Warm Weather Festivals in Georgia, South Carolina, and Florida

With festival season rearing its head in the warmer months, it’s not too early to start planning a road trip from Savannah to choice events in the Southeast. Arts, music, and culture take center stage at the following festivals in Georgia, South Carolina, and Florida:

Atlanta Dogwood Festival

An annual outdoor celebration for more than 80 years, it remains one of the most popular festivals in Georgia. The Atlanta Dogwood Festival spreads across Piedmont Park, the city’s massive green space. An art show featuring paintings, sculptures, and photography takes place along the park’s twisting walkways. Festival food, a disc dog competition, a 5K run, and more spans across three days. Live music highlights include performances by the official Jimmy Buffett tribute band, A1A, and an ’80s bash featuring 1980s tribute acts.

From Savannah: Take I-16 West/GA-404 West toward Macon. I-16 West/GA-404 West becomes I-75 North/GA-401 North. Take I-75 North to Atlanta. (Estimated drive: 4 hours.)

Spoleto Festival USA

Beginning in late May, the Spoleto Festival USA celebrates 17 days and nights to a variety of artistic performances. Music wafts through the air from outdoor venues and inside historic churches and theaters. Throughout the festival’s run, you’ll find a number of choices in the worlds of opera, theater, and dance; as well as Americana, symphonic, choral, chamber, and jazz music. Expect an outdoor concert finale complete with fireworks.

From Savannah: Take I-95 North toward Florence, S.C. Merge onto US-17 North toward Charleston. (Estimated drive: 2 hours.)

Jacksonville Jazz Festival

The strains of jazz music fill downtown Jacksonville throughout Memorial Day weekend at one of the largest festivals of its kind in the country. A trio of stages puts the spotlight on jazz artists. The 2016 edition of the Jacksonville Jazz Festival found more than 131,000 guests attending. An array of rising stars and well-known acts put on numerous performances. Highlights included Kem, Snarky Puppy, Dr. John, and others.

From Savannah: Take I-95 South toward Brunswick/Jacksonville. (Estimated drive: 2 hours.)

A Financial Checklist for Relocating to the Deep South

If you’re a list-maker, you know the value of a good, old-fashioned checklist, especially when you’re preparing to relocate. Before moving to the southeast, you’ll want to know the common costs of arriving—and living—in the deep South.

Once again, you’ve come to the right place. Here you’ll find a financial checklist to prepare your bank account for the best this region has to offer.

The Basics

Start with some obvious to-dos:

  • Secure the Goods – First, pack up your most important documents—marriage papers, professional licenses, passports, birth certificates, mortgage agreement, and living will—and carry them with you on your person.
  • Plan for Bills – A few weeks before the move, cancel your utilities and contact the water, internet, electric, waste, and other service providers in your new town to get connected early. Celebrate the fact that winter in your new neighborhood will likely cost you less in heating bills, with the average yearly temperature across all 3 states sitting at a balmy 70 degrees, according to the National Weather Service.
  • Budget for Tolls – Westerners, you may not understand the concept of tolls, but a few miles into your new state and you’ll quickly realize that toll roads are a part of life here. Not to worry, though, a quick look at Florida’s, Georgia’s, and South Carolina’s highway authority websites can get you up to speed.
  • Switch Insurance – Plan to pay more for homeowner’s insurance once you arrive, as this coast tends to see more damage from hurricanes, and insurers know it.
  • Register Your Vehicle(s) – Budget in a buffer for vehicle registration, which for most states hovers between $15 and $80 a year for typical cars. Floridians, though, can expect to pay more than triple that amount, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. The figure may take your breath away until you’ve lived here a few years and realize it’s a great conversational piece for small talk at cocktail parties.

Enjoy the Perks

Your new region enjoys a ton of unique financial perks that become yours the moment you arrive, including:

  • Housing – Unlike other areas, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida have a range of housing options—from outrageously expensive to ridiculously cheap, and everywhere in between. The variety of choices gives you the power to select your standard of living, something other areas can’t always offer.
  • Taxes – Kiplinger’s 2016 taxation heat map shows our area goes easier on taxpayers in general, with a drill-down feature to detail specifics. Florida is famous for imposing no income tax, though it’s important to know what other taxes you’ll pay in the Sunshine State.
  • Entertainment – Of course, you’re able to find affordable fun wherever you are, but we Southerners tend to pride ourselves on our resourceful ability to enjoy just about any outing, so long as we’re with those we love. So once you arrive, check out our region’s best farmer’s markets and sweet weekend getaways that are good for both your memory book and your pocket book.

Let us be the first to welcome you home. The one thing you’re guaranteed to find different about Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina is the friendliness of the faces you’ll meet.

Moving is a life event full of tasks and to-dos. It’s just too much to try to keep straight without a little system. Keep this financial checklist handy so your relocation doesn’t take a toll on your wallet.

5 Clubs and Car Shows in Jacksonville

Jacksonville, Florida, is home to many car shows. For those car enthusiasts who either love to show off their cars or love to attend the shows, there’s much to choose from this spring. Depending on the event, they may be scheduled for a certain day each month, while others are annual. Here are some car shows scheduled for this spring and the clubs that run them.

1. Early Birds of Northeast Florida

This group regularly holds car shows in Jacksonville. The Early Birds of Northeast Florida meet in Orange Park the second Thursday of each month. An intimate group of approximately 20 members come together and host group day cruises during the year.

2. First Coast Car Council Cruise-In

This group accepts all individual enthusiasts, whether it’s cars, trucks, or motorcycles. The First Coast Car Council (FCCC) runs a weekly Saturday night cruise-in. These events are free and open to the public, so bring the whole family.

3. FCCC Brewery Car Show and Tour Spring 2017

While the FCCC runs a weekly event, there are special shows, as well. The Brewery Car Show is slated for May 20 and has a $25 registration fee, which goes to the Ronald McDonald House Charites of Jacksonville, Inc. There’s no charge for spectators to watch the show. Registration is the morning of the show, from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m., and the show is set from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m.

4. Jacksonville Automotive Muscle

Jacksonville Automotive Muscle (JAM!) Is open to all American-made models or imports, regardless of modern makes or classics. This group is big on family and morals, and incorporate these into maintaining a family-friendly car club. Through the Jam! online forum, plans are discussed for weekly meet-ups in various locations around Jacksonville.

5. Car Show Jax

Car Show Jax provides a comprehensive list of drive-in shows throughout Jacksonville. They have detailed information about each week of every month and the site is updated regularly.

From muscle cars to trucks, there are plenty of car shows in Jacksonville. The city plays host to numerous car shows and drive-ins each and every month. So, put the pedal to the metal and cruise on over to the next available show.

Understanding Your Finances During Military Deployment

You’ve just learned you’re going to be deployed, and among the many things you’re thinking about, understanding your finances is a top priority. Here’s some financial advice so you can ensure your money matters are taken care of before you ship off.

Complete Your Benefits Basic Training

As a member of the military, you’re entitled to certain protections under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SSCRA), explained Military Advantage. If you’re not up to speed, school yourself on some benefits, including reducing the interest rates on your mortgage payments and credit card debt, protection from eviction, and the delay of all civil court actions while you’re deployed.

Create a Budget Battle Plan

If you’re not already on a budget, it’s time to start understanding your finances better so you can figure out how much you’re spending, what your fixed expenses are, and if you need to make any adjustments. You should also look into canceling or pausing services you won’t use during your absence, such as a cell phone or gym membership.

Leave Detailed Orders Behind

If you were the person who took care of the monthly bills, it’s important to delegate those responsibilities to whoever will become the ranking officer of your household. In other words, go over your monthly bill obligations with your spouse or significant other, and make sure they have the necessary account information to pay off the balances.

Look Over Classified Materials

Well, not exactly classified, but you should give all your legal documents a once over to ensure they’re updated and accessible. You might also consider setting up a power of attorney regarding who can take care of your financial matters should something happen while you’re deployed.

Take Care of Uncle Sam

If you’ll be out of the country during tax season, make a plan for who can file for you. Or, you might decide to file for an extension.

Set Payments on Autopilot

To simplify your finances even more, set up automatic bill pay for recurring expenses like your mortgage or utility expenses. That way, it’s one less thing for your spouse to deal with.

Protect Your Credit

According to the Federal Trade Commission, you can place an active duty alert on your credit report when you’re deployed, which will make it harder for potential fraudsters to open up new accounts in your name.

Commence Operation Savings

Service members who are deployed in combat zones can take advantage of a Department of Defense savings program, which pays up to 10 percent interest. If your budget allows, you can have part of your salary deposited into this account before and during your deployment, according to WiseBread.

Understanding your finances and preparing financially for deployment will give you peace of mind when you’re away from home.

How to Jump Start a Car

It happens to most drivers at some point—you go to start up your car and the battery is dead. If you’re lucky, you can wave down a good Samaritan or call a friend, but either way, it’s important to know how to jump start a car yourself.

Test Battery

Does your engine crank slowly when the key is in the “on” position, or do all the accessories remain off? If the answer to either of these is yes, you might have a battery issue, according to the Chicago Tribune. In this case, you’re going to need help from a friend with another vehicle.

Be Prepared

Carry cables that are in good shape. This means there should be no exposed wire, a well-insulated gauge, and clean clamps. According to Meineke, the proper gauge varies, so make sure you have the right size. A shorter cable will transfer a charge faster, but it needs to be long enough to span one engine to another with plenty of space in between when you jump start a car. Also, carry goggles and a pair of plastic gloves to keep any acid off your skin and your eyes safe in case of an explosion.

Follow Instructions

Always check in with your owner’s manual. Most cars use the described method of jump-starting, but a few differ. Park the cars facing each other but not touching. Put both in park—or neutral for manual transmissions—and set both parking brakes. Turn off the engines and all accessories, and unplug any electronics. Open both hoods and check batteries for any cracks or leaks. If there are signs of battery damage, don’t proceed until the battery has been replaced.

Identify Terminals

The positive lug is generally bigger, has a red cable attached, and a plus sign stamped on it, says YourMechanic. The ground terminal is smaller, has a black cable, and a minus sign. It’s important you don’t confuse the two. Unravel your jumper cable on the ground and note that each end has a corresponding red and black clamp.

Sequence Matters

Connect the one red clamp to the red terminal of the working battery. Make sure none of the other clamps touch each other or any part of the car besides what’s intended. Next, connect the black clamp to the negative terminal on the good battery. Head over to the other car, keeping two remaining clamps separated. Connect red to the positive, but instead of putting the black end on the negative terminal, clamp it to a solid, unpainted, unmoving metal part of the vehicle at a distance from the battery. This will help avoid sparking that could potentially ignite invisible vapors hovering on the surface of the battery, causing an explosion. Always follow proper safety procedures and never lean over the batteries at any time. Additionally, don’t smoke nearby.

Charge It Up

Turn on the good car and run for 1–2 minutes. Try starting the other. If the engine won’t turn over, check all the connections to ensure good contacts, and run the first car another 5 minutes, revving the engine a little. Try to start it again. If you’ve still got nothing, it’s time to call in a professional.

Drive Away

If it does work, don’t turn off your car. Disconnect the cables in the opposite sequence. Start with the black from the jumped car’s metal surface, positive terminal on the bad battery, negative terminal on the good battery, and lastly disconnect from the positive terminal on the good battery. Take the car for a drive for more than 20 minutes, giving the alternator time to recharge the battery on its own.

Just in case, don’t shut off the engine until you’re in a place that’s safe and convenient. As Popular Mechanics points out, remember you might have a battery drain. And until that’s fixed, you’re may need many good Samaritans to get you out of a jam.

Today’s Minivans Provide More Capabilities Than Before

Many people may not have minivans at the top of their vehicle wish list. However, when it comes to today’s growing families and automotive needs, there are many reasons to purchase a minivan.

The End of the Minivan Stigma Era

Although minivans have been on the market for more than 30 years, they don’t operate like the bulky rides that began in 1984 with the Dodge Caravan. In the 1980s, luxury models included features such as air conditioning and electric windows, but these features are now equipped in today’s base models. According to CBS News, today’s minivan is all about the ease and comfort of the ride, great accessories, style, and comfort, especially for families with multiple children.

More for Your Money

While the comfort and ride of a minivan may be subjective, it seems that these vehicles’ ease of drivability improved in recent years. Besides improved handling, the minivan of this generation has made a much better use of space and base model luxury accessories. One example of this is the Toyota Sienna, which won numerous awards including the Kelley Blue Book Family Car award for the 2016 model, according to Toyota. There are other features to consider during the research stage such as cabin, cargo room, and infotainment options.

A Comfortable Ride is a Safer Ride

All buyers should check the safety rating of every base model they’re interested in during their search. Oftentimes, many base models will include more airbags than other models, which are usually equipped with the most amount of airbags, especially when comparing vehicle classes. Check ratings from numerous organizations such as J.D. Power and Consumer Reports.

For 2017 models, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) awarded two minivans. The first is the 2017 Chrysler Pacifica, which received IIHS’ Top Safety Pick+ award, and the 2017 Kia Sedona, which earned a Top Safety Pick award. Both earned a Superior rating in the Front Crash Prevention category.

Safety should be a priority when considering the best vehicle for your busy and growing family. Once you narrow down your list to a number of vehicles that are up to your safety standards, you can then pick the right make and model.

Easy Goes It: Plan a Vacation Without the Stress

Sit back, relax, and enjoy some well-deserved time off, right? That’s the hope when you start to plan a vacation. Sometimes, though, putting together an itinerary becomes stressful—daunting, even!

Don’t let the planning phase of your holiday detract you from having fun with your friends and family or on your own. Here are some tips to ensure your next trip’s preparation time it as stress-free as possible.

Preperation and Planning

As you start to plan a vacation, it’s easy to get sucked into a rabbit of hole of your ideal travel itinerary—accommodations, activities, restaurants, beaches, entertainment, museums—the list goes on and on! This can feel overwhelming and take up a lot of time. Instead, determine where you want to go and the length of the trip, then allot just a few days to read reviews and ask friends, family, or coworkers for recommendations on specific places to visit and stay. Take advantage of technology when planning. TechCrunch notes several travel planning apps that can help you along the way. Compare your options, but make a planning deadline so you don’t put too much on your plate. And remember, there will be time to hit that awesome spot on your next visit! Use your best judgment to make good choices, and solidify your plan within a reasonable time limit.

Fun With Flexibility

In the spirit of limiting your scope of to-dos, pencil in large blocks of time for a few activities throughout the day rather than filling in every hour. Sprinkling in activities at various times means you don’t have to stress about sticking to a strict schedule. Remind yourself that flexibility is vital for true relaxation. Take the pressure off and you may even have room for some spontaneous adventures.

Packing Picks

Simple: the word to remember when you start packing. Keep a running list of the things you’ll need for your trip, categorized into items you’ll need to purchase and those you’ll need to retrieve from storage. Additionally, aim to pack lightly. Heavy luggage can be cumbersome and make it difficult to get from point A to point B. Start packing early, last-minute prep makes everything more stressful and could even lead to you forgetting an essential.

Get the Most Out of It!

Keep in mind it may take a few days to de-stress and relax when you finally do get to unplug. If your trip is short, by the time you actually wind down, it may be time to head home. If you’re planning a few mini-vacations like a weekend getaway, consider replacing it with one longer trip. It doesn’t have to be a big faraway or exotic adventure, but even a long road trip up the coast or a quiet week spent with family at a cabin in the woods can give you enough time to unwind and relax.

Once you start to plan a vacation, start saving money right away—the earlier in advance the better. That way you won’t feel stressing about coming up with discretionary funds a week before the trip. At the end of the day, the most important part of a vacation is having a chance to recharge your battery by getting away from day-to-day responsibilities and relaxing with the people you care about most.

Proactive Personal Finance Planning: The Best Resolution

There’s nothing better than a fresh start. Every year, you have the chance to push the reset button and resolve to improve your health, your relationships, and yes, your financial situation. Unlike years past, you can make your commitments stick for a permanent change. The trick? Proactive personal finance planning. Do away with reactionary habits of the past. Here’s how:

Identify Reactive Habits

Before learning to be more proactive, take a quick look in the rear-view mirror to recognize your reactive habits to this point. Proactive means you’re in charge; reactive means your finances are controlling you. Ask yourself these questions to see whether any reactive habits have taken root in your routine:

  • Have you received an overdraft notice any time in the last few months?
  • Have you been surprised by a broken down vehicle, as opposed to being ready for it?
  • Do you use credit cards regularly to pay for things you don’t want to save up for?
  • Does it alarm you how little money you have left at the end of each month?
  • Do you pay attention to your finances only when you have to?

None of these questions alone spell financial disaster, but if you answered “yes” to all of them, then you’re looking at a reactive approach to money.

Do a U-Turn

Now you know what reactive money management looks like. Next, it’s time to define, embrace, and execute a proactive approach instead. How? Let’s take another look at the above scenarios and see how to approach them proactively:

  • Spend enough each month to cover your expenses, but not so much you’re splurging and putting yourself in the red zone. Spending more than you have in the bank needs to be a thing of the past.
  • Save a little each month for surprise expenses like co-pays, home repairs, and vehicle maintenance. These hiccups are just part of life, and if you’re constantly building a cushion for each one, you’ll be taking the proactive approach.
  • Get and stay out of debt. Avoid credit cards for the next year, and re-evaluate their benefit to you next January. Send this article to yourself with a reminder to re-read it in a year. Assess how it feels to be out from under the high-interest cards, and decide then whether you should re-enter the rat race.
  • Create a budget that covers your monthly expenses (plus extra for inevitable future “surprises”), and stick to it. At the end of the month, enjoy the leftovers by splurging—or saving it.
  • Work personal finance planning into your week. Yes, this will mean taking charge of your time. You can’t be a great money manager if you’re horrible at time management. Starting a budget and sticking to it takes time, and if you can’t make regular time in your week to administer your new plan, your ideals will dissipate once again. To get started, check out the US Geological Survey Department of Employee and Organizational Development‘s description of a popular task-sorting approach called Covey’s Time Management Grid. Getting a handle on where your hours go will be enlightening when proactively deciding where your dollars should go.

You’re already on your way to a better New Year. Congratulations on a fresh start, and here’s to new beginnings and a better you.

Car Safety 101

Car safety is important regardless of the vehicle you drive. Here are four essential components to examine when considering the overall safety of a vehicle.

1. Brakes and Suspension

When you test-drive a vehicle, you can tell if the brakes or suspension need work from how it feels during the ride, but you should also visually check the components. Look at the condition of the brake pads and rotors. Often, you can see them through the wheels or when you turn the steering wheel so the rear of the tire is facing away from the vehicle. The pads should have plenty of life left on them and the rotors should not be scored. Check the struts or shocks by bouncing the vehicle up and down. When you stop bouncing, the vehicle should only bounce one or two more times.

2. Active Features

Some active safety features cannot be tested in a typical test drive, and that includes emergency braking. When you do take the car for a test drive, however, you can check the blind-spot systems, rear view cameras, lane-departure warning, and road-departure mitigation. To check lane-departure warning and road-departure mitigation, see if the lights illuminate when changing lanes without a blinker.

3. Tires

You don’t necessarily need to check the tires on a brand new vehicle, but you should check them on a used vehicle, even one that is only a year old. Look for air pockets in the sidewalls, which denote a separated tire. If you notice shaking in the steering wheel at low speeds—about five to ten mph—it may mean a tire is separated.

Additionally, check the tread depth and wear. If the tread is worn on one side only, have a dealership or mechanic check the alignment and suspension. If the tread is worn evenly on both sides or is worn in the center of the tire, that means the tire was under-inflated or over-inflated, respectively.

4. Security

Security features are designed especially for your safety. If the vehicle has perimeter lights, vehicle alarms, a security system, or remote start, be sure to check they’re all working properly.

You’ll also need to check the turn signals. Don’t forget the turn signals that are integrated in the door mirrors, if applicable. Check the taillights, brake lights, and the headlights as well. For your automatic headlights try pulling into a darkened garage or tunnel to check them as well. If the sun is in the right position, automatic headlights will even come on in a carport.

Car safety is key. Never just assume a vehicle is working properly, even when new. Be sure to give your potential car a good test drive and thoroughly check all the features. It’s also a good idea to read through the owner’s manual so you’re aware of which features your car should have.

Rebuilding Credit Is Possible: Strategies That Will Help

If you’ve hit a rough financial patch in the past, it doesn’t mean your credit score is doomed forever. In fact, rebuilding credit is totally doable if you can illustrate that you’re able to manage your credit responsibly. With just a few tweaks and healthy credit habits, you can rebuild your credit score and avoid plummeting into poor choices that could lead to bankruptcy.

Here are four strategies for rebuilding credit that you can implement starting right now.

1. Make sure your credit report is accurate.

One thing that could bring your credit score down is false information. Perhaps a creditor reported that you were delinquent, or a medical bill you settled is still listed as unpaid. Pull your credit report via Annual Credit Report and make sure everything included is accurate, as recommended by MyFico. If you find errors, use the credit bureau websites to dispute items.

2. Pay your bills on time.

Missing even just one payment for more than thirty days can ding your credit score, and it will take time to recover. During your rebuilding credit phase it’s vital that you don’t miss any due dates, notes Experian. Set up automatic payments and text alerts to help stay on track.

3. Try to pay down large balances.

One of the major factors comprising your credit score is how you utilize credit, known as your debt utilization ratio. In other words, how much of your available credit are you using? If you have a $2000 credit limit and you owe $1,000, you are utilizing 50 percent. Equifax recommends trying to get your balances under 30 percent utilization, and as close to zero as possible to optimize that part of your FICO score calculation.

4. Don’t give up on credit.

If your credit score is low enough that it’s preventing you from qualifying for credit products, try easing your transition back to using plastic. You have to prove that you’re able to use credit responsibly in order to help your score recover. Luckily, there are a couple of ways to do that.

TransUnion recommends applying for a secured credit card, which will give you the opportunity to rebuild your credit, but you’ll have to leave a cash deposit to use it. Another alternative is to become an authorized user on someone else’s credit account, such as a parent or spouse. However, be aware that your credit activity will also affect that other person, so don’t do anything that might ruin your relationships and your scores.

Rebuilding credit is possible for anyone who has the discipline to make good financial decisions and work toward a debt-free lifestyle. It won’t happen overnight, but with consistency and commitment, your credit score will gradually climb higher and higher.