Car Care Tips: Prepare for the Fall Season

Unless you live in a state where you enjoy comfortable weather throughout most of the year, you must consider how best to prepare your vehicle for inclement weather. Fall is a great time to check maintenance items, as the weather is more conducive to working on your car.

Here are some car care tips for getting your vehicle ready for the upcoming seasons.

Wear and Tear

You’ll need to decide whether to perform these items on your own or by a professional, but be sure not to overlook these important wear-and-tear items:

  • Inspect the car’s battery capacity and terminal conditions.
  • Check the tire pressure and inflate when necessary.
  • Test the lights: headlights, fog lights, turn signals, brake lights, and interior lights.
  • Ensure the heating system works properly.
  • Consider the quality of the windshield wipers, and replace if necessary.
  • Apply a multipurpose body and windshield protectant.
  • Change the air filter.

Fluid Checks

Other things to keep in mind for fall include checking the levels of your car’s fluids, including coolant/antifreeze, motor oil, windshield wiper fluid, and brake fluid. If the fluids are cloudy or have debris in them, be sure to change them out, as explained by Car Talk. Consider the type of climate conditions your car will endure when choosing the best fluids, for instance, the right brand, formula, and grade. Consumer Reports also suggests monitoring levels and quality of power steering fluid and brake fluid. Make sure the engine is cooled for safe handling and more accurate readings.

Safe and Sound

As DMV.org explains, other safety and car care tips to consider are the items you need to have available in your trunk or glove box at all times:

  • Flares
  • Small blanket
  • Flashlight
  • First aid kit
  • Jumper cables

It’s best not to assume these items have been checked during regularly scheduled visits like oil changes. Instead, use the beginning of a season to perform these semiannual maintenance tasks.

Worth the Trip: Family Weekend Getaways

Family weekend getaways typically bode well during the warmer months. It’s a no-brainer: The better the weather, the more options. Yet, as the summer winds down and temperatures begin cooling, it’s prime time to pile into the minivan.

Tricentennial Park

Savannah’s history practically oozes from its cobblestone streets and signature squares. A batch of three downtown museums known as Tricentennial Park serves as a one-stop shop for a Savannah legacy lesson. The Savannah History Museum & Battlefield Memorial Park schools visitors on the city, beginning in 1733 all the way to today. Inside you’ll find the park bench Tom Hanks rested on while filming Forrest Gump. Walk across the street and step foot into Battlefield Memorial Park, the site of the American Revolution Battle of Savannah. Hop aboard an old-school steam engine or diesel locomotive for a ride at the Georgia State Railroad Museum. Younger kiddos can go wild at the Savannah Children’s Museum with its outdoor interactive activities.

Jekyll Island

Approximately a ninety-minute drive from Savannah, Jekyll Island blends natural wonders and edutainment with family fun. Head straight to Driftwood Beach located on Jekyll’s north end, where massive, twisted skeletons of driftwood dominate. Children often scale the trees like playground equipment, while couples are known to tie the knot amid the unique surroundings. Sea turtles who are hurt or under the weather get the help they need at the nearby Georgia Sea Turtle Center. Learn sea turtle facts and more at the interactive exhibit gallery. Then walk next door to the rehabilitation pavilion where the patients recuperate in tanks. Elsewhere on Jekyll, mini golf games, slides at the seasonal water park, and play and relaxation on the sprawling beach are just a few of the other opportunities that await.

Riverbanks Zoo & Garden

It’s a virtual safari at Riverbanks Zoo & Garden, a 170-acre destination in Columbia, SC. More than 2,000 animals, from the African western lowland gorilla to the Australian red-necked wallaby, call Riverbanks home. Its 20,000 square-foot aquarium reptile complex houses a variety of creatures. Get close with an eastern diamondback rattlesnake or king cobra. Sharks join moray eels and other underwater critters in the 55,000-gallon Pacific coral reef tank. The botanical garden features an array of flora, not to mention Waterfall Junction, a three-acre play area, with a twenty-five-foot waterfall. Special paid attractions include the opportunity to feed giraffes, hop on a carousel, ride ponies, scale a rock wall, and zip line over the Saluda River.

Wild Blue Ropes Adventure Park

The folks behind this gargantuan web of ropes, ladders, and bridges describe it as “a jungle gym suspended thirty-five feet in the air.” At Wild Blue Ropes Adventure Park, guests swing, climb, and scale their way through this challenging experience. Those ages four to nine can handle the entry level Explorer’s Gateway, which takes them fifteen feet above the ground. Moderate thrills can be had on the Big Sky Challenge. Things get trickier on Holy City Heights with its tight wires and swinging bridges. Wild Blue Yonder finds guests swinging and climbing from one part of the course to the next.

As the fall arrives, be sure not to miss these family weekend getaways perfect for travel in Georgia and South Carolina.

Three Swimming Holes in Georgia and South Carolina Worth the Plunge

Public pools may be closed for the season, but H2O escapism isn’t out of the question. It’s still warm enough to take a swim in secluded swimming holes in Georgia and South Carolina. Just a short trip away from downtown traffic and suburban bustle, the following swimming holes and waterfalls offer plunge-worthy places. Remember, the water will likely be cold, so pack a towel and a change of clothes.

Edge of the World: Amicalola River Trail

Dawsonville, GA

Who needs a water park when you’re in the know? Head to Dawsonsville, located about sixty miles north of Atlanta, for this king among swimming holes. A section of the Amicalola River Trail—locals often refer to it as the Edge of the World— allows courageous visitors the ability to body surf or tube down the rapids. Feel free to brave the rock slides, but don’t forget to go feet first. Some folks simply splash about in the adjacent swimming holes. The nearby parking lot doesn’t include a pay station, so purchase a day pass online. At the parking lot, a set of stairs leads to the trailhead and a boardwalk. Venture approximately a half mile, and you’ll see the rapids.

Don’t feel like swimming? It’s also a great picnic spot. While in Dawsonville, visit Amicalola Falls State Park, home to an incredibly tall (over 700 feet!) cascading waterfall in the Southeast. Don’t try swimming underneath it; just climb the massive staircase and take a gorgeous picture.

High Shoals Falls

Dallas, GA

Allow thirty minutes to drive northwest from Lithia Springs to Dallas. Perfect for the warm autumn days and Halloween season, High Shoals Falls sits just beyond a vintage graveyard where Civil War vets rest eternal. Park there and take the trail next to the cemetery. Expect a quarter mile walk to the waterfall, a relatively reasonable distance to tote a picnic basket. Listen closely as you near it, and you’ll hear the rushing water. Towering trees with monstrous roots stand guard as explorers take a swim in the area directly in front of the falls. Open up that picnic basket and spread out your meal on the picnic table by the falls.

Riley Moore Falls

Westminster, SC

Bring both your hiking and swimming shoes for a trip to Riley Moore Fall. It takes a forty-five-minute hike to reach this waterfall and swimming hole on the Chauga River. Standing at about twelve feet, it may not be the highest waterfall you’ve ever seen. Yet, it’s one hundred feet wide, providing a natural play place and splash zone for hikers. Fans of flora should make sure and bring a camera. Patches of fern and daisy fleabane can be found and azaleas accent the falls during the spring.

Need more suggestions? Swimming spots are often found at or around state park, so check a few out before the weather officially turns.

Managing Expenses: What to Pay First

While financial experts may disagree on many topics, they all agree that a strong credit score is vital to financial freedom. In fact, you probably agree, too. Improving that number is always a worthy goal. Fortunately, building your credit isn’t hard with a few lifestyle changes. You’d be surprised at how quickly your score can respond to your actions, once you start managing expenses a little differently.

To get started, check out the most common expenses that threaten typical consumers’ credit scores. If you can navigate this minefield without more than a few missteps, you can get your score in great shape.

Past Medical Bills

Bills from the doctor’s office often go through a number of insurance channels. By the time you’re aware of it, the clock has been ticking, or worse—time’s up. Many people find old bills on their credit reports instead of from a courtesy call or postal mail, and that’s especially discouraging.

You’ve heard of people being harassed by collections agencies, but sometimes, silence is even worse. Medical bills can make their way to collections without a patient’s knowledge and negatively affect credit without a word.

Avoid this financial pitfall. When a medical bill arrives, pay it. If you don’t have a sufficient emergency fund, set up a payment plan to ensure a bill doesn’t slip into a delinquent status.

Late Payments

If you’re struggling to make ends meet, phone your creditors and request a rundown of your options. They’ll typically work with you to keep your credit in good standing. The folks on the other end of the line are people, too—no one wants to ding your score. Being honest about your situation can keep you off the naughty list at your lender’s office, so even if it’s hard, make the call.

Late payments—and the subsequent fees—are one of the biggest threats to your credit score, so stay current. If life’s circumstances get in the way of managing expenses and paying your debts on time, alerting lenders is the best move to make.

Sub-Prime Loans

When bad choices or tough circumstances put a hurt on your finances, your credit score dips and enters a category called sub-prime. As you might expect, this is less than ideal. Entering loan agreements while your credit is on life support can add unnecessary pressure to your bank account—as you’ll likely pay higher interest rates and fees—and begin a vicious cycle. The substandard loan costs you a ton and stresses your credit score, which is a real recipe for trouble.

High Balances

Another threat to your credit score is the percentage owed on each line of credit you hold. If, for example, you have a credit card, do you max it out or try to pay it off? Have you been paying down the biggies (mortgage, auto loan, installment debts) consistently? Staying too far in the red means higher monthly payments. Plus, it threatens your credit score. Pay down your balances to a manageable amount as soon as you can. Your credit score will thank you.

Frankly, smart money moves. Aggressive saving, upgrading, and investing can be put on hold if your credit is in trouble. Neutralize these big credit score threats first so when it’s time for the next step, you’re undeniably ready.

Healthy Meals on a Budget: Creative Ideas Your Family Will Love

As a parent, you have the hard job of negotiating the cost of groceries and the quality of meals you make. You have friends who either give their kids microwaved nuggets for every meal or stick to a strict all-organic, unprocessed chef-inspired menu. So where is the happy medium? With the cost of food as high as it is, what can you do to put appealing and healthy meals in front of your family?

Rest assured, it can be done. Here are some strategies and recipe ideas you can use to ensure every family member gets the nutrients they need and the flavors they enjoy.

Plan Meals

Instead of shopping on a whim and then running back to the store every few days for miscellaneous ingredients, start organizing your grocery needs ahead of time. A planning session every few weeks will give you a complete list and extra incentive to cook a healthy homemade meal instead of ordering pizza in a pinch. Plan meals that will help your family meet their daily food group targets. The US Department of Agriculture offers up some great sample meal plans to help you do just that. And keep in mind, you’ll almost always spend less money on food when you plan ahead.

Choose Breakfast

Breakfast is the perfect meal to promote health while easing the strain on your wallet. Oatmeal and eggs are both inexpensive and can be the base for an array of tasty flavors. A great option is a breakfast smoothie: Combine two frozen bananas, 2 cups of whole milk and ½ cup of frozen spinach. Using frozen bananas aids in the cold creaminess of the smoothie. You can add ground oatmeal, flax, or chia seeds to give your smoothie some extra staying power.

Be Resourceful

Actively look for financially feasible items and utilize coupons, sales, and discount stores as often as you can. Get online and search for grocery stores and markets in your area. The USDA provides a local food directory of farmers markets, which often run year round and are a great way to get fresh produce at a lower price (and support your local farmers too).

Do It Yourself

Rather than buying certain items at the store, start making them at home. Sauces are easy to make with spices and condiments you likely already have in your kitchen. You can also try your hand at other staples like bread or soups. A great place to start is with chicken stock. Start saving your vegetable scraps and store them in the freezer. Roast or slow cook a whole chicken to use for dinner one night. Feed the family, and then pick the rest of the meat off the bones to use for another meal. Instead of throwing away the carcass, put it in a large pot or slow cooker. Fill it up with water, add a splash of apple cider vinegar, and all the vegetable scraps from your freezer, then set it to cook on low (overnight or while you’re at work if using a slow cooker). Your house will smell delicious and you’ll have nutrient-rich broth to add to soups and other recipes.

Get Inspired

Not only can you use cookbooks and family recipes for inspiration, but you also have the internet at your disposal. The USDA’s MyPlate program has a Pinterest profile with boards full of healthy recipes, so you know for sure the meals are well-balanced. Sites like What’s Cooking will help you find healthy, delicious meals that use affordable ingredients.

Feeding your family healthy meals on a budget takes some careful planning. But with a little effort, you can serve delicious, well-balanced meals that won’t break the bank.

What’s your family’s favorite meal and how do you save money serving it? Share your tips (and pictures) with other readers.

Creative DIY Halloween Costumes to Save a Bundle

With Halloween just around the corner, parents and children alike are getting excited. But let’s face it, costumes can get expensive. Instead of buying one this year, ask your kids what they want to be for Halloween, and then brainstorm with them how to make the idea come to life using items from your house. Crafting can help kids concentrate and also gives them an outlet for energy.

Between the festivities, candy, and decorations, Halloween spending can be downright spooky. Save a bundle by making one of these DIY Halloween costumes, and have some fun together along the way.

Eco-friendly Ideas

If you want to be both unconventional and environmentally conscious this Halloween, the US Department of Energy offers up some creative energy-inspired costumes, like a solar panel or a wind turbine, that you can make right in the comfort of your own home. Saving cardboard boxes throughout the year will give you a great selection and supply for building the perfect costume or prop for your little trick-or-treater.

Popular Picks

The National Retail Federation shows that in 2016 the most popular costumes will be action heroes or superheroes, which can be made using a solid color shirt, some cardboard, and paint. Inspire creativity within your child by allowing him or her to paint a unique symbol on their superhero attire. The popular Star Wars characters are also easy to replicate with a bathrobe, shades of brown, and a cardboard roll lightsaber.

Classic Finds

You can always go with the classics: A ghost or witch costume can be easily made with a few old sheets or clothes and some sewing skills. It’s an opportunity to teach your kids how things are made and give them an opportunity to try using a needle and thread. Be sure to add reflective tape to costumes, which increases visibility at night, as explained by the CPSC.

YA Fictional Fun

If your teens can’t get enough of today’s popular young adult fiction genre, there’s nothing easier than a Katniss Everdeen costume: khakis or cargo pants, a solid shirt, and a jacket. Give your child a side braid and make a bow and arrow out of sticks and string. Your kids can also dress up as Tris, Four, or another one of the Dauntless faction with dark clothes and temporary tattoos.

Cartoon Characters

Turn your kids into their favorite cartoon or video game characters. Sometimes a simple costume idea combined with more elaborate props and makeup is all you need. Chances are your little one will get excited about wearing some fun makeup for the big debut. You can also invest in some face paint and do a quick internet search for ideas to replicate.

If you’re looking for creative ideas to dress your kids up for trick or treating but you don’t want to shell out the big bucks for a fancy costume off the rack, think outside the box with these fun and easy DIY Halloween costumes. Getting your kids excited for DIY projects will save you money and help your financial situation in the long run. Whatever costume you create, snap a picture and share it with us for a Halloween to remember.

Car Shopping: 6 Questions to Help You Determine Your Next Car

When it’s time to go car shopping, there are just so many choices. Make your decision easier by narrowing these choices down. Ask yourself these six questions to help you determine your future car.

1. What kind of safety features are important to you?

If you have a family, safety might be on the top of your list. Look for vehicles that have high safety ratings and offer active safety features, such as lane-departure warning and correction, crash-collision mitigation, adaptive cruise control, and blind-spot warning. Other safety features you might look for include four-wheel ABS disc brakes, traction control, stability control, side mirrors with integrated turn signals, and auto-dimming mirrors. You can also use NHTSA to look up safety ratings on specific car makes and models.

2. How much space do you need?

You may want extra space in your vehicle if you have a big family or a large pet in tow. If space is near the top of your list, look for SUVs and minivans that seat more than five people. If a truck is on your list and you need the space, look for the larger crew cab models with a standard or long bed as opposed to a short bed. If you and your family take frequent road trips, look at vehicles with a lot of space, and then go for the model with the most safety features.

3. Is utility a necessity?

If utility is near the top of your list, go for an SUV with fold-away seats or a larger pickup truck. Choose a model with four-wheel drive or all-wheel drive, especially if you plan to use the vehicle for any off-road work.

4. Would you prefer a luxury model?

If you want to go luxury, don’t forget to look at models that are new to the market. You can often find less expensive versions than the standard luxury models. In many cases, carmakers like Hyundai, Kia, Acura, and GMC offer more features and comfort for the money.

5. Can you afford a vehicle with combining features?

You can find the perfect combination of features if you look at luxury full-size SUVs and trucks. Even the higher-end nonluxury trucks have a comfortable ride for those who are looking for something with more utility that also serves as a comfortable road trip vehicle.

6. Would you like to get a good deal?

If you want a top-of-the-line vehicle but don’t want the car payment to go with it, look for a great used model with low mileage. You can save thousands of dollars on a relatively new vehicle that might even have warranty left on it by shopping for used vehicles at used car dealerships.

When it comes to car shopping, you might be overwhelmed with decisions. Take the time to answer these questions to determine what you truly want and need in your next vehicle.

Front Wheel Drive vs. Rear Wheel Drive

An important feature of a vehicle is the wheel drive. The two main types are front wheel drive or rear wheel drive, although there are even more options: all wheel drive or 4×4. We want to help you understand the similarities and differences between the two main types.

Front Wheel Drive

If a vehicle features front wheel drive (FWD), the transmission transfers power from the engine to the front wheels. A great thing about FWD is that it’s cheaper to design and make than other drives, which means the vehicle may be less expensive for consumers.

Most of the time, front-wheel drive cars get better gas mileage because the weight of the drivetrain is less than that of a rear-wheel vehicle. FWD vehicles also get better traction because the weight of the engine and transmission are over the front wheels. Generally speaking, good traction in snow and rain makes your drive safer than if you were in a vehicle with rear wheel drive (RWD).

The downside of an FWD vehicle is that the handling suffers somewhat. While traction is good, handling the vehicle around corners and curves isn’t as strong as an RWD car, especially at faster speeds. If you do a lot of driving on winding roads, you’ll likely notice a difference between the two different types. The FWD won’t be as responsive or nimble on the road as an RWD.

Front-wheel drive vehicles may also feature all-wheel drive. In this case, all four wheels will get power when you need it, and you’ll have better traction.

Rear Wheel Drive

Vehicles that feature rear wheel drive are a bit more complicated. Power is transferred from the transmission to the rear wheels by way of a long driveshaft to a differential. RWD vehicles handle much better than front-wheel drive vehicles and you will notice the difference in curves, turns, and when navigating through traffic situations. Traction won’t be as good, especially in wet or snowy road conditions.

Rear-wheel drive vehicles are better for towing because the front wheels have better steering without a ton of weight on them. Plus, with the power transfer and the tongue weight of the trailer, the rear of vehicle squats, which gives the rear wheels more traction. If you get stuck, adding weight over the rear wheels may help.

Rear-wheel drive vehicles sometimes feature 4×4. When you put the vehicle into 4×4, the vehicle will get power to all four wheels as needed.

Recommendations

For long drives with little traffic, you may want an FWD car that gets good gas mileage like a Chevrolet Cruze or Hyundai Elantra. If you aren’t worried about gas mileage or road conditions and you want better handling, you may go for a Chevrolet Silverado or a Cadillac CTS

When it comes to choosing the wheel drive for your next car, think about what you plan to use your vehicle for to help inform your decision.

Family-Friendly Festivals in Georgia

Looking to do something different with the whole family? There’s always something going on in the Atlanta area, no matter the time of year. The Empire State of the South is made up of dozens of suburbs and neighborhoods, each with their own diverse selection of activities, festivals, and events. So pack up the kids and go exploring at these festivals in Georgia!

Spring

Atlanta Dogwood Festival – An Atlanta favorite for over 80 years, this festival brings the region’s best artists to Piedmont Park. Hundreds of vendors loop around the park while music stages and food tents are also available to everyone.

Georgia Renaissance Festival – Long live the days of yore! All ages will enjoy the medieval festivities at the annual fair, which is inspired by 16th-century England. Attractions include jousting, costumes, games, shows, and, of course, those massive turkey legs!

Summer

Virginia Highland Summerfest – Held in one of Atlanta’s most beloved neighborhoods, this is one of only a handful of events during the dog days of summer. The festival includes an artist market, live music, and kid-friendly activities. Best of all, it’s completely free to attend!

Tunes From the Tombs – Set in the iconic Oakland Cemetery, the one-day festival features dozens of local and national acts with headstones in the background. The city’s best food trucks set up, as do the city’s best artisans.

Fall

DragonCon – Perhaps the most well-known of festivals in Georgia, the multiday event encompasses aspects of film, television, comics, video games, and more. Even if you don’t attend the panels and other aspects, you must see the parade, which is open to the public. Encourage your little ones to dress up as well, but warn them about some scarier costumes.

Decatur Book Festival – In celebration of the written word, this annual Labor Day festival brings together authors from around the world. Booths line the historic square with booksellers, author signings, and more. There’s also a children’s section where authors for younger readers will share stories.

Winter

Children’s Christmas Parade – Kick off the holiday season with this event, sponsored by Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. Watch the balloons and marching bands as they make their way down Peachtree Street in Midtown Atlanta.

Callanwolde Arts Festival – This festival is held over the course of two days in a former Tudor home. Over eighty painters, photographers, sculptors, and glass artists sell and demonstrate their work. Live music, dance performances, and food trucks are also part of the fun.

Atlanta and its surrounding areas always have events going on, perfect for the whole family. So gather the family, take a road trip, and enjoy these festivals in Georgia.

Sticking to Holiday Budgets

People who are trying to stay within their holiday budgets should have a plan before they begin shopping. Write a list of the people you are planning to shop for and decide how much you want to spend on each gift. Then, it’s time to look for gifts. Here are some tips for sticking to your budget during your holiday shopping.

Start Early

Bankrate recommends that people start their holiday shopping early, so set a goal, like aiming to have your shopping finished by December 1st. This way you aren’t under pressure to buy something immediately, and you can find good deals on gifts. If you feel like you’re running out of time, you’re more likely to give in and buy something over your budget just to finish your shopping.

Compare Prices Online

Before you purchase an item in a retail store, check prices online. You may be able to find it for less at a different store or by ordering it from a website. Real Simple suggests reading online reviews to see how other customers liked a product. You may find there’s another product of better quality. Doing research before you buy helps you select gifts the recipients will enjoy, and for the right price.

Look for Free Gift Wrap

ABC News recommends that shoppers ask for free gift wrap when it’s available. This service can save you money on wrapping paper, ribbons, bows, and other supplies. It can also save you time because you won’t have to assemble and do all the wrapping yourself before the holidays.

Limit Borrowing

Kiplinger suggests people pay in cash to make sure they follow their holiday budgets. If you’re using cash, you’re aware of how much you spend, and you’re restricted to spending money you already have. Another option is to use a debit card; this allows you to avoid the temptations of borrowing on credit. However, if you do choose to pay with a credit card, use the card with the lowest interest rate available to you. Look at the terms of all your credit cards to find out which one will be the least costly before deciding how to pay.

Of course, these tips are only advice, and every person’s financial situation is different. But in general, planning and researching before you shop is helpful if you’re trying to stick to a budget.