The Dear Abby of cough drops

November 30, 2011 – Philosophical advice seems to come at us from all angles these days.

Cadbury Adams, the makers of Halls, which I’ve been popping since catching a cold over Thanksgiving weekend, now wraps their cough drops with inspirational messages that they refer to as a “pep talk in every drop.” Messages like “Keep your chin up”, “You’ve gotten through worse”, “Tough is your middle name”, and “March forward!” adorn each individual cough drop to help keep my attitude positive so I can fight off my cold. While I find these little messages amusing, the jury is still out on whether this remedy works.

Inspirational messages on consumer products are nothing new. Dove chocolates have been wrapping their sumptuous Promises line in heartfelt messages for years, with gems of wisdom that tout “Temptation is fun … giving in is even better” or “Sometimes a smile can mean more than a dozen roses.” These decadent messages go hand in hand with the chocolate experience, and may even add a little boost to your day.

Similarly, the makers of Snapple communicate to their customers by placing messages on their bottle caps. Of course, you need a good pair of reading glasses to see the fine print on the cap, and Snapple messages tend to gravitate to trivia and interesting facts, rather than philosophy.

Speaking of philosophy, I’ve saved my favorite for last. The brand name Philosophy takes inspirational messages to the next level, and perhaps does the best job of all. If you’re not familiar, Philosophy is a skin care brand that believes in miracles, and names their products accordingly. I use products from their line with names like miracle, grace, hope, purity and joy. Each product comes complete with its own message in a bottle, such as, “When we walk in gratitude for each and every moment, we empower ourselves by empowering our spirits,” or “When it comes to love you need not fall but rather surrender.” A bit mushy perhaps, yet I keep coming back for more.

Are we a generation so starved for inspiration that we’re willing to take it from the consumer products we buy? Or have marketers simply found a smarter way to make us believe we need these products to do whatever it is they promise to do, and to nourish our spirits?

Can’t imagine what Socrates would have thought of that.

How much can you borrow when buying a home

November 29, 2011 — The amount you can borrow will depend on your income and current debts as well as the value of the home you’re purchasing, the amount of your down payment and the current mortgage rates.

If you haven’t yet selected the home you’d like to purchase, most lenders will offer you a free estimate of the maximum housing payment you may be able to afford. Or use the worksheet below to get an idea now.

Generally, your monthly mortgage payment for principal, interest, taxes and insurance should not exceed 28 percent of your monthly pre-tax income. Monthly payments on other debts, such as car loans, school loans or credit card payments, should not exceed an additional 5 to 8 percent of your monthly income.

These percentages can be higher or lower depending on the type of loan you apply for, but they’re a good place to start estimating.

Loan Estimating Worksheet

This worksheet uses 28 percent and 36 percent figures to qualify, which are common. However, these percentages can be higher or lower depending on the type of loan you select. A loan officer can explain the different options available.

Monthly Income Before Taxes

Borrower – $

Co-Borrower  – $

Other – $

Total Monthly Income =  $

X            .28

= Maximum Housing Payment $


Total Monthly Income =   $

X            .36

Maximum Payment for All Debts   = $

Now calculate your monthly debts. Generally, lenders will not consider debts that will be paid in full shortly.

Current Monthly Debts

Auto Loans – $

Personal Loans  – $

School Loans – $

Minimum Credit Card Payments – $

Other Current Monthly Debts – $

Maximum Housing Payment From Above  – $

*If this number exceeds that shown for Maximum Payment for All Debts, figure the amount by which it exceeds and subtract it from the Maximum Housing payment. The new figure is your maximum monthly housing payment estimate.

2012 and beyond job market looks rosier

November 28, 2011 – If you’re still looking for that elusive job, there’s a bit of good news on the horizon.

Things are looking up for the job market in 2012.

According to, employers say they plan to hire 9.5 percent more employees than they did in 2011. Specifically they are looking for employees who majored in or who have experience in business, engineering, and tech-related subjects.

No surprise there. Aside from the health field, where registered nurses and home health aides are in need, engineering and tech-related fields usually place high on the list of occupations with the largest job growth.

If you have kids in college now or headed that way soon, it might be wise to urge them to think about a career in health care, where job are expected to grow by 48 percent over the next decade, or in an engineering/tech-related field, where jobs are expected to grow by at least 20 percent through 2018, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Is Black Friday really worth it?

November 27, 2011 – Some media sources have reported that Black Friday sales were flat, while others say they were strong.

According to USA Today, sales were at least 7% stronger than in 2010, and it was the strongest overall start to the holiday shopping season since 2007.

That’s certainly good news for retailers and the economy, but what will ever prompt someone to go to a mall at midnight or to stand in line for a store to open at 4 a.m. is beyond anything I can comprehend. I’d even read a report that a shopper pepper sprayed a bunch of other shoppers just so she could get whatever she wanted. Sadder yet, she got away with it.

I’m proud to be a Black Friday anti-shopper, and vow never to go near a mall or a chain store on that particular day. Why should I? I’m even more convinced those so-called best bargains are all hype conjured up by the retailers just to get you there, and that the best deals will still come as we inch closer to Christmas. Besides, I just don’t have the stomach for a fight to the death.

As the weekend winds down, and we settle back into the norm, I’m happy the shopping frenzy of Black Friday is history.

Tomorrow is my day. I’ve always been more of a Cyber Monday kind of a girl.

Move over Angry Birds; the buzz now belongs to Words with Friends

November 26, 2011 – Not too long ago it was the video game Angry Birds that struck a chord with iPad and cell phone gamers. Everywhere I went people were talking about the slingshot game that asks you to save the birds from the mean green pigs.

Now the buzz has turned to Words with Friends, the online game where you challenge your friends to word building with double and triple letters and words to see who can score the most points.

Sounds a lot like Scrabble, right? And it is. There are just slight differences in the board layout and the amount of points some letters are worth.

I’ve never played Angry Birds, but I do enjoy Words with Friends as much as I enjoy a good game of Scrabble. Right now, I’m involved with eight games on Facebook with friends and family locally and across the country, and I look forward to logging on to find a message that it’s my turn.

So take a break from the holiday rush, and join in on the fun. If you’re on Facebook, I’m always up for a good game. Friend me at Jane McMaster Conroy and challenge me to a game today.

Interesting idea, but it’s not on my Christmas list

November 25, 2011 – Writer’s beware!

If you’re not spending enough time in front of your computer crafting your version of the Great American Novel, here is a little something that promises to keep you motivated.

Write or Die software claims it helps writers put the “prod” back in productivity. The Web application encourages writers who have a tendency to avoid writing to keep going and going and going. And if you don’t, prepare to suffer the consequences.

Of course, you set those consequences by entering your goals and choosing the amount of suffering to bestow upon yourself if you don’t keep up the pace. Your choices: “gentle mode”, an instant message reminder to keep going, “normal mode”, which continuously plays unpleasant sounds until you start again, or “Kamikaze mode”, for the bravest of the brave, which threatens to delete everything you’ve written if you don’t get started again immediately.

So, if you use this tool to help you keep writing, no longer will you wander off into a daydream or bothered by any distractions. However, I would rather have one good paragraph and lots of interesting daydreams that may inspire me than pages of dribble I typed just because I didn’t want to get snagged by Write or Die (sorry NaNoWriMonth, which shares the same quantity over quality concept).

Here’s a thought; if you’re not writing, perhaps it’s for a reason. Writing should be a positive experience, and if you have to feel shamed into doing it, you need to look for another passion. As clever as Write or Die might seem on the surface, it removes the fun and emotion and turns writing into a task. And that’s something I always try to avoid.

So if you’re out there shopping for the perfect present for me on this Black Friday, take a pass on this one.

The best Thanksgiving side dishes

November 23, 2011Here’s a tasty list of the 35 best side dishes to compliment your turkey this Thanksgiving, courtesy of the community.

Surprisingly, stuffing isn’t No. 1 on the list, but rather a close second.

And what’s the deal with No. 35? Chicken parmesan? Really? Garlic bread, which comes in at No. 15 sounds a little weird, too, but at least it goes with the Chicken parmesan.

Whatever you feast on this Thanksgiving, be it chicken parm, Tofurkey or the traditional American classic, enjoy spending time with family and friends.

Happy Thanksgiving!

The big benefit of shorter term mortgage loans

November 22, 2011 – The fixed rate 30-year mortgage loan is the most popular choice for financing a new home. But if you can afford slightly higher payments, you may be surprised by how much money you can save if you shortened the mortgage term.

Fifteen-year loans, for example, generally carry a lower interest rate than 30-year mortgages. They let you build equity faster (the portion of your home that you own without debt), and they also lower the amount of interest paid over the loan term.

Look at this comparison for the same loan amount. For illustration, the loan amount assumes that a 20% down payment has been made:

30-Yr. Fixed              

Loan Amount – $100,000
3 Points Paid – $3,000
Interest Rate  – 7%
APR  – 7.05%
Monthly Payments – $684.95
Number of Payments – 360
Total paid – $264,582.00

15 Yr. Fixed

Loan Amount –  $100,000
3 Points Paid – $3,000
Interest Rate  – 6.625%
APR –   6.69%
Monthly Payments –  $889.92
Monthly Payments – 180
Total Paid  –    $160,185.60

As you can see from the example, paying a few hundred dollars more a month to pay off the loan in 15 years rather than 30 saves $104,396.40. If the payment on a 15-year loan is too high, most mortgage companies allow borrowers to select terms of 25, 20, 15, or any increment of five years. Eliminating even five years off a 30-year mortgage will add up to substantial savings.

Of course, if you worry about consistently affording the higher payments of a term less than 30 years, you can achieve similar savings by choosing a 30-year loan and making an additional principal payment each month or during the months when you have extra money. Be sure to verify with the lender that the type of loan you choose does not require a prepayment penalty if you pay off early through these extra monthly payments, and that the extra payment is applied toward the principal balance.

2011’s top 25 places to work

November 21, 2011 – Is it the pay or is it the perks?

If you survey most people about what makes a company one of the best to work for, wages would certainly be high on the list, but surprisingly the extra-added perks, such as the desire to work in a comfortable environment or the ability to telecommute are almost as important.

Here’s a list of the top 25 places to work that offer both competitive salaries and perks from, a research, consulting and training firm that helps identify great workplaces around the world.

Not surprising, Microsoft heads the list.