September 24, 2018

How to Avoid Buying a Car You Can’t Afford

There’s nothing quite like the feeling of owning a new (or new to you) car. That’s why if you’re considering buying a new or used vehicle in the near future, you’ve got plenty of company. Americans purchased an astounding 17.85 million vehicles in December of 2017 alone.

That also means that the number of auto loans and debt has also been on the rise. There are already over 100 million outstanding auto loans in the United States, and that number has been growing, according to data from the New York Federal Reserve Bank. The statistics also revealed a worrisome trend, however. Of those outstanding loans, 4% have payments that are more than 90 days past due, a number which is also growing. Showing some care when choosing a car has never been more important. Here’s what to consider.

Have a Realistic Budget


The first thing you need to figure out when setting out to find a vehicle to purchase is how much money you can actually afford to spend. To keep yourself out of trouble, be honest with yourself regarding your expenses, and don’t try to sacrifice too much. The rule of thumb to follow is that your auto expenses, including monthly payment, insurance, upkeep, and gas costs should not exceed 20% of your take-home pay each month. Make sure that the amount you arrive at won’t represent a stretch or an ongoing burden, so you won’t be in danger of falling behind.

Choosing a Vehicle Based on Need


When purchasing a vehicle, it’s important to carefully evaluate your needs and compare them to your means before making any decision. Part of the reason that consumers are having more trouble keeping up with their auto loans is that they’re choosing to purchase vehicles that are more expensive than necessary, and assuming larger debts. They rationalize it by extending the repayment length. Even so, that type of decision making has pushed the average monthly auto loan payment up to $517, which would have been unheard of just a few short years ago. To avoid over-committing yourself, buy the car that fits your needs and budget, instead of the car you fall in love with.

Compare Loans


Believe it or not, studies show that only about 44% of people shop around when looking for a loan. The problem is that lenders have seen this statistic too, and they’re not going to do you any favors. If you can find a loan with an interest rate that is even a half of a percentage point lower, it will save you hundreds of dollars over the life of the loan. Take the time to compare offers on multiple auto loans to save the most money. If you’re worried about hurting your credit score, be aware that credit agencies count multiple “rate shopping” requests as a single inquiry. That means it won’t hurt to check with as many lenders as you can.

Happy Driving


If you’re realistic about what you can afford, your new car will give you years of reliable, enjoyable service. If you’re not, your lender will be making an unannounced visit to take your car away from you. It should be obvious which the preferable outcome is. Even if you have your heart set on a more expensive model than your budget will allow at the moment, take heart. Making a responsible choice now will lead you towards a more secure financial future that may even include the car of your dreams.

What to Know Before Buying your First Home

Buying a home for the first time is exciting. This big step in life needs thorough preparation. At one given point there are usually many homes in the market. It calls upon you to discuss with your realtor what space and neighborhood you desire to live in, and for what price. Before committing to buy a home, envisage how your life might pan out in the next five years.

Size and location


Between location and size, what is of prime importance to you? You can either choose to buy a small house in your favorite part of the city, or a big house further from the city but at an affordable cost. If you plan on growing your family shortly, then the big home in a suburb might serve you right.



A home is a long-term investment. You don’t want to buy and sell it in less than five years; it is financially unwise. So before buying that new home think again where your career is going to take you. In case you don’t get to live in your home for five years, consider renting out instead of trying to sell it shortly after purchasing.

Do a thorough inspection


A home inspection before purchase helps to unearth the beautiful and the ugly details. You can get the seller to repair the defects you spot during the inspection, but if they don’t do this, you better keep looking to find the right home. You just don’t want to buy a house then undergo extra costs of fixing broken fixtures.

Beat down the price after inspection


Every home has some flaws. You can use what you found during your review to get the further price reduction on the property. This way you can save money to do remodeling and add décor that suits your tastes.



Specific amenities in your community may cause the value of your home to appreciate with time. It is a good investment to buy a house near a school for instance. On the other hand, if your new home is in a district surrounded by expensive mansions, you will cough out more money in property taxes.



How much can you afford to pay every month for your new home? This largely depends on the amount of your income, your assets, savings, and debts. The rule of thumb is this; don’t spend more than 36 percent of your monthly income on a mortgage. Banks might decline you for a mortgage if you have bad credit reports. Credit repair measures like paying your bills on time, maintaining low balances and paying over the bottom line should get you out of the red zone before buying your first home.

Sometimes people use consolidation loans to get another loan. You borrow against your home so that you can use the money to settle other smaller debts so that you just have one loan to service- the house. This is a risky undertaking that might tie your home in an unending debt cycle.

To make the right decision about home buying and get the best deal, first time home buyers need to seek guidance from realtors and mortgage advisors continually.

Bike Buying 101: How To Get The Best Deal On a Motorcycle

You know the dreadful feeling when you buy something you’ve always wanted and then you find out you could have been smarter as there are far cheaper deals? Not snooping Motorcycle around for long enough can really leave a mark on your wallet, not to mention it can ruin the enjoyment and kill all the fun in the aftermath.

If you’re preparing to buy a motorcycle, don’t let this scenario happen to you. Buying a bike is the type of purchase that has to be well thought through and planned, so try restraining yourself from making any impulsive decisions. Be smarter than that: read on to find out how to get the best deal on a motorcycle.

Assess Your Wants and Needs


Before you start looking for shops and best deals, figure out what you are searching for. Are you an experienced biker who is looking for a stronger, better performing motorcycle or perhaps a beginner in the bike world purchasing his first ride? There are dozens of options on the market, so you need to narrow down your choice and understand what is it that you’re seeking for – a sports bike, cruiser, scooter, enduro, or customs. Consider the optimal weight and height of the motorcycle, type and size of the engine, riding position and the comfort of the seat, pricing range that you’re comfortable with, as well as the accompanying costs.

Once you have a vague idea of what you’d like, conduct further research to explore all your options. Not only will this help you get a fuller understanding of your own expectations (and how they resonate with reality), but it will also prevent the possibility of sale persons tricking you into buying something more expensive you don’t actually want.

Visit a Dealership


After you’ve reasoned with yourself what you want and need, look for the best dealership. You can find your dealer through websites such as CycleCrunch, that allow you to browse through the offer of new and used bikes in your area. Of course, nothing can replace seeing the bike in person, so once you’ve picked your dealership – it’s time to go and have a look at the offer live. Don’t be shy to ask the salesmen any questions you may have about a certain motorcycle model. Never assume anything or make a purchase if you still have some dilemmas. Treat the sales representative as the knowledge source. It could happen that you want to buy a bike with one idea in mind and left the dealership with a whole different one. Of course, you don’t want to get tricked by business, but let the trained employees help you with their expertise. Always take the bike for a test ride to see how it performs and how do you feel in the rider’s seat. If you’re not 100% sure of what you want, it’s better to sleep on it.

Understand the Costs


When deciding on the motorcycle you want, there are various costs you have to take in mind. In addition to the actual price you pay for the bike, you also pay the sales tax, dealer fees (these can go anywhere from $300 to $1000), title transfer, as well as for the riding gear. There are also maintenance costs and the money you’ll have to put out for gasoline. And don’t forget the insurance: according to The Balance, annual insurance coverage can go between $100 and over $3000, depending on a number of factors, including the type of the bike and the insured time period you choose. Spread the burden of payment by planning ahead, bargaining, and researching the price ranges in your area.

We all know it’s shockingly easy to fall for the beauty of two-wheelers and even spend life savings in a jiffy on them. But with just a little bit of effort and savvy thinking, you can get the best deal and buy the motorcycle of your dreams without crippling your budget.









Hot tips for keeping your house warm this winter

By the looks of all the people on the streets wearing scarves and down parkas, Southern California is deep in a cold spell, with temperatures sometimes plunging below 65 degrees. Brrrrr! Let’s face it, we’re just not used to the cold here in L.A. And to be fair, temperatures do drop into the 40s at night, and even lower in the Valley. So how can we keep our houses and apartments warm without cranking up the heat? Follow these helpful tips to stay warm and cozy all winter long while saving money on your energy bill.

Let the sunshine in

Natural sunlight is free, so open the drapes and blinds during the day to let in the warmth. It does seem counterintuitive because the tendency is to close up everything during the winter to keep out the cold, but sunlight will warm up things no matter what the temperature is outside. You can also open certain drapes during different parts of the day to follow the sun. For example, I expose my east-facing windows in the morning, and my west-facing ones later in the day. 

Bundle up the windows

Of course, close the drapes at night. Drapery fabric acts as insulation for your windows. And when it gets really cold, consider layering on top of the drapes additional curtain liners, fabric or blankets. I lived in Boston for two years while attending college, and I fought off the cold there by hanging a Miss Piggy comforter in my apartment window. I didn’t care what the neighbors thought. 

Winterize your bedding

On chilly nights, getting into bed can feel like jumping into a cold pool. Change out your crisp, cotton sheets for velvety-soft flannel bedding. (I have a set of flannel sheets on my Amazon wish list — hint, hint.) Make use of the blanket or a faux fur throw at the end of your bed that you’ve been using just for decoration. Or warm up your bed before you get into it with an electric blanket. There are differing opinions about the safety of electric blankets, but it’s fine for taking the chill off of the sheets — you can turn off the blanket as soon as you climb into bed.

Get a humidifier

You know how in the summer people say, “It’s not the heat, it’s the humidity”? Humidity makes you feel warmer. Put a humidifier in your room, and the moisture helps retain heat — while helping your sinuses. You can also put a pot of water on the stove at a slow simmer. I add orange peel, cinnamon sticks, cloves and a touch of vanilla extract in the water, and the scent adds to the warm feeling.

Reverse your ceiling fan 

Most ceiling fans have two settings so that you can change the direction the blades spin. In the summer, the blades should turn counter-clockwise to blow cool air downward. In the winter, set the blades to turn clockwise to take up cool air and push the warmer air that’s near the ceiling down into the room. Put the ceiling fan speed on low so the room doesn’t get too drafty.

Use incandescent light bulbs

I know it’s not very eco-friendly of me to recommend incandescent light bulbs when there’s such a big push right now for fluorescent or LED bulbs. The thing about incandescent bulbs, though, is that they are warm. They’re downright hot, as a matter of fact. So, just for the winter, switch out your bulbs to incandescents, and let their heat radiate in the room. I have a soft spot for incandescent light bulbs. After they stopped making the 100-watt version, I bought a case of them to stock up. That should do me for a few more years.

Cover bare floors

Rugs aren’t just for decoration. They insulate our floors to keep the warmth from escaping. And besides, they feel great against our cold feet. So if you have hardwood or concrete floors, make sure you have area rugs covering them. I got rid of all my carpeting years ago and installed hardwood floors throughout my home. With area rugs, I actually feel even cozier because they are more plush than the carpet I used to have.

Start baking

Wintertime means baking time, and whenever you whip up a batch of cookies or brownies in the oven, you’re heating up your home as well. When you’re finished baking, leave the oven door open so you can make use of the heat that’s still emanating from inside after you turn it off. 

Shower with the door open

If you live alone or live with someone who doesn’t mind, leave the door open when you shower to let the heat and moisture spread outside the bathroom. You can also close the stopper to trap all the hot water in the tub (if you don’t mind standing in water). The tub of hot water acts as a heat source that gradually cools down, at which time you can drain the tub. 

Test for drafts in windows and doors

Hold a candle around doors and windows, and look at the flame to see if it moves because of drafts. Besides installing some good weatherstripping, you can stop drafts with some door and window snakes — those long tubes of fabric with padding inside. They’re available in stores, but you can take a DIY approach and make your own with rolled-up towels or T-shirts. 

Close the doors to unused rooms

If there are rooms that you rarely enter, close the doors to keep your home’s heat contained within the areas you are in. The reverse also holds true: If you’re staying put in one room, close the door and keep all the heat to yourself.

Hold on to something warm

Fosse and Gershwin, the author's personal heaters. Photo by Jonathan Fong

A portable heat source that you can carry around the house is indispensible on cold nights. Sure, it’s fine to have a sweetheart to keep you warm, but sometimes a good, old-fashioned hot-water bottle is even better — especially if it’s got a cashmere wool cover (which I have). I have also used a microwaveable neck wrap, and that feels like a big, warm hug from your favorite nana. And, of course, dogs and cats are snugglers that are bundles of fur-covered warmth. 

Jonathan Fong is the author of “Walls That Wow,” “Flowers That Wow” and “Parties That Wow,” and host of “Style With a Smile” on YouTube. You can see more of his do-it-yourself projects at