Your Financial House: 3 simple steps


As the year begins it is a good time to get your house in order as well as your financial “house”.

Tina Sutherand

Tina Southerland G&N Insurance

Among the things you should review when you do your tax preparation, is your insurance coverage.  Has your situation changed recently?  Did you make any major purchases that need to be insured?  Do you have adequate coverage for your valuables, home and vehicle/s? Below are 3 simple steps you can take to ensure you are receiving the best rates and coverage. Thanks to insurance expert Tina Southerland at G&N Insurance of Southboro, MA for compiling this list.

Reviewing your finances?  Meeting with your accountant for tax purposes? 

How about reviewing your current personal insurance plan? 

Many people are under the impression that they have enough insurance coverage at a great price.  However, this rarely turns out to be the case. I take pride in making sure my clients are properly protected, while saving on their annual premiums.  Statistics show that 75% of MA residents have not comparison shopped their insurance policy in years!  Fact is, we now have a competitive market and it is definitely worth tackling this small homework assignment.  As an independent agent specializing in auto and home insurance, I have the ability to compare rates with dozens of companies in MA.  Follow these 3 easy steps to obtain a review from me!

  1. Gather your current up to date coverage selections pages for your home, auto and umbrella policies (if you cannot locate one at home, most companies offer access to policy documents online)
  2. Send me a copy of those pages via email or fax 508-342-8381GN LOGO
  3. Set up a time to chat over the phone, or meet in person so I can make sure you get all the discounts for which you qualify.  Email or call me at 508-873-7793

It’s as simple as 1, 2, 3!  I will be sure to email you the proposed new package, outline the savings and any improved coverage limits.  If you decide you want to move forward, I will handle the cancellation with your current agency.  I look forward to assisting you today!

Should I Rent or Buy? 3 Questions to Ask Yourself


The number one question I get asked is, “should I rent or should I buy?”

The number one response I offer…it depends.

It depends on 3 things.  Are you responsible enough to maintain a home or a condo? Do you have the financial resources?  Have you weighed the benefits and drawbacks?

1.  Are you responsible enough to maintain a home or a condo?  There are plenty of people who should lease cars because they just do not take care of them well enough to own them.  You know who you are.  the rest of you know the people I refer to here- the ones with the year’s worth of Dunkin cups on the passenger seat and the pile of mail from last March on the floor!  They never clean their cars and cannot possibly be expected to keep a house or a condo in working order.  It’s a miracle they remember to gas up before a long trip!  These same people are probably better off renting so when something breaks they can call the owner or property manager to fix it.

2.  Do you have the financial resources?  I am not referring to just a down payment or a few months of reserve cash.  If you are seriously considering purchasing a home then ask yourself if you have the ability and financial discipline to live within your means and save enough money for the occasions when things break, fail or self-destruct.  Hot water tanks inevitably die the day you move in.  Air conditioning units fail the first day the weather breaks 80 degrees.  The heat will not turn on the day it is 22 below zero and you are home with the flu.  Folks, I am not joking.  This could happen to you!

3.  Have you weighed the benefits and drawbacks?  Make a list, check it twice and when you finish check it a third time.  You can type it, dictate it or write it on a bar napkin, just be sure to keep a list of the reasons why you would benefit from owning a home vs. renting.   When you own a home you can paint it any color you want!  When you own you are building your wealth.  Donald Trump had to start someplace!



5 Cheapest Places to Live

dollar sign

I just caught this informative article on Yahoo news and thought it was worth sharing with you. Having lived in many states, I can appreciate what MA has to offer (in addition to high taxes and high cost of living).  Personally, I would not trade the amenities, culture, diversity or opportunities for anything. Having access to great music, theater, hiking, biking, beaches, mountains, golf and educational institutions is worth a premium.  But I can see why others find a simpler life, and less expensive one worth pursuing.

5 Cheapest Places to Live

Andrea N. Browne of

September 21, 2011
Don’t mess with Texas when it comes to affordability. Major metropolitan areas in the Lone Star State reign supreme on Kiplinger’s annual ranking of the least expensive places to live in the U.S. Indeed, all of our picks are cities located either in Texas or the heartland of middle America.

The cities on our least-expensive list all have housing prices well under $250,000; homes in one city average less than $200,000. Overall cost of living in these metro areas falls 15% to 20% below the national average.

We ranked the least expensive places to live using data from the U.S. Census (metropolitan statistical areas only) and the ACCRA Cost of Living Index, which is assembled by the Council for Community and Economic Research. The index measures relative prices in several categories, including consumer goods, housing, transportation, utilities and health care, to come up with a composite score for each city. The national average is 100. So a score below 100 indicates a lower cost of living.

Here are the five cheapest places to live in the U.S.

5. Sherman, Tex.
Cost of Living Index: 86
Metro Population: 117,913
Median Household Income: $45,171
Average Home Price: $213,485

Located 60 miles north of Dallas, the Sherman metropolitan area includes Denison and Pottsboro. The population is the lowest of any of the city metro areas that comprise our least-expensive list. Families make up about 70% of the population. Health care is one of the leading industries, providing one of the highest median incomes in our least-expensive rankings. The extra money can go a long way, considering the relatively affordable costs of food and utilities. Monthly apartment rents run just $595, on average.

4. Fort Smith, Ark.
Cost of Living Index: 85
Metro Population: 288,468
Median Household Income: $37,363
Average Home Price: $235,168

Nestled in a bend of the Arkansas River and bordering Oklahoma, the Fort Smith metro area includes Van Buren and Ozark. Low prices for groceries and utilities make it a budget-friendly place, as does a meager average rent of just $456 per month. Owning a home runs a bit higher than some other cities on our least-expensive list, but the average cost of a house is still $320,000 less than in San Diego, the tenth-ranked city on our most-expensive list.

3. Ft. Hood, Tex.
Cost of Living Index: 84.8
Metro Population: 368,682
Median Household Income: $46,183
Average Home Price: $210,383

The Fort Hood metropolitan area, which includes Killeen and Temple, is about 60 miles north of Austin, the capital of Texas. The local economy is anchored in part by a major U.S. Army base. The high concentration of soldiers and military families may help explain why close to 15% of the population is 25- to 34-year-olds. Rent averages $596, and home prices are among the five least expensive in our ranking.

2. Pueblo, Colo.
Cost of Living Index: 84.1
Metro Population: 153,814
Median Household Income: $40,805
Average Home Price: $194,302

Located about 100 miles south of Denver, Pueblo has an enviable combination of decent paychecks and super-low housing costs. Median household income ranks in the top five among the cities on our least-expensive list, yet the average home price is the lowest here. Grocery prices are higher relative to a place like Brownsville, where a T-bone steak, for example, will run you about $8.49. The same cut of beef costs about a buck more in Pueblo. The metropolitan area includes Boone, Avondale and Stone City.

1. Brownsville, Tex.
Cost of Living Index: 80
Metro Population: 383,171
Median Household Income: $30,034
Average Home Price: $209,177

This metro area, which includes Harlingen and San Benito, is at the southwestern tip of the Lone Star State, hard against the Mexican border. The Gulf of Mexico and the popular beaches of South Padre Island are just a stone’s throw away. Rents in Brownsville average $659, more than four times cheaper than New York, the most expensive city in our annual rankings, where rents average $2,778. Utilities can be pricey, but costs for groceries and other consumer goods are exceptionally low. An affordable South Texas alternative to Brownsville is the McAllen metro area, just an hour’s drive away along the Rio Grande.

Like wings? 5 reasons why you’ve got to try The Bone!

Wings at The Bone

When I first learned that a favorite local bar & restaurant was being filmed as part of a SPIKE TV series I was elated! I have been a long time fan of the Chicken Bone Saloon (now known as THE BONE). Having gone to school in upstate NY, wings are a common thread of any party, occasion, game or event. Great wings are hard to come by in New England.

The original establishment had not been updated or altered in decades and was desperately in need of a face lift. While the host of the show, Jon Taffer, was critical and harsh at times, he was able to persuade the owner that change was vital to his success.

The fresh approach and new menu has been well received. I especially liked the plastic serving tray that held the wings in compartments. There was an opening in the center for the bones so when your meal is complete you are not left staring at the carnage of your meal. It’s ingenious!

5 reasons why you should visit The Bone:

1. The flavor of the secret sauce is intense and left me licking my fingers
2. There was ample carrot and celery sticks and individual containers of blue cheese dip so I did not have to share
3. The homemade mac-and-cheese was decadent enough for an adult, even if it was on the kids menu
4. The music selection was awesome!
5. The prices are moderate for the area and the menu truly has something for everyone

One flaw- do not expect great service. I practically had to tackle my server to bring me a check. But it was truly worth it!

Stop by for a quick lunch or a hearty dinner. Framingham is lucky to have The Bone!

THE HOTTEST BACKPACKS- September News from Ali


Please check out my recent email newsletter!

Penne All’Arrabiata
1/4 C olive oil
2 tsp minced garlic
1/4 tsp crushed dried red pepper
1 Can (28 oz) peeled Italian plum tomatoes with juices – or can of crushed
8 oz penne pasta
2 Tbs chopped parsley 

heat oil in large skillet over low heat. Add garlic & red pepper. Saute’ stirring until garlic turns golden, do not brown garlic.

Puree tomatoes and stir into oil, simmer stirring until sauce is slightly reduced and thickened, about 20 mins. Season with salt to taste.

Cook penne in salted boiling water until form about 10 mins. Drain, toss with sauce and sprinkle with parsley.

PREP: 5 min
COOK: 20 min
Serves: 4 entrees

Chillin’ and Grillin’: The Summer Staycation


Feeling stressed out? Need a vacation?  How about a staycation? Summer is a great time to stay put and enjoy your surroundings.  Have a few friends over, grill up some favorites and enjoy!

Time to bring out that grill – here are some top barbecue sauce recipes.  What secret ingredient do you use in your sauce?


If you are looking to stay local but get out of the house, here are a few suggestions from Patch (from Natick, MA).  Garden in the Woods is a wonderful place to stay cool in the shady trees, as is Broadmoor.  We enjoy both of these local attractions.  The Ecotarium has a wonderful polar bear exhibit and lots of things for little hands to touch.  Older kids and adults will appreciate the Natick Historical Museum and the Danforth.  Each have special exhibits throughout the year- check their web sites for more detail.

5 Staycations to Help You Get Away

By Alissa Letkowski

1. Natick Historical Society Museum: 58 Eliot St., Natick; 508-647-4841

It may be small, but a walk through the Natick Historical Society can transport you back in time to Natick’s rich historical roots. Natick Indian Community founder John Eliot’s Bible from the 1600s, items once belonging to Harriet Beecher Stowe, Horatio Alger Jr. and the 20th vice president of the United States Henry Wilson, all who once lived in town.

2. Broadmoor Wildlife Sanctuary: 280 Eliot St., Natick; 508-655-2296

Broodmoor Wildlife Sanctuary offers nine miles of trails to wander through fields, wetlands and woodlands.

3. Danforth Museum of Art: 123 Union Ave., Framingham; 508-620-0937

This museum focuses on American Art from as early as the 18th century. The musem offers around 400 classes and workshops year-round so you can brush up on your art skills as well.

4. Garden In the Woods: 180 Hemenway Rd., Framingham;  508-877-7630

The New England Wild Flower museum features more than 1,000 types of indigenous New England flowers and 40 acres of space. Tours are available to the public once each day. Space for private parties is available.

5. Ecotarium: 222 Harrington Way, Worcester; (508) 929-2700

This indoor and outdoor museum offers a wide variety of exhibits, animals and activities to offer.

Electric Bills Too High: 13 tips for reducing energy costs


With the price of everything these days, it is nice to be able to save money in some areas. The cost of utilities can account for a significant portion of the family budget every month, and the two biggest electric users are heat and air conditioning. It is possible to shave a few dollars off your electric bill every month with some easy to implement conservation measures.

1. Check with your electric company and find out if they offer “off peak” hour usage. An off peak hour is a time of day when consumer energy costs are lower. It’s typically when energy demand is at its lowest. If your energy company does offer off peak hour energy hours, you may find out those hours coincide with your schedule. If so, do your heavy cleaning, laundry, and cooking chores then, instead of during more costly hours.

2. When purchasing new appliances, make sure they are energy efficient. One appliance can cut $100 or more off your yearly electric bill. Imagine what a kitchen full of energy efficient appliances will do to your yearly electric bill.

3. Keep refrigerators and freezers out of sunny spots in the kitchen. The warmth will keep the refrigerator in cooling mode and running more often than necessary. Also, make sure there is air space around the appliance to allow for proper air circulation. Be sure to keep the refrigerator closed. Unnecessary opening will just make the refrigerator work harder. Replace the sealing gaskets around the refrigerator and freezer doors periodically to be assured of a tight fit.

4. Only run the dishwasher when it is full, unless it has a setting for small loads. If your dishwasher is an energy efficient model, it may have an efficiency setting, allowing it to use less water for each wash cycle.

5. When you replace light bulbs, use CFL light bulbs. CFL stands for compact fluorescent lamps. They use about 75% less energy and cost a little more than the light bulbs you may be using at present. But in the long run, the savings in electricity will offset the cost of the CFL light bulbs. Consider using LED lights when possible. LED’s are highly efficient.

6. Consider painting the walls in rooms in light colors, and installing light carpet. The rooms will appear lighter, longer. Which means you won’t need as much artificial lighting.

7. Unplug electronic devises when not in use, especially chargers for cell phones and music players. Unplug power strips when not in use, too. An item that is plugged into a power strip will use electricity even when the device is off.

8. Install programmable thermostats and preset the heat and air conditioning to go off at night and when no one is at home or to turn on just before occupants return home. That way the house is not being heated or cooled unnecessarily and off at times when there is no one home.

9. Install insulation in the attic, if there is none, and apply weather stripping around doors and windows. That will keep cold air from seeping in around doors and windows and eliminate, or at least minimize greatly, heat from escaping through the attic.

10. When doing laundry, hang clothes on a clothesline outside to air dry rather than using the dryer all the time. If the weather is not cooperating, dry the clothes on a clothes rack in the house or on an enclosed porch.

11. Instead of using your air conditioner all the time, install ceiling fans. The fans will circulate the air and make the air feel cooler in the warm weather and warm in the cooler weather.

12. Plant shade trees and other vegetation around the perimeter of the house to provide shade and insulation from the cold.

13. When cooking on an electric stove, always boil water in a pot with a cover. An open pot will lose two thirds of the energy. Turn off the stove about 5 minutes before the food is done cooking or turn the oven off about 10 minutes before the food is done cooking. The food will continue cooking even after the cook top and oven are turned off.

Implementing even just a few of these ideas can save you significant amounts over the course of a year.

What can you do to save electricity right now?

No, You May Not Waive My Commission: I’m a REALTOR


My grandfather always told me, “If you’re gonna go, go first class”. Now, for most of us, that is just not practical when it comes to travel.  But, I think he had a deeper meaning here.  I think he was trying to teach me to be a first class person.  He was also a salesperson and he was very successful selling shoes.  (Yes, I come by my shoe habit quite naturally!)  He was honest, straightforward and no nonsense 100% of the time.  He was a first class guy!

When I started my career in 2001, there had been a report published that stated Realtors were regarded only slightly better than used car salespeople.  That made me sad for so many reasons.  There are a lot of amazing people in this industry and many of them have a lot of integrity.  Like any business, there are the good, the bad and ugly.  I had a LOT of questions.  Had I really a joined a group of people that were so lowly regarded?  What could I do to change that perception? How could I stay above the rest? Now I can safely say that I can accomplish all of these by staying honest, straightforward and no nonsense 100% of the time.

So when I recently had someone, who was not my client, ask me to essentially waive my commission it made my skin crawl!  This is not volunteer work.  I know, because I do a lot of that too.  This is my profession and I treat it as such.  I can only hope that others will see it this way.  I had to step back and reflect on the idea of being a first class person.  I firmly believe that by staying in “first class” will help people like this recognize the value and professionalism of a Realtor.  Only a true Realtor has signed an extensive code of ethics, taken additional training in the state laws surrounding the industry and agreed to be part of this elite group of professionals.

So the next time you have the choice of going first class, I urge you to do it.