Holiday Travel Survival Tips

There’s an old expression that says “getting there is half the fun”, but if you’ve ever Happy family driving in  the car surrounded by snow.taken road trip, you know that all that time spent traveling in close quarters for long periods of time isn’t exactly restful. Throw in extra holiday traffic and the excited frenzy of the holiday season and traveling by car can be especially stressful.

Ways to Make Your Journey a Little Less Bumpy This Holiday Season

Before you head out on the road with your family to visit loved ones or take a much-needed vacation this holiday season, be sure to read these important survival tips:

  1. Take a reliable vehicle. Your old minivan might be comfortable, but it also could break down, leaving you in the worst situation possible: stranded with cranky children. Even if you have a newer car, it’s important to have routine maintenance done before you leave.
  2. Join a travel club. In the unfortunate event your car breaks down, you’ll be able to get roadside assistance. Companies like AAA can also bring you other benefits like discounts on shopping, dining and hotels, in addition to helping you out if you’re stranded.
  3. Map your route in advance. Today there is no shortage of online tools to help you map out a route. Give your route to a family member so that they know how to locate you.
  4. Plan your travel times. If you have younger children, plan your travel around their sleep schedules. Traveling at night is a great way to avoid heavy rush hour traffic.
  5. Pack healthy snacks and refreshments. Bring along a cooler with water, fruit and other refreshments, and pack other healthy snacks. Avoid unhealthy sugary foods.
  6. Stay connected. Charge your cellphone before leaving, and don’t forget bring along your car charger. Also, be sure to charge those electronic games and music players in advance!
  7. Play family games. In the event that those electronic games or players run out of battery life, there’s nothing like a good old fashioned game of “license plate” to engage children.
  8. Dress comfortably. Dress kids in loose, comfortable clothing or even their pajamas for nighttime travel.
  9. Play good music. Bring along relaxing music for the ride. Be sure to select songs you and your children will enjoy.

And lastly…

  1. Remember to keep your sense of humor and a positive attitude!

Online Holiday Shopping Tips

If the weather outside is frightful (or if you’re just looking to save some time), online shopping is the way to go for your holiday purchases. The advOnline shopping safetyantages to the online marketplace are many: no lines, no crowds and no multi-store trips to find that one specific toy. As you zoom from Amazon to Etsy and back again, here are some tips to make your holiday shopping as productive and safe as possible:

  • Protect your data

The holiday shopping season always comes with a host of horror stories about identity theft, so when you log on, make sure you take the proper steps to keep your information safe. Shop only through sites you trust and always check that the site is secure. Secure sites typically have URLs that being with “https” instead of “http” on any page where you’re entering card information. Additionally, you should always see a lock icon somewhere in your browser window when you’re on a secure page.

  • Choose credit

When it comes to checkout time, it’s better to use a credit card rather than a debit card for online purchases. Credit cards tend to have a higher level of fraud protection than debit cards, and you are not liable for debt incurred after a credit card is reported lost or stolen. On the other hand, if your debit card information is compromised, your entire bank account balance could be at risk.

  • Keep track of those receipts

Have a designated place (either a physical folder or folder in your email inbox) to keep track of your receipts, payment confirmations and tracking numbers for your purchases. Always be sure to read the fine print with respect to returns; different vendors’ policies will differ where returns and exchanges are concerned.

  • Buy items together to save on shipping

The one obvious downside to online shopping is the cost of shipping. Depending on the site and the shipping option you choose, a reasonably priced item could easily become one that causes you to hesitate at the checkout page. Sites like Amazon offer you the option to bundle items together and ship them in the fewest boxes possible to save you money, and may also offer free shipping when you spend a certain dollar amount. Plan out your shopping in advance to maximize your transactions on each site—it will help you take advantage of these benefits and keep your shipping costs low.

  • Check the dates

Speaking of shipping, pay close attention to the estimated shipping times on your purchases and make sure to leave enough time for things to arrive. Most sites will provide you with a tracking number for your package once it’s shipped.

Remember: Identity theft increases around the holidays, so take extra care when shopping online. Here are some additional safe shopping tips from Webroot.com.

Don’t Let the Grinch Steal Your Identity—Seven Tips for Safe Holiday Shopping

While you may be dreaming of a white Christmas, an iIdentityTheftdentity thief may be dreaming of stealing your identity. With higher traffic both in stores and online on retail websites around the holidays, identity theft is known to increase during this time of year. As you prepare to start your holiday shopping, here are a few tips to keep your identity safe:

-When you shop, carry only the cards you plan to use. Keeping some of your cards separate could help minimize the damage if your wallet is stolen.

-Know where your cards are at all times. Shopping in stores around the holidays can be stressful, and it can be easy to lose track of your card when you’re rushing. Make sure your card makes it safely back into your wallet after each transaction, and keep your wallet close.

-Check for evidence of tampering before you use an ATM to obtain cash. Glue and overlays on the card reader are common indicators of tampering. Trust your instincts; if you suspect a machine has been tampered with, consider withdrawing cash somewhere else. Also, remember to protect your PIN from anyone who may try to read it over your shoulder when you’re using an ATM machine or POS terminal.

-Monitor your account activity through online banking and check your monthly statements closely. Your shopping patterns are likely to change around the holidays, which means it’s important to check your statements even more closely than usual to ensure that there are no fraudulent charges. Hold on to your receipts to help you verify your transactions, and contact your financial institution or card provider immediately if you see a charge that you did not make.

-Make sure you’re securely shopping online. If you’re shopping online, make sure your computer has the most up-to-date antivirus software, and that you’re only giving out credit card information on authenticated sites. You can tell whether a site is secure by looking for the prefix “https” before the web address, or a green bar around your search bar when you go to checkout.

-Keep yourself up to date on any large-scale data breaches that occur. Large retail data breaches are becoming more and more commonplace, and it’s impossible to know when the next one will be, or which store will be affected. If a data breach occurs at a store you frequent, be proactive: call or check the store’s website for specific information, and if the situation warrants it, cancel your card and request a new one from your financial institution. Some retailers may offer free credit monitoring services for a limited time after a large-scale breach, but it’s also a good idea to consider making those kinds of services a permanent part of your defense against identity theft.

-Hold off on that social media post. While cyber-crime is a growing threat, you should also protect yourself from the threat of burglary. Refrain from sharing your holiday travel plans with your entire social network; letting the world know you’ll be on vacation for a week could give a prospective burglar a golden opportunity to break into your home.

For more tips on staying safe during your holiday shopping, check out this article from the Washington Post.

 

Holiday Food and Toy Drive November 12-December 12

You can help us make a difference and brighten up the holiday season for those in need.Holiday Food & Toy Drive

We’re proud to announce the start of our Fourth Annual Food and Toy Drive. Each year it brings us great pleasure to bring back this special seasonal event to help support the organizations and individuals in our communities.

Helping others during the holidays

You can drop off non-perishable food goods, such as canned vegetables and fruit, soups, baby formula, powdered milk, peanut butter and hot/cold cereals, at any Community Bank branch between November 12 and December 12.

Collections made in Southern Maryland will be donated to the Southern Maryland Food Bank, collections in King George County will be donated to the Department of Social Services for the King George Food Pantry and collections in Fredericksburg will be donated to the Fredericksburg Area Food Bank.

We are also collecting new, unwrapped toys to distribute to local families with young children during the holidays. Toys collected will support the Marine Corps Reserve Toys for Tots program.

Halloween Safety Tips

The candy bowls are full, the Jack-o-Lanterns are carved and your children have been wearing their costumes around the house in anticipation. However, before your children take to the neighborhood on October 31, it’s important you proceed with the proper safety precautions to ensure everyone has a great time while scaring up some fun. Here are a few helpful Halloween safety tips for both parents and chPumpkinsildren alike.

Costume Caution

As much as possible, encourage bright or light colored costumes. However, if your children like to take the scare factor to a whole new level by donning costumes fit for a horror movie set, there are ways to make even the most frightening frocks safer. While it might be difficult to convince your son of the need to brighten up his Batman costume for fear of “totally ruining it,” try adding reflective or glow-in-the-dark tape to the bottom of dark costumes and candy bags. Carrying flashlights and glow sticks can also make dark costumes more visible to drivers while not taking too much away from the costume.

‘One size fits all’ might work for the manufacturer, but such store-bought costumes are often far from that. Make sure your child tries on the costume with whatever footwear they intend to pair it with. Pay special attention to the costume’s length, and make sure it is the right size, as a costume that is too long could more easily result in trips and falls.

Masks can make it difficult to see and can hamper your child’s peripheral vision. Nontoxic face paint or make-up are better options, but start by testing a small amount your child’s arm beforehand to check for any possible reaction.

Safekids.org recommends that children under the age of 12 be accompanied by an adult. While chaperoning the group’s movement from house to house, make certain everyone remains on the sidewalks at all times and cross the street at crosswalks whenever possible. If a street does not have a sidewalk, always walk along the left side watching forward for any oncoming cars.

And if you’re children are old enough to venture out on their own, it’s best to remind them of these trick-or-treating rules. It is also a good idea to have them carry a fully charged cellphone and stick to familiar, well-lit neighborhoods.

Drivers, remember the popular trick-or-treating times are between 5:30 and 9:30 pm. Proceed with caution and keep an eye out for children, especially in neighborhoods, when out on the roads.

Rules of the Road

Safekids.org recommends that children under the age of 12 be accompanied by an adult. While chaperoning the group’s movement from house to house, make certain everyone remains on the sidewalks at all times and cross the street at crosswalks whenever possible. If a street does not have a sidewalk, always walk along the left side watching forward for any oncoming cars.

And if you’re children are old enough to venture out on their own, it’s best to remind them of these trick-or-treating rules. It is also a good idea to have them carry a fully charged cellphone and stick to familiar, well-lit neighborhoods.

Drivers, remember the popular trick-or-treating times are between 5:30 and 9:30 pm. Proceed with caution and keep an eye out for children, especially in neighborhoods, when out on the roads.

Candy Collecting

The Food and Drug Administration suggests giving your children a light meal before heading out. This can help prevent hunger, and cut down on the temptation to snack while trick-or-treating. This is especially helpful for parents as it provides you an opportunity to inspect your children’s candy after getting back home.

When checking your child’s candy collection, be on the lookout for homemade goods and any suspicious wrapping. A good rule of thumb is to stick with only candy or sweets found in commercially wrapped packaging.

Whether you will be out trick-or-treating with your children or on your way home from work, just remember to keep these safety tips in mind on Halloween night. We hope everyone has a safe and very Happy Halloween!

Is email marketing right for your business?

Today, nearly everyone has an email account. And, if you’re in business, n370001Bearly everyone could be your target market. Put the two together, and all your problems are solved, right?

The answer is “maybe,” if you do it right.

The broad definition of email marketing is the promotion of products or services via email. You communicate with current customers with their permission, or by “cold calling” potential customers from a purchased list. Your goal is to get them to buy something, buy more of something, or just stay loyal to your brand.

But, once you hit “Send,” you’re no longer in control. The email recipient could choose not to open your email, delete it, or decide to opt out. Maybe it ended up in the Spam pile. And, if the email IS opened, the timing could be off.

You have to reach your targets when they are ready to act, not when you are. It stands to reason, then, that holiday-related emails might draw a higher response than one you send in the middle of March.

And, speaking of timing, are you over-emailing? Are you bombarding digital inboxes with emails that are now the equivalent of paper “junk mail”? Worse still, are you in danger of violating the government’s SPAM act?

How should you approach email marketing? Take a look at what this digital marketing company spokesman considers 5 Brands That Get Email Marketing Right, from Amazon to Moosejaw Mountaineering!

Are you currently email marketing, but with limited success? Entrepreneur.com offers tips on How to Create an E-Mail Marketing Campaign That People Will Notice.

And, last but not least, comes this warning, when it comes to emails in general: Never substitute emails for good, old-fashioned common business sense, ever! Don’t send that email, pick up the phone.

Do you have an email newsletter for your business?

7 Tips for Protecting Yourself Online

Though the internet has many advantages, it can also make users vulneSecurity Button On Keyboardrable to fraud, identity theft and other scams. According to a Norton Cybercrime Report, 556 million adults worldwide were victims of cybercrime in 2012. The American Bankers Association recommends the following tips to keep you safe online:

1. Keep your computers and mobile devices up to date. Having the latest security software, web browser, and operating system are the best defenses against viruses, malware, and other online threats. Turn on automatic updates so you receive the newest fixes as they become available.

2. Set strong passwords. A strong password is at least eight characters in length and includes a mix of upper and lowercase letters, numbers, and special characters.

3. Watch out for phishing scams. Phishing scams use fraudulent emails and websites to trick users into disclosing private account or login information. Do not click on links or open any attachments or pop-up screens from sources you are not familiar with.

  • Forward phishing emails to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) at spam@uce.gov – and to the company, bank, or organization impersonated in the email.

4. Keep personal information personal. Hackers can use social media profiles to figure out your passwords and answer those security questions in the password reset tools. Lock down your privacy settings and avoid posting things like birthdays, addresses, mother’s maiden name, etc. Be wary of requests to connect from people you do not know.

5. Secure your internet connection. Always protect your home wireless network with a password. When connecting to public Wi-Fi networks, be cautious about what information you are sending over it.

6. Shop safely. Before shopping online, make sure the website uses secure technology. When you are at the checkout screen, verify that the web address begins with https. Also, check to see if a tiny locked padlock symbol appears on the page.

7. Read the site’s privacy policies. Though long and complex, privacy policies tell you how the site protects the personal information it collects. If you don’t see or understand a site’s privacy policy, consider doing business elsewhere.

Money Management Tips for College Children

Money Management - CollegeWhile the upcoming years will prepare you for your future, you don’t want to let financial difficulties weigh you down when you graduate. Which is why we have pulled together the following tips to put you, and keep you, on the right financial path!

Write it all down
Step one is create a budget. This is as simple as writing down your income (student loans, financial aid, employment pay and any help from family) and your expenses. If listing your expenses seems overwhelming – break it down to what you spend in one day and then gradually calculate the increase to a week and then a month. There are a variety of online money management tools – but a simple Excel sheet works just fine.

Prioritize
Organize your expenses into categories. Make a careful list of the essentials (food, books, health, transportation) and things that are optional (new clothes, concerts etc.). Then take a close look at both categories and see where you might be able to save. Ask yourself the tough questions – do you really need unlimited texting? Could you better utilize all the free communication channels like Facebook and email?

If your budget can’t balance and you are still in need of cash flow – consider these ideas to save and/or generate income or save money.

  • Sell your used books online
  • Tutor other students in your best subject(s)
  • Check with your school. Local residents and businesses often contact colleges when looking for “freelance” help with babysitting, dog walking, tutoring for children, odd jobs, special events, and the like. There may even be interesting part-time jobs available that will fit into your academic schedule.

Credit cards
By now most people are aware of the dangers of credit cards, but a credit card can be a great tool for building credit. That’s why we suggest for everyday expenses, use a debit card linked to your checking account, but have a credit card on hand for emergencies, or to make small purchases on a regular basis. Just remember to pay off the balance as soon as possible.

Keep track
Frequent attention to your budget and cash flow is crucial. As a general rule, the tighter your cash flow, the more often you have to monitor your budget. While daily management may seem like too much, a weekly check-in is a good place to start. Never be late paying your bills – added interest and fees can create additional expenses.

Available tools like Online Banking can help you keep track by allowing you to access your accounts and check your balances easily. E-mail alerts can also help you keep an eye on your accounts by sending you a notice anytime your balances drop below a certain level.

Communication
If you are getting help from home, be sure to communicate all of your spending activity and needs frequently. Do your parents (and yourself) a favor and show them how well you are managing your money – and theirs. Make your budget an open book.

For added convenience, consider linking your accounts so your parents can easily transfer money into your account when you need it.

Beyond monetary reward
Have you ever noticed that people who manage their money well seem so confident? By managing the money you have – you remove what could otherwise be an encompassing stress. Self-discipline and a respect for your financial limitations are empowering and free your mind for learning! Share your knowledge with your friends.

Summer Savings Tip: Turn off the lights!

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, the average household dedicates about 5% of its energy budget to lighting.Summer Savings Tip: Turn the lights off

It’s an easy budget to start trimming, and here are tips to get you started:

Make the switch
Switching to energy-efficient lighting is one of the fastest ways to cut your energy bills, and you have lots of choices, including halogen incandescents, compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) and light-emitting diodes (LEDs). Energy-efficient bulbs may cost more than ones you’re used to, but you’ll save over their lifetime.

Visit Energy Star to find the right light bulbs for your fixtures.

Off vs On
Think twice about that old electricity myth that says it uses more electricity to turn a light back on than it does to keep it on. Today’s basic wisdom suggests that, depending on the type of light, you’re apt to save by turning it off, no matter how short the duration before you’ll be turning it on again.

Time out
Use timers and motion sensors to automatically control the amount of electricity you use. Dimmers also provide savings.

Natural light
Take advantage of daylight by keeping your curtains, blinds or shades open, or using curtains that allow daylight in. When you’re decorating, remember that lighter colors reflect daylight and enhance available natural light in a room.

Crunch the numbers
Curious how much you might save — in terms of dollars or energy — by turning off the lights when you leave the house? It could add up. Check out this breakdown at The Simple Dollar.

Find more tips!
Looking to save even more? Visit websites for your local utilities, including the Southern Maryland Electric Cooperative (SMECO), for more energy saving tips on everything from appliances to heating and cooling.

Is your family good about turning off the lights?

Staying Safe on the Move

Job opportunities, proximity to loved ones, milder temperatures or a simple change of scenery. Whatever the reason behind your next move, if it requires tHome Buyinghe help of a moving company, be sure and do your homework before packing up your bags. Unfortunately, there are a number of fraudsters looking to take advantage of consumers in their hurried and hectic state.

Moving fraud

Moving fraud can take many forms – whether theft, ransom, unscrupulous pricing practices or clever, sub-contractor swindling operations. What’s worse is that these unlicensed companies and scam artists are growing in number. http://www.bbb.org/us/article/moving-scams-still-a-problem-for-many-41632

Proper precautions

Before bringing in a company to give you a hand with your haul, simply begin by asking your friends and neighbors for any recommendations. Try accruing a list of four to five companies to ensure a competitive price. If you’re still in need of additional options, take to your favorite search engine. Once you build your list of four or five companies, click on over to consumer review site Yelp to find out what others may think. Finish your preliminary search by checking for any complaints on file with the Better Business Bureau.

You’ll want to call each business to verify the information on the company website and to arrange an on-site estimate at your residence. http://www.cbsnews.com/news/moving-scams-5-tips-to-avoid-moving-fraud/ Upon arrival, go over the details and don’t be afraid to ask any and all questions you may have with the agreement. Lastly, ask for a copy of “Your Right and Responsibilities When You Move,” a document which you are entitled to receive from the company by law. http://www.movingscam.com/articles/how-to-find-a-reputable-moving-company

In addition to these precautions, the Department of Transportation maintains a list of moving company red flags, https://www.protectyourmove.gov/consumer/awareness/protect/red-flags.htm while ProtectYourMove.gov https://www.protectyourmove.gov/consumer/awareness/checklist/movingchecklist.htm is home a to a handy checklist with everything you need to know from planning right through to moving day.

Recourse

If you suspect a scam call the police immediately. And victims of moving fraud are encouraged to file an official complaint with the National Consumer Complaint Database http://nccdb.fmcsa.dot.gov/ to assist in the investigation and help prevent the same company from committing similar crimes against others in the future.