Get your finances fit for summer


For many of us, summer is a time of vacations, day trips across the state and family reunions with loved ones we haven’t seen all year. It’s also a time when we tend to overextend our budgets in order to do as much as possible and pay little attention to how it affects our overall financial plan.

“Just like you plan for that summer vacation – you need to prepare your finances as well,” says Dean Athanasia, preferred and small business executive at Bank of America. “Taking a moment to get your finances in order before you start planning those summer vacations is a great way to ensure you stay within the guidelines of your ultimate financial goals.” 

 

There are many different areas of your finances you could explore, but breaking it down by task usually makes the process more manageable.

 
Balancing a budget

 

Eighty-five percent of people in a survey of 1,000 Americans with between $50,000 and $250,000 in investable assets plan to track and manage their budget over the next six months, according to the Merrill Edge Report.

 
To begin creating a budget, figure out where you’re currently spending money and if there is any discretionary spending you can cut. Look at how often you eat out for lunch, how many coffees you’re buying and how many magazines and cable subscription services you’re paying for. Once you have a full picture of where your money goes each month, decide what you need and what you might be able to spare. Put the rest toward your goals like a summer getaway.

 
Saving for retirement

 
It’s no secret that retirement savings is one of the most important financial plans you need to have in place. Sixty-eight percent of the survey respondents say they are focusing on their retirement savings in the next six months. If you feel behind, you’re not alone. Given the economic climate, 57 percent now expect to retire later than they planned one year ago, according to the Edge Report.

 
So how can you get on track? Start by deciding the type of lifestyle you want to have in retirement. Will you travel or relocate? What expenses, like a mortgage, will you still have? Once you set your goals and know what you’re working with, you can use one of many retirement calculators online, like the one on MerrillEdge.com, or speak with a Financial Solutions Advisor to estimate how much more money you need to save and invest and how old you’ll be when you can retire, given your current plan. Then adjust your plan – and your savings – appropriately.

 
Paying off debt

 
Getting rid of debt is also a high priority for millions of Americans. Sixty-seven percent of people say they’re focusing on managing their debt in the next six months. Too much debt can prevent you from reaching your financial goals so it’s important to take an honest look at paying it off.

 
Tactics to employ for paying off debt include focusing on paying the debt with the highest interest rates – such as credit cards – first, then paying down those with lower interest rates like student loans. Some people may be more encouraged by paying of debt with the lowest balances first, and then working their way toward larger balances. Overall, staying committed to wiping out your debt is very important, because otherwise it will simply continue to grow.
Paying for children’s college education

 
If you have kids, you’re probably thinking about how you will pay for college. Fifty-six percent of parents have paid or expect to pay more to send their first child to college than they had expected when the child was first born.

 
Families should plan around their unique situation, such as your child’s goals and your family’s current finances. Unfortunately, the majority of people plan to rely on their personal savings, while others take out student loans or rely on scholarships or grants. However, using personal savings alone could be detrimental to your own long-term plans, so a combination of a few tactics may be a good strategy.

 
Getting your finances fit for summer is isn’t easy-especially with all the temptations of warm weather. But if you put in the work and set a budget for your summer, you’ll feel even more relaxed knowing your vacations and day trips are not at the expense of your ultimate financial goals. 

 
Merrill Edge Report Methodology

 
Ketchum Global Research & Analytics and Braun Research conducted the Bank of America Merrill Edge Report survey by phone between Feb. 13 and Feb. 29, 2012 on behalf of Bank of America. Braun contacted a nationally representative sample of 1,000 Americans in the United States with investable assets between $50,000 and $249,999, and oversampled 300 mass affluent in San Francisco and Los Angeles. The margin of error is +/- 3.1 percent for the national sample and +/- 5.7 percent for the oversample markets, with both reported at a 95 percent confidence level.

 
To help inform the Merrill Edge Report, Communispace conducted a series of qualitative studies including interactive conversations, surveys, and other dynamic and exploratory activities with its proprietary online community of 300 mass affluent consumers.

 
Merrill Edge

 
Merrill Edge provides customers access to professional investment guidance through Merrill Edge Financial Solutions Advisors in the Merrill Edge Advisory Center or in-person at select banking centers. For customers who prefer to invest on their own, Merrill Edge provides a self-directed online investing platform, with robust tools and resources to help them make informed investment decisions. 

 
Bank of America 

 
Bank of America is one of the world’s largest financial institutions, serving individual consumers, small- and middle-market businesses and large corporations with a full range of banking, investing, asset management and other financial and risk management products and services. The company provides unmatched convenience in the United States, serving approximately 57 million consumer and small business relationships with approximately 5,700 retail banking offices and approximately 17,250 ATMs and award-winning online banking with 30 million active users.

Bank of America is among the world’s leading wealth management companies and is a global leader in corporate and investment banking and trading across a broad range of asset classes, serving corporations, governments, institutions and individuals around the world. Bank of America offers industry-leading support to approximately 4 million small business owners through a suite of innovative, easy-to-use online products and services. The company serves clients through operations in more than 40 countries. Bank of America Corporation stock (NYSE: BAC) is a component of the Dow Jones Industrial Average and is listed on the New York Stock Exchange. 

 

For more Bank of America news, visit the Bank of America newsroom.

 
www.bankofamerica.com
Merrill Edge is available through Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith Incorporated (MLPF&S), and consists of the Merrill Edge Advisory Center (investment guidance) and self-directed online investing.
MLPF&S is a registered broker-dealer, Member SIPC and a wholly owned subsidiary of Bank of America Corporation.
Banking products are provided by Bank of America, N.A. and affiliated banks, Members FDIC and wholly owned subsidiaries of Bank of America Corporation.
Credit card programs are issued and administered by FIA Card Services, N.A.
Investing in securities involves risks, and there is always the potential of losing money when you invest in securities.
www.merrilledge.com
Investment products are not FDIC-insured, are not bank guaranteed and may lose value.
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Singled out: 3 financial tips for Americans going solo


More and more people are choosing to live solo. While there are plenty of resources for home improvement, a new survey shows singles could use some help getting their financial house in order.

 
Many single workers lack an adequate financial safety net that would protect their income if they were unable to work due to an illness or off-the-job injury, according to The Hartford Benefits For Tomorrow Study, a national survey of 1,000 full-time workers ages 18 to 64.

 
The annual poll showed only 44 percent of single Americans have disability insurance. This is despite the fact that singles would be hard hit by an unexpected health issue. In fact, 87 percent of single survey participants said they would need to make lifestyle changes to meet expenses if they lost income for three to six months.
“Fifty-nine percent of workers who don’t have disability insurance said they’d rely on their savings or retirement account if they could not work for more than six weeks,” says Mike Fish, vice president of voluntary benefits for The Hartford. “That means singles without paycheck protection are not only putting their current finances – and independence – at risk, but their golden years, too.”

 
Here are three benefits tips for single Americans:

 
1. Educate yourself. Many Americans don’t completely understand disability insurance. “May is Disability Insurance Awareness Month. It’s a good time to get up to speed on paycheck protection,” Fish says.

 
2. Know your risks. According to the U.S. Social Security Administration, one in four 20-year-olds will become disabled during their career. “You might think that you don’t need paycheck protection because you won’t have an accident or you don’t engage in unsafe activities,” Fish says. “But, you still could be at risk. Approximately 95 percent of disabilities are caused by illnesses rather than accidents, according to the Council of Disability Awareness.”

 
3. Get a price check. In The Hartford’s survey, 45 percent of survey participants overestimated the cost of short-term disability insurance by hundreds of dollars; and another 45 percent said they had “no idea” how much the coverage costs.  “It pays for you to check on whether you can get disability insurance at work,” Fish says. “Group disability insurance costs about a dollar a day on average. So, it can be more affordable than depleting your savings.”
Going solo doesn’t mean going it alone when it comes to your finances.

You can find more information about disability insurance at The Hartford’s MyTomorrow website www.thehartford.com/mytomorrow

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Create an outdoor sanctuary in your backyard

Backyard sanctuaries incorporate peace of mind with a spa-like atmosphere. Some do this with plant features, others with water. Here are some tips to build an outdoor sanctuary in your own backyard.

1. Create a walkway – A beautiful walkway around your backyard, through different scenic zones, can help you to clear your mind of troubled thoughts. This walkway can be a paved path, or composed of stepping stones or gravel and woodchips. Consider planting different gardens close to the walkway, inviting walkers to immerse themselves within the blooms and scents wafting from the flowers.

2. Incorporate a seating area – This space doesn’t have to be large, but give it a sense of ambiance with an arbor made of cedar to allow plants to grow taller, or a pergola to provide shade and that wonderful natural aroma that cedar gives off. Natural materials like Western Red Cedar weather naturally, and are rot-resistant, giving homeowners a durable and long-lasting material to enjoy for years to come.

“Using Western Red Cedar for backyard sanctuary seating areas gives homeowners a variety of design options to work around,” says Mark Clement, a building expert and co-host of “My Fix It Up Life” which airs nationally on iTunes, Blog Talk Radio and myfixituplife.com. “This wood is sustainable, environmentally friendly, easy to work with, ages beautifully, and, when incorporated into an arbor or pergola design, makes a stunning visual element to the space.”

In this seating space, place a bench, outdoor patio furniture or even comfortable lawn chairs to encourage family members to stop for a rest and settle their thoughts for the day. If the family is into yoga or meditation, consider keeping mats in a nearby storage container for quick and easy access.

3. Design for both night and day – Sometimes a sanctuary space is most needed when the moon is shining brightly. Plan for this with a lighting design in the backyard. Provide illumination to pathways, the deck area, and in garden clusters to give a new sense of beauty to the plants. When designing your lighting scheme, be careful to avoid creating any scary shadows. If you notice this occurring, adjust the lighting to come from a different direction, or try using a different light. Also consider what form of light you would like. Would you prefer low watt electric lights, or candlelight, which would require a person to spend time preparing?

Once your backyard sanctuary is built, your family will have a place handy where they can escape for some peace of mind.

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Top kitchen upgrades that blend beauty and value


Nowhere else in the home must design and function marry as harmoniously as in the kitchen. The most-used room in the house is also the one where we spend the most work and leisure time, the one that gets the most scrutiny from potential buyers and the spot where most renovation dollars get spent.

 
A minor kitchen remodel costs around $21,000 and has the potential to recoup nearly 73 percent of that expense at the time of resale, according to Remodeling Magazine’s Cost vs. Value Report. A major job averages around $58,000 and can recoup about 68 percent of the renovation costs.

 
“When you’re spending that kind of money on a remodel, you want to choose upgrades that accomplish multiple objectives, including improving efficiency, functionality and beauty,” says Ross Vandermar, national product manager with skylight manufacturer Velux . “Sometimes that type of upgrade will warrant a greater expenditure, but others are easy and relatively low-cost to make.”
So what are some of the top kitchen upgrades that provide the most beauty and functionality for your investment? Here are five:

 
1. Countertops
In any kitchen, the countertops are both a significant design element and a functional necessity. Countertops act as work and storage areas, provide staging and serving space, and have a major impact on the overall look of the room. Replacing lower-cost countertops such as laminate with higher-end materials like granite can enhance the usability and look of your work surface. Even if you opt to replace older laminate with the same material, your kitchen can benefit from a fresh face and improved material quality.

 
2. Lighting and ventilation
Illumination and fresh air in a kitchen not only allow you to appreciate the beauty of the room, they ensure a safer, more comfortable work environment. Under-cabinet task lighting, pendants over a breakfast bar and upgrading an old box-style fluorescent with a more attractive, energy-efficient style can enhance the usability and look of a kitchen. Adding Energy Star-qualified skylights can also boost the appearance, appeal and efficiency of a kitchen. If you opt for venting skylights, they can help release hot air, moisture and odors while admitting additional light. 
Accessories like decorator blinds with remote control ensure you can adjust the amount of light that enters your kitchen from a skylight while dressing up your decor. If a traditional skylight isn’t right for your needs, you can still enhance the room with natural light; tubular models like Velux’s Sun Tunnel skylights use reflective tunnels to deliver light from above and are usually less expensive.  Add an optional light kit and the units provide light at night as well as during the day.

Top%20kitchen%20upgrades%20that%20blend%20beauty%20and%20value
3. Cabinets
Improving cabinets can be a costly prospect, but one worth the investment since they are not only a major design element in the kitchen, but essential to the room’s efficiency and usability. You can find a range of options for upgrading cabinets, from total replacement with custom-made cabinetry to simply resurfacing or repainting existing cabinets. 

 
4. Hardware and fixtures
Think of cabinet hardware and faucets as the jewelry of your kitchen. Swapping out dated or worn hardware – including knobs, handles and hinges – is a fast, easy and cost-effective way to change the look of the entire room. Plus, you can improve functionality by choosing larger handles that are easier to grasp and replacing old-style hinges with modern varieties that close silently and smoothly or are completely hidden behind the cabinet door. Replacing the kitchen faucet is also an easy, relatively low-cost upgrade. Opt for a pull-out spray head or touch-free model and you can also enhance the usability of this key kitchen feature.

 
5. Appliances 
Your car couldn’t function without tires and a steering wheel and no kitchen can serve its purpose without the right appliances. If your appliances are more than 10 years old, chances are they’re starting to look worn and dated. They’re also likely less energy efficient than newer models, many of which are now made to meet Energy Star standards. Appliances account for nearly 20 percent of the energy consumed by an average home, according to Energystar.gov.
Upgrading a kitchen is a great way to enhance the value and your enjoyment of the most-used room in your house. Choosing improvements that add beauty and efficiency can help ensure you get the most for your renovation dollars.

 
IMAGE CAPTIONS:
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Caption 1: Tubular Sun Tunnel skylights fitted with light kits can provide light day and night and are usually less expensive than traditional skylights.
Caption 2: Energy Star-qualified venting skylights with decor enhancing blinds, are a cost effective and attractive home upgrade that provide natural light and passive ventilation.
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Ten scenic drives sure to leave you breathless


With more than 100 scenic byways throughout America, there is plenty to see and do on the road no matter the time of year. So, as the seasons roll by, jump in the car and take in fall’s vibrant leaves, winter’s snowy wonderland, spring’s wildflowers and summer’s long hours of light.

White Mountains Trail Scenic Byway (N.H.)

The 100-mile White Mountains Trail will take you through some of the most beautiful parts of New Hampshire. It passes through the famous White Mountains and goes past Mount Washington, which is stunning in both the fall and spring for scenic drives or hiking. Moose are plentiful in the White Mountains, so whether you’re on four wheels, two wheels, or two feet, keep a watchful eye.

Skyline Drive/Blue Ridge Parkway (Va., N.C., Tenn.)

Skyline Drive, which starts in the Shenandoah National Park, winds 105 miles through the western mountains of Virginia and links up to the Blue Ridge Parkway. Away.com, a travel inspiration site, says to check out the wildflowers, ferns and mountain laurel in bloom in the late spring. The 469 miles of the Blue Ridge Parkway then link Virginia to the Blue Ridge Mountains in North Carolina and Smokey Mountains in southern Tennessee. Since the elevation ranges from 650 to 6,000 feet, there is a wide range of time to see fall color.

State Route A1A (Fla.)

The historic Florida A1A byway runs almost the length of the eastern coast of Florida from Amelia Island at the Georgia state line to Key West. Along this route you’ll pass through seemingly endless beachfront towns, including St. Augustine, which is the oldest continually occupied European settlement in the United States, Cocoa Beach, which was the site of NASA shuttle launches, and Miami’s famous South Beach.

Natchez Trace Parkway (Tenn., Ala., Miss.)

The Natchez Trace Parkway was long ago created by Native Americans and was later used as a link between the Mississippi Territory and what is now Nashville. With a little more than 440 miles to explore, there are plenty of hiking and biking trails to be found. Camping is a budget-friendly option for a multiday trip, too.

Talimena Scenic Drive (Ark., Okla.)

The 54-mile Talimena Scenic Drive takes you through Arkansas and Oklahoma. You’ll drive along some of the highest ridges between the Appalachian Mountains and the Rocky Mountains in the Winding Stair and Rich mountains. This area experiences four distinct seasons and can be a great spot to see wildlife such as black bears.

Sky Island Scenic Byway (Ariz.)

Just 27 miles long, the Sky Island Scenic Byway is literally a climb from desert to forest. Take a photo of a cactus at the beginning of your drive, and then, 9,000 feet up, take a photo of yourself in the forest. This route is one of the only paved roads to the top of Mt. Lemmon. Enjoy this area for hiking, backpacking and even skiing.

Top of the Rockies (Colo.)

Feel like you’re on top of the world as you drive the Top of the Rockies Scenic Byway. At 10,424 feet, the Tennessee Pass is breathtaking. Plenty of wildlife can be seen along this 75-mile stretch before you wind up in the old mining town of Leadville, which is an outdoor enthusiast’s dream.

Beartooth Scenic Byway (Mont., Wyo.)

Providing a path to the northeast entrance of Yellowstone National Park, Beartooth Scenic Byway in Montana and Wyoming reaches some of the highest heights in the northern Rockies. In fewer than 54 miles you’ll see snowcapped peaks, lakes and even glaciers. Plan ahead; this road is only open weather permitting, so check with the DOT before heading out on your trip.

Seward Highway (Alaska)

This 125-mile highway links the Alaskan cities of Seward and Anchorage. Starting at the Gulf of Alaska and winding through scenic areas like Chugach National Forest, this road trip is probably a once-in-a-lifetime experience. This highway gives visitors a way to see both the water and interior of southern Alaska.

Highway 101/California State Route 1 (Calif., Ore., Wash.)

Both Highway 101 and California State Route 1 run north-south along the California, Oregon and Washington coastline. These routes are also known as the Pacific Coast Scenic Byway, Pacific Highway and the Oregon Coast Highway. Start in southern California, and when Hwy 101 branches off inland, take SR 1 along the magnificent California coastline. Plenty of views of both the coast and forests, like Redwood National Forest, will be captured.

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Bathroom remodeling should start at the studs

Some do-it-yourself experts recommend a fresh coat of paint, new tile, a shiny new sink and great cabinets to transform an ordinary bathroom into an extraordinary spa – but that’s just what the eye can see. Yes, your refinished bathroom will look different but will it hold its value? Not unless you think first of what’s behind the paint and tile and consider how to protect it from the greatest threat in a bathroom: moisture, mold and mildew.

Upgrading your walls, ceilings and subfloors before you paint, install tile or hang a fancy new mirror can ensure your new bathroom will stand up to everyday splashes, showers and relaxing tub soaks, as well as dreaded mold and mildew that can come from these steamy, wet environments.

Anitra Mecadon, host of DIY Network’s “Mega Dens” and spokesperson for National Gypsum, is on a mission to prevent major mold and mildew problems by recommending homeowners start at the studs. Here’s her advice when it comes to the No. 1 room people remodel in their homes – bathrooms:

Look for ideas

Popular upgrades include decorative tile or stone in the tub and shower areas. You can also consider multiple showerheads or steam enclosures to give your bathroom “spa appeal” without the worry.

Budget and plan

* The average cost of a bathroom remodel is around $16,000, so create a budget so you know how much you can comfortably spend.

* If you plan to have someone do it for you, get an estimate from a contractor before you start.

* Shop on your own, with a contractor or interior designer to select building materials, fixtures and appliances.

* Remember that bathrooms require two kinds of materials to help protect walls and floors: mold- and moisture-resistant drywall for areas behind mirrors, sinks or vanities, and cement board for the critically wet areas, such as tubs and showers.

Be careful

* Prepare for a demolition phase to tear out the tub, sink, tile, walls and flooring.

* Be careful of pipes, air ducts and electrical wires behind the walls, ceilings and under the floors.

* Measure twice, cut once.

* You can never be too safe – use appropriate safety gear.

Add value with walls and floors

* After adding insulation, install mold- and moisture-resistant PURPLE XP drywall in your bathroom.

* The PURPLE color is easy to spot in the drywall aisle of your local home improvement stores, and provides value and peace of mind that lasts.

* For a strong base that stands behind every great finish – like tile, slate or marble – use one of National Gypsum’s PermaBase Cement Board options in critically wet areas around tubs and showers.

Other notes to consider

* Ask a friend to help for easier installation.

* Forget traditional green board because it’s no longer approved by most building codes.

* Instead, ask for PURPLE XP drywall to ensure yours is moisture-, mold- and mildew-resistant.

* Remember that PermaBase Cement Board provides a hard, durable surface underneath ceramic tile or decorative stone and can withstand prolonged exposure to moisture.

* Seal areas around the tub and sink with mildew-resistant caulk and grout to discourage discoloration.

* Paint walls with mildew-resistant primer and paint, which can cut down on future maintenance.

* Add an exhaust fan for additional moisture control.

 

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