasure throughout the year.


Electronics are an easy place to start. Tech-savvy or novice, most people have a smart device to stream or play downloaded music.-Creating ambiance with music is a great touch for outdoor living and entertaining. Projecting the sound outdoors takes a powerful speaker system.-Starting at $100,-improved quality wireless speakers offer a simple way-to pump out the tunes.-Not only are these speakers lightweight and easy to use, they can serve for a myriad of events or functions outside the backyard realm. Wireless speakers are perfect-to use in other parts of the home such as the garage-and to take-along on family outings such as picnics or camping trips.

Cooling options

On hot summer days, who doesn’t enjoy a cool breeze?-Air conditioning is impractical outdoors, so investing in a backyard cooling product could be a necessity as much as an amenity. Choose a powerful yet quiet portable evaporative cooler. Evaporative coolers, like those offered by Port-A-Cool, are a better option than misters that drench or oscillating fans that simply blow hot air around. The coolers lower temperatures by as much as 30 F, and are powerful enough to COOL an entire deck. The Port-A-Cool Cyclone 3000 and 2000, for example, cool 700 and 500 square feet, respectively.

Not only are they great in the backyard, these portable coolers are easily wheeled anywhere throughout the yard. They work great for spot-cooling in the garage or even on the go while camping or tailgating.-To learn more about portable evaporative coolers, visit


Outdoor lighting options have come a long way in recent years. Solar options have made lighting simple and versatile. Styles range from traditional lanterns and landscape stake options to more decorative variations. When upgrading your solar lighting,-consider the light styles that will give you mileage beyond the summer. For example, solar string lights commonly used for sun umbrellas are an excellent choice for reusing in the fall around Halloween decorations, around trees and as part of holiday decor. Get even more creative by packing these lights for nighttime family excursions such as fireworks shows or at the community center’s movie showing on the lawn.

Beyond grilling

Installing an outdoor kitchen is a significant investment, but it’s useful all year long. Research the bells and whistles that enhance your cooking habits and family lifestyle. Consider adding a pizza oven, rotisserie, refrigerator and warming drawers. Once your dream kitchen is built, you’ll want to maximize it. It sounds trite, but don’t forget you have it. Keep the house smelling like a bed of roses during a Lobster boil or crawfish feast by preparing it outside. When it’s time for dad to make his famous chili, it can simmer for hours on one of the outdoor burners.-Get the kids involved in making their favorite grilled cheese, pizza or even dessert. The key is using this area for more than grilling burgers or hosting a couple of parties. Incorporate it into your daily life.

At the end of the day, buy what brings enjoyment. The added benefit is the versatility.

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Easier mortgage processes, positive attitudes inspire renters to buy

ORLANDO REAL ESTATE, KISSIMMEE REAL ESTATE, ORLANDO HOMES, ORLANDO SELLERSOwning a home has been an integral element of the American Dream for generations. But is ownership right for you? And if it is, how do you know if it’s the right time in your life to purchase a home?

Thirty-two percent of American households are renters, according to the National Multi Housing Council. Generally, more people younger than 30 occupy rentals, while the percentage of people who own their home increases with age, NMHC statistics indicate. People decide to buy a home for many reasons, but the recent real estate market downturn caused many Americans to rethink their assumptions about renting and owning.

Even with many real estate experts predicting the market will continue to improve, it pays to carefully evaluate how home ownership does – or doesn’t – figure into your long-term financial goals. If you’ve been renting and wondering if it’s time to apply for a mortgage and buy your own home, consider these points:

1. Renting isn’t always the cheaper option, and comparing your monthly rent payment directly to a mortgage payment won’t give you a clear picture of the financial impact of either option. Online calculators, like Guaranteed Rate’s rent vs. buy online calculator, can give you a better understanding of the comparison. With mortgage rates consistently low and rental markets competitive across the country, real estate experts agree that in most major metropolitan areas it will still be cheaper in the long run to buy than continue to rent.

2. While the days of zero-money-down mortgages are essentially over, it’s a misconception that you need a huge amount of money to buy a house. Yes, you’ll almost certainly need a down payment, but different lenders will require different percentages. Research your mortgage options before you begin house hunting so you’ll know how much you’ll need to save in order to secure a mortgage – and the home of your dreams.

3. Although the mortgage application process is detailed, it doesn’t have to be drawn out and tedious. Many lenders now allow you to initiate the process online, and Guaranteed Rate has recently overhauled its website to allow borrowers to apply for a loan, track the approval process and receive their home loans all online. The eighth-largest retail mortgage company in the U.S. allows customers to choose and customize their loans, submit an application and receive an official approval letter all at Automating the application process compresses the traditional time frame from days – sometimes, even weeks – into minutes. As part of the process, applicants also receive the credit reports from all three major credit bureaus.

4. Buying a home affords you the opportunity to really grow your roots, but the flipside is that in order to get the most out of your investment, you need to stay put for a while. If you anticipate being in your current job and living in your current town for at least five years, the long-term investment of buying a house will make more sense for you. If you anticipate a job change or a move within a few years, you may want to hold off on buying a house. The good news is, doing so gives you more time to save toward a down payment so you’ll look even more appealing to lenders when you are ready to buy.

While only you can decide if homeownership is right for you and your family – and if now is the right time to buy – keep in mind a few statistics from 42 percent of renters say they regret not having bought a home, and 31 percent say they want to buy a home in the next two years.

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Renovation loans give homebuyers an edge in a competitive market

ORLANDO REAL ESTATE, KISSIMMEE HOME BUYER'S, HOME BUYER'S, HOME BUYER, ORLANDO HOME BUYERSJust a year ago homebuyers could choose from a bounty of properties on the market. Today things are starkly different. In many locations throughout the United States, inventory of homes for sale is at historic lows, creating a seller’s market where multiple buyers get into bidding wars over move-in-ready homes.

“Move-in-ready homes may be selling like hotcakes, but older homes or damaged properties are often passed over,” says Margaret Kelly, CEO with RE/MAX. “This is a big opportunity for smart buyers who are willing to overlook cosmetic or other imperfections.”

If buyers can look beyond aesthetic characteristics like paint color, hardware and floor coverings, they may discover a diamond in the rough, especially if the home is in the neighborhood where they prefer to live. For example, if they like the overall design of a particular home, but the kitchen is straight out of the ’70s and the deck needs major repairs, a renovation loan can help them purchase the property while upgrading the kitchen and outdoor space exactly how they want them.

“Many homebuyers are surprised you don’t need a ton of money in the bank to fund improvements,” explains Kelly. “A special type of loan called a renovation loan is ideal for these types of homes because it covers both the cost of the mortgage and repairs.”

Renovation loans can also help buyers who want to purchase in a particular neighborhood where most home prices exceed their budget. Properties that need work are typically listed at a lower cost and often go unsold, creating an opportunity for people willing to make improvements. Buyers can use a renovation loan to get into the neighborhood of their dreams, quickly build equity and customize a home to their personal preferences.

Several variations of renovation loans are available. FHA renovation loans are called 203(k) loans. How much money you want to borrow and the kinds of improvements you plan to make will determine which of the two 203(k) types you need. Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae have their own specific types of renovation loans.

Requirements for the borrower, the amount you can borrow, and the overall structure of the loan are different for each program. Typically, the loan is based on the estimated home value after improvements, and buyers will need to get bids from licensed contractors to help determine the total loan amount as well as a timeline for the work to be completed.

Because finding a home and getting approval of a renovation loan can be complicated, it’s wise for buyers to work with a real estate specialist who has experience in these types of sales. For example, RE/MAX agents lead the industry in professional designations and many have experience working with buyers who want a renovation loan. Visit to find an agent in your area.

“A renovation loan really does give homebuyers an edge in today’s competitive market,” says Kelly. “It’s definitely something to research and determine whether it’s right for you.”

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Tap the hidden job market

Job Opportunities, Orlando Job Market, Looking for workThe process of finding employment has quietly undergone an evolution. Job seekers are discovering that many positions are not posted to the public. In fact, the online career guidance resource Quintessential Careers reports that only 15 to 20 percent of available jobs post to newspapers, online job boards or employment agencies.

“Not advertised?” ask many exasperated, out-of-work job candidates who regularly scour newspapers and websites in the hopes of finding a job. If this traditional search yields just a fraction of available employment opportunities, where are the bulk of open positions hiding? Welcome to the new hidden job market.

The hidden job market is real, and as discussed on LinkedIn, reportedly more effective than the old conventional way. “At least half of all new hires find employment through networking,” says Jason Rinsky, national director of Career Services at the Brown Mackie College system of schools. Yes, good old-fashioned word-of-mouth can help you find the back door to employment options.

Why is the hidden job market so huge?

“Recruiters want to minimize the amount they spend on advertising,” says Dr. Cynthia Scarlett, chair of the Graduate Business and Organizational Leadership programs at Argosy University, Denver. “If they can get a recommendation, it puts them one step ahead in the vetting process.” Hiring managers, too, seem more likely to hire a person who has been recommended by a co-worker or trusted associate. A 2012 New York Federal Reserve Bank study bears this out, citing that referred candidates were twice as likely to land interviews compared to those who were not referred, and 40 percent more likely to be hired.

“Hiring managers will often consider people inside the company for a new position, or people they know. Often, the next step is to seek recommendations from trusted sources. A referred candidate saves time over total stranger,” continues Dr. Scarlett. “Networking is a vital step when looking for a job.”

Reinvigorate your networking efforts

Networking is not a new idea. It is simply building relationships with people. Attending networking events may seem daunting to some; however, Rinsky points out, “Each experience tends to increase confidence in the participant.” A little preparation goes a long way toward building a professional network. Dr. Scarlett advises everyone to practice the elevator pitch, and think about ways to open conversations. “Brainstorm questions about what to ask those in your industry. And, of course, have your resume prepared and ready to go,” she says.

Manage your networking expectations

Few people are likely to attend a single networking event and come away with a job. “Don’t go to a big professional meeting and hand out hundreds of business cards. Try to come away from each event with two relevant contacts,” says Scarlett. “Focus on quality, not quantity. This won’t get you a job next week, but it will provide a manageable way to follow up with your new contacts.”

Follow up with new contacts

Remember, this is your job search, your professional life. Take the initiative to follow up with new contacts to support your connection. “You could ask if they are interested in an email from you about the topic you’ve been discussing,” Dr. Scarlett says. “Or, suggest that you meet for coffee and continue the conversation next week.” One step at a time, you are building a relationship.

Network by keyboard with purpose

Many people are tapping LinkedIn, the popular business social network, to connect with professional groups and find work. “This is a tool that should be used in a professional way, says Rinsky. “It is not a facebook equivalent; however it is a smart way to connect with people in your industry.”

Don’t overlook serendipity

You never know when the person next to you at the grocery store, or sitting behind you in a restaurant, is a hiring manager with a position to fill. ‘Networking can happen anywhere, in a bank or at volunteer events,” Dr. Scarlett says. “It does happen that way; every now and again, someone lands a job by way of a chance encounter.” It pays to be prepared in how you might present yourself, and the questions you might ask of people you meet in your everyday life.

Networking is the key to the hidden job market. “When you’re looking for a job, one person has only so much capacity, says Rinsky. “With each person who helps, you’ve got multiple eyes and ears working on your behalf. The more people involved, the greater your chances will be to find that dream job.”

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Organ donation: gift of a second chance at life

Organ Donation, Organ donor, organ transplantation, While organ transplantation is a remarkable story in the history of medicine, the need for organs is vastly greater than the number available for transplantation.

Any way you figure it, the math doesn’t add up to a promising picture. In 2012, there were more than 115,000 people in the U.S. awaiting an organ transplant – enough to overflow the country’s largest football stadium. Each year, more than 28,000 Americans receive a donated organ, but sadly, more than 6,500 people die each year waiting for an organ.

While many are on the waiting list for years, their number increases at the rate of more than 50,000 people a year, nearly one new person every 10 minutes. Day after day the list and the problem grow. It is, however, a problem with a solution – one that depends a lot on education and selflessness.

Professional snowboarder Chris Klug knows first-hand what the waiting game is like. After being diagnosed with PSC (Primary Sclerosing Cholangitis), a rare degenerative bile duct condition, Klug learned that he needed a liver transplant. He spent several years on the waiting list, eagerly anticipating the call that a donor organ had become available.

After a successful surgery and aggressive rehabilitation regimen, Klug won the bronze medal in snowboarding in front of the home crowd in Salt Lake City – just a year and a half after his transplant.

-“I’m so blessed to be here today,” Klug says. “I will forever be grateful for my second chance. Every day I thank God and I thank my donor and his family for the decision to donate.”

A new survey released by Astellas Pharma US, Inc. shows that while 60 percent of people are familiar with their state’s organ donor registry and 57 percent would be willing to donate their organs after they pass away, only 43 percent are actually registered as organ donors and 48 percent don’t know how to register.

“We are very encouraged by the number of Americans who view organ donation positively and are willing to donate,” says David Fleming, president and CEO of Donate Life America. “However, knowing the large number of people awaiting a transplant, we are committed to continuing to educate all Americans on the importance of registering in their state, and ensuring they know.”

Registering to become a donor is a simple process that can be completed online or through many local departments of motor vehicles. Transplantation gives hope to thousands of people with organ failure and provides many others with active and renewed lives. Register today to become an organ donor at

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Five tips for kitchen redos

Kitchens, Orlando Home, Kitchen IdeasFeel the need to renovate? If so, you’re not alone. Fifty-three percent of homeowners believe that now is a good time to remodel, according to a recent survey by When deciding on where the makeover begins, look no farther than the kitchen. Kitchens are a major selling point for homebuyers, so a kitchen remodel is good for the home-selling price. Even if you have no plans to move, the kitchen gets more traffic than any other area of a home and serves as the family hub, so it deserves the attention. To ensure a successful project, keep in mind these kitchen-remodeling tips:

* Add color and light. Splashes of color and artwork can transform a kitchen from a workspace to a fun, vibrant family-gathering spot. To show off those dazzling colors, choose window treatments that let the sunshine in. And take a look at the windows themselves. High-efficiency replacement windows and patio doors can not only save you money over their less-efficient predecessors from the second they are installed, but they often retain most of their value should the home be sold, according to industry statistics. Simonton Windows offers a variety of types, sizes and styles across a number of collections, and can help you find the right windows for your remodeling needs. For detailed window options, visit

* Add appeal and ease. Stainless steel continues to be the most popular finish for kitchen appliances, sinks and fixtures. Besides its modern, sleek appearance, stainless steel cleans easily and resists wear and tear. That is especially true for kitchen sinks, which receive the brunt of abuse. New lines of stainless-steel sinks, in a variety of styles, configurations and sizes, are available from Moen. To ease renovation, the new styles feature an updated drop-in deck design. These drop-in sinks include Moen’s refreshed sink-deck design, a minimal, transitional style that coordinates with a variety of decor and faucet designs. The new recessed deck allows sponges or other wet items placed on the deck’s inner ledge to drain back into the sink, and not onto the countertop. The sinks’ wear-resistant, uniform, brushed finish offers durability and resistance to chipping, cracking, staining or peeling.

* Go bold with fixtures. For topping off a kitchen-remodeling project, nothing beats bold and functional fixtures. The new STo collection of stylish, modern faucets from Moen encompass a slim, sleek design, including the innovative, integrated pulldown wand which neatly docks inside of the spout. The rounded, high-arc spout of the STo faucet features a tubular design that unites with a cube-shaped base. Adding the finishing touch is a rectangular lever handle. Available in both single-handle pulldown kitchen and bar/prep pulldown models, STo faucets also feature Moen’s Reflex system, which offers self-retraction of the wand, as well as an exceptional range of motion, generous reach and secure docking retraction. Choose the Spot Resist Stainless finish, with Chrome and Matte Black as other finish options. For more information about Moen products, visit

* Store in style. Kitchen storage can be practical and stylish. After determining what you don’t like about your current cabinetry – consider location, storage capacity, storage flexibility, material and finish – find out what options you have. MasterBrand offers a spectrum of cabinetry products ranging from standard to custom, with solutions for every budget and lifestyle. For more on cabinetry products from MasterBrand, visit

* Freshen the flooring. While design, color and surface appeal are important considerations, you’ll also want kitchen flooring that can live up to your lifestyle and provide the comfort and durability you need, according to Natural stone and ceramic tile are high-end products that ooze taste and elegance. If selecting these hard surfaces, also invest in mats for areas where you’ll be standing for longer periods of time. Linoleum and vinyl offer the look of tile or wood in a more economical, easy-to-clean package. Hardwood has made great strides as a flooring option for kitchens, due to improved product quality and sealing technology.

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Upcycling: Breathe new life into decor with a dash of DIY inspiration

Orlando Real Estate, Poinciana Real Estate, St. Cloud Real Estate, Kissimmee Real EstateIf you’ve ever looked around your house and gotten the urge to purge, you might consider pausing and first thinking about how you could transform that old, damaged piece of furniture or outdated light fixture into a fresh-faced showpiece for your home.

Not only are you doing something good for the environment – and likely your pocketbook – by restoring something, you’re embracing your inner creativity. You can make a truly one-of-a-kind decor piece, tailored to your personality and style.

This notion of restoring and reusing items that would otherwise be cast aside to the junkyard or thrift store is called “upcycling,” and it’s a trend that has caught on quickly, especially in home design. With a little inspiration, creativity and the right tools, you can tackle countless decorating projects with things you already have around your home. And the best part? Upcycled pieces make for great conversation starters, often tell a good story and can even be sold for a much higher price than you put into them.

So where do you start? Here are some helpful tips for tackling your own upcycling projects.

Start with a little inspiration

Take a look through magazines, home design blogs and websites to gather inspiration. Look for pieces that catch your eye and have the same structure and “bones” as the items in your home that you’d like to restore.

For example, is filled with inspiring and low-cost do-it-yourself projects, tool recommendations and step-by-step instructions to help you transform just about anything while bringing a new perspective to home renovation and decoration. You can even sign up to receive weekly project inspiration right to your email inbox.

Shop around without breaking the bank

Decorating your home doesn’t have to cost a fortune. Look around your basement, attic, or at yard sales and consignment shops for free or inexpensive items that you might be able to breathe new life into. The old adage “never judge a book by its cover” would apply here. Do your best to look beyond an item’s current condition and let the inspiration you’ve gleaned take over as you see its full potential in a different light. If the piece has some defects, don’t immediately overlook it. Sometimes perfection and personality can be found in the imperfection.

Secrets of upcycling success

The secret to any do-it-yourself project is to plan ahead. Beyond finding the inspiration for a project, gather the supplies and tools you’ll need, read up on step-by-step instructions, dedicate a roomy workspace where everything is at your fingertips, and be sure to carve out time to focus on the project.

But the No. 1 secret of upcycling success is to be patient and not get discouraged. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. It’s OK to make mistakes because sometimes you’ll uncover hidden beauty during the process. The important part is that you find the whole experience of restoring and reusing rewarding.

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Snacking on the go: perfectly portioned snacks made simple and stylish

Healthy Snacks, Snacks, Orlando Home, Orlando Home InspectionsIn today’s busy world, snacking on the go is a fact of life. However, delicious and balanced snacks don’t need to be boring; or become bruised and forgotten items at the bottom of your purse. Here are some creative ways to spice up your snack routine and help you savor perfectly portioned and portable snacks to help maintain a balanced diet.

Remember this rule of thumb.

Sometimes it’s tough to remember portion sizes for snacks when you’re busy at home or at the office. The best tool to use when portioning your snacks is actually always with you – your hand.

* The size of your thumb = a serving of cheese

* Two thumbs = a serving of your favorite nut butter

* A handful = the number of nuts you should eat

* A balled fist = a serving of fruits or veggies

Add pop – and protection – to grapes.

A simple way to make grapes a grab-and-go snack is by putting them in your freezer overnight. Fill up a serving’s worth of frozen grapes before heading out the door in the morning and enjoy at your leisure – no refrigerator necessary. If you nibble on them while they’re still frozen they have a refreshing popsicle-like taste. By afternoon, the grapes will be thawed, but not bruised.

Make it easy to grab your favorite treat and go.

Carrying snacks in your purse can be dangerous for the other contents inside, for example, a smashed banana gets everywhere. Consider using a carrying case to keep your treats away from your phone and wallet. One option is to use a lipstick case, to bring chocolate with you when you’re out and about.

“I love a little chocolate every day, so it’s really helpful to have a custom carrying case that fits just the right amount for me to enjoy on the go,” says chocolate-lover and do-it-yourself expert Brittany Bailey of the Pretty Handy Girl blog. “Four or five HERSHEY’S KISSES Chocolates fit perfectly in the case and are just 100 calories, or about 20 to 25 calories per piece. They are individually wrapped, so I can savor a moment of happiness or share with someone else.”

In addition to a lipstick case, you can try converting a travel soap box or other container into your own DIY carrying case and add your own personal touch with stickers, decorative tape or rhinestones. It’s a fun and simple way to take your favorite treats with you wherever you go.

Create your own 100-calorie pack.

Looking for something new to snack on, but don’t want to pay extra for pre-packaged convenience? Try measuring granola, nuts, cereal or dried fruit ahead of time and packing them in small plastic bags to create your own individual snack packs. Don’t forget to label them so that reusing the bags is easy. Making these easy grab-and-go snacks will help you keep track of your snacks, even when you’re at home, and these small bites will help keep you satisfied between meals.

Want more ideas on living a balanced lifestyle? Check out for insights, recipes and tips from lifestyle experts and more.

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How to manage money when you’re between jobs

Though the U.S. economy has been gradually improving, job changes – both involuntary and voluntary – remain a fact of American working life.

“It’s also a fact that bills need to be paid whether you’re employed or not,” says J.J. Montanaro, a certified financial planner with USAA.

To help you cover expenses and protect your finances as you transition from one job to the next, Montanaro offers these tips.

1. Decide how to collect your final pay

If leaving your job wasn’t your idea, your employer may provide a severance package to ease the financial pain. Amounts vary, but one or two weeks of salary for each year you’ve worked at the company is typical. If you’re given a choice of a lump sum or a stream of payments, consider these factors:

* Benefits. If employee benefits (health care, life insurance, long-term care) continue as long as you’re receiving payments, you may want to take the option that prolongs them.

* Your financial discipline. Afraid you might squander a lump sum? If your severance payment provides enough cash to justify dividing it up, choosing periodic payments will help keep you in paycheck mode.

2. File for unemployment benefits

If your employer let you go – provided you weren’t fired for misconduct – you’ll probably qualify for unemployment benefits. If you quit, usually you can collect benefits only if you left for “good cause,” which generally means there was a problem at work or personal situation so difficult that you had no alternative.

If you think you’re eligible, don’t procrastinate. It may take two to three weeks to process your claim, so contact your state’s unemployment office pronto. While each state’s program varies, you can generally count on benefits to last 26 weeks, with federally funded emergency unemployment benefits extending up to 73 weeks in some states. Benefits are based on your income and how long you were employed.

If you separated from the military under honorable conditions, you may also be able to claim unemployment benefits through your state of residency. Check with your state department of labor to get the lowdown.

3. Reduce your spending

If your decision to leave was involuntary and your next employment is an unknown, it’s important to preserve your cash while you’re out of work; this can require a top-to-bottom examination of where your money goes. “This exercise can help keep you afloat today and be an engine for paying off debt and saving once the paychecks start again,” Montanaro says. Put off big-ticket purchases and reduce discretionary expenses as much as possible.

4. Strengthen your emergency fund

Use your severance pay, unemployment benefits and any money you can save to build a cash stockpile. Keep enough money in a savings account to pay at least three to six months’ expenses. For a higher interest rate on the rest of your cash, build a short CD ladder or open a variable rate CD. Be careful not to lock away money that you’ll need. If you served in the military and made tax-free contributions to the Thrift Savings Plan, you may be able to tap that money without the taxes and penalties associated with most retirement money.

5. Avoid cleaning your financial slate

While you may be tempted to use your severance or other assets to pay off your car, credit cards or other debt, you may be better off making only the required or minimal payments. This strategy can stretch your cash and help you meet living expenses in case a new job isn’t right around the corner.

6. Review your health insurance options

At most companies, federal law allows you to keep your employer-provided health insurance for up to 18 months. Prepare for sticker shock: You will be responsible for the entire premium – what you paid, plus any amount your employer paid.

7. Protect your retirement

If you have a 401(k) or other employer retirement plan, avoid the temptation to cash it out when you leave. In addition to jeopardizing your security when you retire, you could pay a steep price in the form of income taxes and penalties. Instead, roll the money over to an IRA or leave it in the employer plan.

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