Building a Deck? Consider These Things First

Extending your living space to the outdoors is a great way to infuse an added dimension to your home and allow you to enjoy it to the fullest. In fact, outdoor living is really getting popular these days, with more and more homeowners adding decks to their homes as a means of enjoying Mother Nature.

But before you start drafting up those blueprints for your deck building projects, make sure you consider these factors first.

Purpose

The average homeowner builds a deck to perform a few different functions, like cooking, eating, entertaining, and so on. But the options are seemingly limitless.

Figure out exactly what you want your new deck to do before you even start drafting up your building plans. Doing so will not only help ensure that the final product is exactly what you’re looking for, it will also help you stay within budget, and eliminate any potential safety hazards.

Privacy

Think about the amount of privacy that you want as well. You don’t want to be on display every time you have dinner on your deck. Consider adding a pergola, latticework, bushes, or anything else that will add a level of privacy to your deck.

Access

How do you plan on getting onto the deck from your home as well as from your backyard? If you’ve already got a door that leads directly to your deck, that’s a huge load off your back. If not, you’re going to have to add an opening from your home which will involve knocking out a part of the exterior wall.

If you’re planning on eating meals out there (which most likely is going to be the case), then ideally you’ll want the opening access as close to the kitchen as possible. It would be pretty inconvenient to have to walk around the house or climb a ton of stairs with platters of food in your hand.

Design, Shape & Size

Aside from how you want it to function, you also want to make sure the deck is visually appealing to you. Consider the architecture of your home so that it at least goes with its style. The size of your deck will depend on the size of your property, as well as what you want it to do for you. Its shape will be dictated by your home’s design.

For example, building a curved deck onto a linear house might be like forcing a square peg into a round hole. Instead, follow the lines and proportions of your home so it’s a seamless extension from the indoors to out. Get yourself some help from a deck building pro to get some pointers about deck style, materials, and more.

Materials

You’ve got a handful of options when it comes to materials to build the deck with. Typically, wood, composite boards, and even concrete are used to construct decks. While wood was the dominant choice among homeowners for a long time, composite boards are becoming increasingly popular.

Wood requires a lot of upkeep and maintenance, while composite is easy to care for and won’t look ancient within a couple of years from wear and tear. Composite boards are made of a mixture of plastic and wood fibers. While they’re a bit more expensive than wood, they more than make up for this up-front cost without the need to re-stain it and pay for upkeep. In fact, the cost over time can amount to less than real wood.

Local Regulations

Every municipality has its own governing rules when it comes to home renovations, and that includes buying a deck. Before you make those elaborate plans of yours, be sure to check with the local government office’s department that deals strictly with building permits.

Construct your deck too close to the neighbor’s yard, or hoist it up too high, and you’re asking for trouble. There are a bunch of rules that you might not be aware of that could sabotage your plans, so be sure to find out what the specifications are to building a deck in your neighborhood first rather than having to modify it or pay pesky fines after the fact.

Shade

Keep things like shade from sun and rain into consideration. If it’s way too sunny or raining out, you’ll be less inclined to hang out on your new deck without some sort of shade or protection from the elements. You’ve got a lot of options here, including retractable canopies, to large umbrellas, to pergolas, and more.

You can even construct a more permanent roof fully equipped with a ceiling fan, recessed lighting, and so forth. The project can literally be as complex and sophisticated as building a little house.

Your Budget

Obviously, whatever deck you build will have to fit nicely within your budget. You won’t be able to enjoy it if you’ve got to work overtime for months just to pay it off. On average, a composite deck that’s around 500 square feet can cost somewhere around the $25,000 mark.

A deck with a variety of elevations will also jack the price up because of the more intricate plans and work involved. Where you live will also play a role in the cost of your deck. For instance, the same-sized deck in the Mid-West would probably cost about one-third of the price compared to San Francisco.

Don’t let these figures scare you off: deck additions are excellent investments that can increase the value of your property. In fact, you can expect to recoup an average of 70 to 80 percent of the value of the deck when you sell your home, so it’s definitely a home improvement job that you should seriously consider.

Understand a Few Things Before Buying an HOA Home

If you want to live in a community where your property is taken care of without you having to lift a finger, or where you have a variety of amenities to use at your disposal, then a homeowners’ association (HOA) might be perfect for you.

But before you jump in with both feet, there are a few things about HOAs that you should be aware of.

After all, buying a home is a huge investment – most likely the biggest one you’ll ever make. And as such, you want to be sure the choice you make is the right one for you.

Buying an HOA is Like Buying a Lifestyle

When it comes to an HOA, a certain amount of conformity is involved. If you’re not too keen on keeping in line with the standards of a particular HOA, it could be a nightmare for you if you actually buy into it.

There’s a certain price tag that comes along with the scrupulously manicured lawns, the well-maintained exteriors, and the consistently paved roadways. Every HOA has their own set of conformity rules that homeowners need to abide by in order to maintain this level of care among the properties and the common areas.

Before you scoff at these rules, you should understand the reasoning behind them: they help keep property values up over the long haul. In fact, the main goal of an HOA is to protect the investments of homeowners within the community and ensure that property values are maintained and increased over time, rather than allowing the area to go down the tubes like many American neighborhoods have.

So, if you’re OK with keeping your garage door color the same as your neighbors, or putting a limit on the number of lawn chairs you plop on your front lawn, then an HOA just might work for you.

HOA Fees Encompass Different Things in Different Complexes

It’s common knowledge that living in an HOA involves paying fees on a monthly basis. These fees go towards a bunch of different things, namely the maintenance and upkeep of common elements of the community. This can include anything from cutting the grass to cleaning the pool.

You’re basically paying someone else to maintain your property so you don’t have to. It’s a pretty good deal: you don’t have to physically maintain the property yourself, and the community as a whole is always in pristine condition.

But the HOA fees in one complex might not necessarily cover the same things in another one. Not only that, but the fees themselves might vary drastically from one complex to another. The average HOA fees usually range between $200 to $400 per month, but the more well-to-do the building is, and the more amenities it’s got, the higher you can expect the HOA fees to be.

In general, these fees cover services like water, sewage, garbage removal, lawn maintenance, repairs to the outside of condo buildings, and the care of common area amenities. Make sure you find out precisely what the monthly HOA fee is, and what exactly is covered under these dues.

Ask questions. How are increases in HOA fees determined? How often do they occur? How many times have they already been increased in the past? Is cable included?

Compare these fees to the average dues in surrounding neighborhoods. Are they at par? Or are they a lot higher? It’s worth noting that you’ll be paying for the complex’s amenities even if you don’t use them. If you’re not going to use the swimming pool or the on-site tennis court, ask yourself if you’re OK with financially contributing towards their upkeep. If not, it just might make sense to choose an HOA that doesn’t have such amenities, which will be reflected in their lower fees.

There’s This Thing Called an ‘Assessment’

Not only do you have to pay HOA fees on a monthly basis, you’ll also be responsible for contributing to an extra ‘assessment’ if there’s not enough money in the HOA’s reserve funds to pay for major expenses, like replacing the building’s roof or repairing its foundation. If money in this reserve fund is a little short, the HOA could charge you an extra assessment to cover the added expenses, that can be pretty pricey.

Before you buy, inquire about any assessments that are in the works for the near future. If there are, you need to be prepared to dish out a little more than what the current HOA fees demand.

You Have a Say

If you don’t like some of the rules within your HOA community, then do something to change them.

The ideal HOA encourages residents to get involved and have a say in how the rules are implemented and what changes can and should be made. The HOA will advertise their meetings that residents are allowed to attend, so consider going to them when your schedule permits so you can voice your opinion and put in your two cents about what is working and what isn’t. You might even consider running for a seat on the board to fight for the changes that you and fellow residents want.

Learn about the process for making any changes to rules or adding new ones. If you think the rules are too restrictive, you might want to look elsewhere.

If you want to live in a community where your property is taken care of without you having to lift a finger, or where you have a variety of amenities to use at your disposal, then a homeowners’ association (HOA) might be perfect for you.

But before you jump in with both feet, there are a few things about HOAs that you should be aware of.

After all, buying a home is a huge investment – most likely the biggest one you’ll ever make. And as such, you want to be sure the choice you make is the right one for you.

Buying an HOA is Like Buying a Lifestyle

When it comes to an HOA, a certain amount of conformity is involved. If you’re not too keen on keeping in line with the standards of a particular HOA, it could be a nightmare for you if you actually buy into it.

There’s a certain price tag that comes along with the scrupulously manicured lawns, the well-maintained exteriors, and the consistently paved roadways. Every HOA has their own set of conformity rules that homeowners need to abide by in order to maintain this level of care among the properties and the common areas.

Before you scoff at these rules, you should understand the reasoning behind them: they help keep property values up over the long haul. In fact, the main goal of an HOA is to protect the investments of homeowners within the community and ensure that property values are maintained and increased over time, rather than allowing the area to go down the tubes like many American neighborhoods have.

So, if you’re OK with keeping your garage door color the same as your neighbors, or putting a limit on the number of lawn chairs you plop on your front lawn, then an HOA just might work for you.

HOA Fees Encompass Different Things in Different Complexes

It’s common knowledge that living in an HOA involves paying fees on a monthly basis. These fees go towards a bunch of different things, namely the maintenance and upkeep of common elements of the community. This can include anything from cutting the grass to cleaning the pool.

You’re basically paying someone else to maintain your property so you don’t have to. It’s a pretty good deal: you don’t have to physically maintain the property yourself, and the community as a whole is always in pristine condition.

But the HOA fees in one complex might not necessarily cover the same things in another one. Not only that, but the fees themselves might vary drastically from one complex to another. The average HOA fees usually range between $200 to $400 per month, but the more well-to-do the building is, and the more amenities it’s got, the higher you can expect the HOA fees to be.

In general, these fees cover services like water, sewage, garbage removal, lawn maintenance, repairs to the outside of condo buildings, and the care of common area amenities. Make sure you find out precisely what the monthly HOA fee is, and what exactly is covered under these dues.

Ask questions. How are increases in HOA fees determined? How often do they occur? How many times have they already been increased in the past? Is cable included?

Compare these fees to the average dues in surrounding neighborhoods. Are they at par? Or are they a lot higher? It’s worth noting that you’ll be paying for the complex’s amenities even if you don’t use them. If you’re not going to use the swimming pool or the on-site tennis court, ask yourself if you’re OK with financially contributing towards their upkeep. If not, it just might make sense to choose an HOA that doesn’t have such amenities, which will be reflected in their lower fees.

There’s This Thing Called an ‘Assessment’

Not only do you have to pay HOA fees on a monthly basis, you’ll also be responsible for contributing to an extra ‘assessment’ if there’s not enough money in the HOA’s reserve funds to pay for major expenses, like replacing the building’s roof or repairing its foundation. If money in this reserve fund is a little short, the HOA could charge you an extra assessment to cover the added expenses, that can be pretty pricey.

Before you buy, inquire about any assessments that are in the works for the near future. If there are, you need to be prepared to dish out a little more than what the current HOA fees demand.

You Have a Say

If you don’t like some of the rules within your HOA community, then do something to change them.

The ideal HOA encourages residents to get involved and have a say in how the rules are implemented and what changes can and should be made. The HOA will advertise their meetings that residents are allowed to attend, so consider going to them when your schedule permits so you can voice your opinion and put in your two cents about what is working and what isn’t. You might even consider running for a seat on the board to fight for the changes that you and fellow residents want.

Learn about the process for making any changes to rules or adding new ones. If you think the rules are too restrictive, you might want to look elsewhere.

The Bottom Line

There are definite perks too living in HOA community. You’ve got access to some great amenities, and you don’t have to worry about having to mow the lawn or trim the bushes. You also don’t have to worry about annoying neighbors who like to park their cars on their front lawns or let their weeds grow out of control – the HOA won’t allow that sort of thing.

But, like any other investment, a little due diligence is required on your part to make sure the one you’re making is right for you. Don’t buy into anything that you’ll regret shortly after moving in.

Simple Ways to Boost Privacy in Your Yard

Whether you’re playing with the kids, enjoying a family meal, or even just catching some rays, the last thing you want is to be put on display in your own backyard. The demand for outdoor living space among homeowners has grown over the years, making privacy that much more important. If your yard is exposed to the neighbors, you might want to come up with tasteful and functional ways to add a subtle barrier between your yard and others around you.

Keep these simple tactics in mind to create a secluded sanctuary in your backyard.

Plant Hedges

Lining your property with a row of hedges is an easy and clean way to add a divide between your lot and the next. Privacy planting like these can create privacy and drown out the chatter from next door.

To plant a new hedge, dig a trench about two feet wide and two feet deep, and allow about a foot between each shrub planted. Add enough soil to reach the branching trunk, and be sure to water frequently within the first year. Keep in mind that hedges require regular trimming in order to keep them neat and tidy.

Layer Your Greenery

If the space permits, try layering your greenery to create a wonderful display of plants, flowers, shrubs, ornamental grass, and trees while shielding your outdoor area from the neighbor. Start with the tallest greens in the back, then gradually step them down in height to create depth, visual appeal, and texture.

If the neighbors beside or behind you are perched up higher than your lot, or have a raised deck or terrace, plant tall-growing shady trees to block out the neighbors view into your yard.

Install a Fence

A fence is an obvious way to add privacy to your property, but it doesn’t have to be so cold and dull. You can dress it up with some paint, vines, shrubs, perennials, or hanging planters to make it more pleasing to the eye compared to a long line of plain wood.

Fences are perfect for year-round screening and for side yards where space is particularly limited. Just be sure to check with your local jurisdiction to see if a permit is needed, and what height restrictions you’ll have to adhere to.

Install Lattice or Ornamental Screens

If the thought of a fence is just too severe for your tastes, then lattice is the next best thing. It’s the perfect way to add seclusion without entirely shutting your property off.

Lattice is also an ideal way to add some of your favorite vines or climbing flowers for a decorative and tranquil space. You don’t have to ward off the entire yard with lattice, either. Instead, consider adding it only to specific areas where privacy is especially craved, such as in the corner or against the eating area.

Add a Retaining Wall

While a little more expensive and labor-intensive, adding a decorative stone retaining wall is a fantastic way to seclude your yard. If you don’t want to look at a complete wall of stone, you can erect a shorter retaining wall, then mount some decorative trees or shrubs along the top half to break up the monotony.

Keep in mind that locations with poor drainage will require deeper excavation to reach below the frost line, as well as piping installation to allow for adequate water drainage from the footing.

Build a Pergola

If you’ve got defined spaces in your yard, such as an outdoor kitchen or patio, you might want to focus your screening to these specific areas rather than your entire yard.

Pergolas work wonderfully in defined spaces like these, while offering shade from the sun. You can even take things a step further by installing an enclosure around the pergola to create a higher level of intimacy and privacy while enjoying a family meal or entertaining guests.

Plant Some Trees

Even just one single tree can be enough to block a view and offer you the privacy you desire. Choose a wide-growing tree, such as a dwarf maple or birch to both shield your yard while acting as a decorative focal point to your overall landscaping scheme.

You can also plant a row of columnar trees around the perimeter of the property or in specific areas if your yard is smaller in scale; they grow quite tall, but don’t take up too much horizontal space.

Add a Fountain

In addition to blocking the view into your yard, you’ll likely want to shield it from surrounding noise as well. Whether it’s the chatter of the neighbors, the loud play of neighborhood kids, or traffic from the street, a decorative fountain can work quite well at drawing out unwanted noise.

You can go as simple or as elaborate as you desire. The pleasant sound of trickling water can block out noise while creating a tranquil sanctuary right in your own backyard.

There are no hard-fast rules that dictate that you should use only one of the above strategies to boost privacy in your yard. You might even want to consider incorporating several tactics to increase solitude and create a secluded retreat for you and your family to enjoy.

Tips to Decorating an Odd-Shaped Living Room

An odd-shaped living room can be a decorating nightmare. Whether you’ve got harsh angles, recessed walls, or columns in the middle of the room, it can be tough to arrange furniture, decorate, and create a functional space.

But rather than seeing these weird features as obstacles, look at them as opportunities to get creative and decorate with some flamboyance.

Here are some ways to get around your irregular-shaped living room to create an awesome space that’s both functional and stylish.

Break the Room Down Into Segments

Living rooms with unorthodox layouts can be tackled by separating them into different segments, if the space permits. Then you can arrange specific furniture pieces and décor in these different areas to suit various tasks.

For example, one section could be reserved for a sofa and television, while another space can be dedicated to an office/study area. Or, you might choose to create a reading area with a chaise, small table and bookshelf.

If the room allows for different functions, then make use of this space accordingly so even the most bizarre spots can be functional without leaving them bare.

Arrange Around a Focal Point

Take the attention away from peculiar spots in the living room by creating a focal point. You can literally make this central point whatever you wish, whether it’s a large coffee table, fireplace, chandelier, wall art, or an area rug.

Once you’ve decided what you want your focal point to be, decorate around it. Just make sure that it’s placed in an easily visible spot. Going this route will draw attention to the center of the space, rather than showcase its unusual edges and corners.

Use Rounded Furniture Pieces For Harsh Angles

Sometimes you wonder what was going through the minds of the architects and builders when they designed and built a home with rooms that feature corners and edges with no rhyme or reason. Whatever the case may be, it’s now up to you to work around it.

And when it comes to harsh corners and angles, one of the best ways to tackle this issue is to place furniture pieces with rounded edges to soften the area. Pieces with equally sharp edges will only accentuate the severity of the angled walls and corners. The opposite is true with round furniture; these pieces work to soften the angles and take the focus off of them.

Be Consistent With Repeated Elements

If you’re going to have elements in the space that will be repeated, such as molding or window treatments, make sure to keep them consistent throughout the room. This will help to take the attention off the irregular shape of the room and make it appear more conventional.

All the trim should be consistent, and every window covering should be the same. While this might not sound like a lot of fun, it can be really effective at normalizing the layout of the room.

Give Purpose to Tight Corners

What are you supposed to do with a corner that’s less than 90 degrees? Simple. Transform it into a space of its own by placing items such as reading chairs, potted plants, tall vases, or small accent tables. While you might not necessarily hang out in that corner much, adding elements such as these can breathe life into the corner and give it some purpose.

Create Balance With Free-Standing Shelves

Rooms that have strange layouts can often appear off kilter. Your job is to bring back a sense of balance in the room, which can effectively be done by placing a free-standing bookshelf wherever the space calls for it. By including a shelving unit that can be accessed from all sides, it can make the room appear more symmetrical.

Make Odd Walls or Columns a Feature

Lots of older homes tend to comes with a random column in the middle of the room, or an unexpected wall protruding from the perimeter. If you’re faced with one of these traits, use them to your advantage and make them features in the room.

You might want to paint the wall or column a different color than the rest of the walls in the space, or use it as an area where you hang all your collective art pieces. Turning it into a feature is a much better option than trying to camouflage it in some way, which can actually make it stand out even more.

An oddball living room definitely makes it more challenging to outfit, but you’re really only limited to your imagination when it comes to making it work. In fact, an unusually shaped room can even turn out to be the most memorable part of your home if it’s used properly.

Spring Cleaning Checklist: Don’t Forget To Clean These 6 Things

Most homeowners dread spring cleaning, but it’s a necessity when you think about how many things typically get overlooked as part of everyday cleaning. You might vacuum, wash dishes, and do laundry regularly, but there are plenty of other chores that get overlooked.

You should include the following items in your spring cleaning checklist.

1. Utensil Drawers

Pull out your utensil drawers, take everything out and thoroughly clean the insides, including the back, sides, and corners. Make sure to let them dry completely before you replace all of your utensils.

2. Coffee Makers

You should not only clean out your coffee pot, but also the filter. Take your coffee maker apart once in a while to give it a good cleaning in warm water mixed with white vinegar.

3. Ceiling Fans

The blades of your ceiling fans probably have a thick layer of dust on top of them. Imagine turning them on and allowing all that dust to enter the air you breathe. It is essential that you clean your ceiling fans as a part of your spring cleaning. You can use a vacuum cleaner with an extended nozzle, a duster, or even a damp cloth to remove all the piled-up dust.

4. Window Screens

Window screens are not just designed to keep critters out, they’re also intended to trap dust and debris. After a while, window screens can become clogged with particles, which can limit their effectiveness. Additionally, dirty window screens look disgusting. For stubborn debris, you will have to remove the screens from their frames and soak them in warm, soapy water before spraying them down and replacing them.

5. Oven

There’s a good chance that your oven will collect a layer of hard-to-remove grime at the bottom or along the interior walls. Those casseroles dripping with grease or those oven-baked pizzas covered with melted cheese can leave behind a layer of caked-on grease that needs to be removed. Your job just got a whole lot easier if you have a self-cleaning oven. But if you don’t, it’s going to take a few hours for oven-cleaning products to lift all that grease. Otherwise, you’ll have to use a lot of elbow grease to scrape it off that way.

6. Under & Behind Large Appliances

Even if you regularly vacuum your floors, dust and debris can accumulate underneath your large appliances over time. Pull out the refrigerator, oven, washer, and dryer and clean the areas that have been covered by these appliances throughout the year.

While spring cleaning might not be fun, it’s a necessary task. Make sure you’ve covered everything so you can enjoy a clean home throughout the rest of the year.

Budget Projects With Big Value

Not all home improvement projects are created equal. Some renovations may cost a lot but not add significant value to your home. Here are some inexpensive home improvement projects that will not only increase your enjoyment of your home, but will also increase the home’s value.

HIGH QUALITY CEILING FANS

In a National Association of Home Builders survey, ceiling fans ranked No. 1 as the most-wanted decorative item. If your ceiling fans are outdated, replace them with something in the $400 range—it’ll make a big difference when it’s time to sell.

TREES

Mature trees can be worth as much as $10,000 toward the value of your home. Trees also protect your home from the elements and prevent erosion.

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

Buyers are increasingly interested in saving energy, so any efficiency update is worthwhile. Switching from a wood to gas fireplace is a great start.

OUTDOOR LIGHTING

Exterior lighting is great for highlighting the accents of your home, and you can typically expect a 50 percent return on investment.

MOLDING

You can finish a room with crown molding or railing for as little as $1.50 per foot if you take a DIY approach, and it’s extremely desirable among prospective buyers.

Taking Interior Design Online

The internet is forever evolving how we access goods and services, so why should home décor be any different? Homeowners have a plethora of resources they can look too when searching for décor inspiration online, including blogs, online magazines, and YouTube channels, but the newest fad is online interior design consultants. These online businesses employ professional interior designers and pair them with customers through their online platform.

Focused on flexibility and affordability, the designers interact with clients through phone, instant message, video chat, or a combination of the three. They start by determining their clients’ budget, preferences, and wish list by providing a survey or questionnaire. They also request a home layout and room measurements.

As a final deliverable, the designer recommends furnishings, paint, décor, and more for each room that fits within the homeowners’ budget and providers a rending of the design. Customers then sign off on the full design or pieces of the design. They can request for the designers to purchase the items for them or receive a shopping list to do it themselves. There are a ton of interior design businesses popping up online, including the following:

Affordable Interior Design offers a free 15-minute video or phone consultation.

Modsy has packages starting at $199.

Decorist has packages starting at $299.

Decorilla has packages starting at $549.

Havenly has packages starting at $79.

Whether you need a complete home makeover or a little inspiration to revamp your bedroom, help from an online interior design consultant can be the convenient, cost-effective solution you are looking for.

5 Features Millennial Homebuyers Are Looking For

Millennials continue to be the largest segment of homebuyers according to the National Association of REALTORS®. Here are five features that tend to entice millennials who are looking to buy.

1. An Up-to-date Kitchen And Bath
Younger buyers often have limited funds for renovations, so it’s important that they have functional and inviting bathroom and kitchen spaces from the very start.

2. An Open Floor Plan
Having a formal dining room isn’t of particular importance to millennials, in fact, many prefer open spaces with no separation between kitchen, living room, and dining room. An open concept makes it easier to entertain everyone at once.

3. An Office
More and more jobs are offering work-from-home options, and there are also plenty of freelancers and telecommuters among millennials. A dedicated space for getting some work done can be a key attraction.

4. Friendly Location
With gas prices rising, many millennials prefer walking, biking, or public transit for their commutes. A great location is key.

5. Energy Savings
Millennials are often more conscious of energy conservation and efficiency. Energy-efficient appliances, energy-efficient windows, and quality insulation can make a huge difference.

5 Amazing Smart Kitchen Products

As technology continues to evolve year after year, new products hit the market that help make our lives easier. Check out these five amazing innovations that can assist you in the kitchen!

1. Instant Pot Smart Wi-Fi 8-in-1 Multicooker

This handy appliance is an electric pressure cooker, steamer, rice cooker, warmer, and more. It’s compatible with Alexa and connects to Wi-Fi, allowing you to access more than 1,000 recipes, control cook settings, and check on your meal’s progress with their free app or voice assistant.

2. NutriBullet Balance Bluetooth Enabled Smart Blender.

Using Bluetooth to connect the blender to your smart device, you can use the free NutriBullet Balance app to set your health goals and select from hundreds of recipes. Then the blender counts calories, proteins, carbs, and more based on the volume of each ingredient you add.

3. Hamilton Beach Smart Coffee Maker

By pairing this smart coffee maker with an Echo Dot, your morning routine becomes a little easier. Ask your Alexa app or the smart speaker to start brewing up to 12 cups of coffee, switch between regular or bold brew, or turn the coffee maker off.

4. Qi Aerista IoTea Brewer

Not a coffee fan? Not to worry, we have you covered. This smart tea brewer has 9 automatic tea programs for different types of tea and can be controlled with the free Qi Aerista app.

5. COSORI Smart Wi-Fi Air Fryer

Combining the power of this air fryer with the Echo Dot, use the voice assistant or the VeSync app to cook your favorite meals or choose from 100 pre-programed recipes.

Five Tips For Funding Your Next Vacation

There’s nothing quite like some well-earned time off in a cool new place, but vacations certainly don’t pay for themselves. Here are a few ideas for funding your next getaway.

1. The change jar: It’s not groundbreaking, but it works. Here’s an eye-opening stat: Putting $1.37 per day into your change jar adds up to $500 in a year!

2. Sell your stuff: We all have some clutter that we don’t need and have been looking for an excuse to get rid of, and that stuff can be pretty valuable. Think of what might be stored in your attic or basement—baseball cards, furniture, etc. It’s not junk, but it’s not doing you any good, and someone might find it valuable.

3. Set up a dedicated savings account: You could do this in your current bank account, or use one of several online services that are tailor-made for vacation savings. Have the money transferred directly from each paycheck so that you’re always saving on schedule.

4. Get the kids involved: Vacations are even more expensive when you’ve got a family. If your kids get money from jobs, chores, or an allowance, ask them to put a little money away for vacation here and there—it could end up paying for a meal or a night in a hotel.

5. Volunteer: Your church or community center probably organizes low-cost vacations where you can visit a new place and do some good by giving back to the community.