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Getting Ahead
3rd Quarter 2018

In this issue:

Holiday Shopping Tips for 2018

Smart Speakers 101

Understanding Tire Warranties

Holiday Shopping Tips for 2018

ShoppingThe holidays were never meant to be marked by stress and anxiety. But all too often, the most wonderful time of the year becomes less about spending time with loved ones and more about overscheduling and overspending.

Help keep your holidays merry and your finances bright. Follow these holiday shopping and spending tips to save time and money.

10 easy ways to save for the holidays

  1. Start saving early. There's no better time than the present to start saving money for the holidays. No matter when you start saving, think about opening a holiday savings account that you can deposit money into all year. That way, you'll have money saved for when you're ready to start your holiday shopping. You'll also earn interest on the account.
  2. Set a realistic budget. Figure out exactly how much money you have to spend. And don't forget to factor in wrapping paper, holiday cards and postage. The little extras that are often forgotten are just the things that can throw your entire budget off track if you're not careful.
  3. Make your holiday shopping list. After your budget has been set and you've started saving, it's a good idea to create a list of everyone you intend to buy for. Don't forget to include items like hostess gifts for parties you'll attend, a gift for your boss and that family gift exchange you're included in year after year. It also may be smart to purchase a few small gifts for surprise visitors or a last-minute party. Once you've made your list, keep it handy so you can refer to it often. The list will help you stay on track and keep you from forgetting anyone.
  4. Do your homework. There's nothing worse than buying a gift at full price, only to see that another retailer is selling it cheaper. Before you hit the stores, do your homework and compare prices for the gifts you know you want to buy. From newspaper ads to online shopping that offers free shipping and other holiday deals, do your research and create a "plan of attack" to help your money work harder for you.
  5. Count down to the holidays. There's no better motivation to get your holiday shopping done on time than to make a countdown to the holidays and put it somewhere you can see it. That way you'll always know exactly how long you have to finish shopping and get gifts wrapped and sent, if needed.
  6. Get a head start. It's much easier to make smart choices with your money when you're not waiting until the last minute to shop. Procrastinating only promotes rushed shopping, overspending and buyer's remorse as the guilt of going over budget sets in. So, get a head start and begin your holiday shopping early enough to take your time and make smart choices.
  7. Be thoughtful. When in doubt about a gift to give, get creative and be thoughtful. Think about your most cherished gifts throughout the years. They're probably some of the most thoughtful gifts you've received. For instance, a scrapbook of shared memories or an appreciation book may take a little more effort or time, but they're certainly thoughtful and creative. And they're often less expensive, too.
  8. If all else fails, give a gift card. If you've had trouble finding the perfect gift or you simply run out of time, give the gift that everyone's sure to enjoy. A gift card is the ideal gift for anyone on your holiday shopping list.
  9. Make a payoff plan. If you were able to save some money throughout the year to help lighten the financial burden when the holidays roll around, great. If not, make a plan to pay off the money you've spent once the new year arrives. It's important that you set a financial strategy that works for you and your budget.
  10. Ready, set, shop. After you've made your list, set your budget and done your homework, you're ready to shop until you drop. It's a great feeling to hit up the stores you need and start checking items off your list. And remember, the holidays are a great time to take advantage of price-match guarantees, free shipping and other end-of-year deals.
These holiday shopping and savings tips are sure to help you slow down and enjoy the holidays for what they're meant to be - a special time to spend with your loved ones. Avoid holiday hassle by finding a bank that offers the flexibility you need to help keep all of your finances in order - during the holidays and the rest of the year.

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Smart Speakers 101

A smart speaker is a device that can not only play your favorite music, but can provide answers from verbally introduced questions, and even control parts of your home via a built-in "home assistant" feature. A smart speaker greatly expands what we normally think of as a music playback system.

HomepodThis means that a smart speaker can serve as a central information source (weather, dictionary, traffic, directions, etc...), as well as serve as a "home assistant" that can provide control of common household tasks, such as environmental control (thermostat), lighting, door locks, window shades, security monitoring, and more.

Let's explore the possibilities a little further.

Smart Speaker Core Features

Although there are no official industry standards on what qualifies a product as a smart speaker, the label is being applied to standalone audio devices that incorporate the following core features.

  1. Compact Size - Up until today, a smart speaker has needed to be compact, so that it could be placed anywhere around the house. A small size allows you to place the speaker virtually anywhere (a nightstand, a kitchen counter, on a bookshelf, etc). We expect smart speakers to be offered in a variety of small-to-large sizes as they (or rather if they) gain acceptance by consumers.
  2. Music playback - Smart speakers can play back music like any other speaker, but they aren't designed in exactly the same way. Unlike the speakers that you connect to a stereo or home theater receiver, these are self-contained powered speakers. Also, you can place multiple same-brand smart speakers around the house so that music that you have playing on one, can also play in additional locations simultaneously - similar to how dedicated wireless multi-room audio systems operate, such as MusicCast, Sonos, Play-Fi, HEOS, and others.
  3. Internet - A smart speaker can connect to the internet via your Wi-Fi home network. Initial setup may require the use of a smartphone or PC, which downloads a specific app that guides you through the setup process.
  4. Music Streaming - As a result of network/internet connectivity smart speakers have the ability to stream music from specific online sources supported by the specific brand/model.
  5. Bluetooth (optional) - In addition to internet connectivity, a smart speaker may also provide Bluetooth support. This allows you to stream music directly from compatible smartphones and tablets (without depending on your Wi-Fi network). As indicated, Bluetooth support on smart speakers is optional, but it is included with Google Home and Amazon Echo. In fact, you can stream music playing on an Amazon Echo to additional external Bluetooth speakers.
  6. Voice Control - A smart speaker has one (or more) built-in microphones, that allow you speak commands that the speaker will follow (based on its functionality). So, thanks to its internet connection, you can get the temperature, forecast, raise the volume, etc.
  7. Home Assistant - In addition to voice recognition and control, a smart speaker can also function as a home assistant. Possible home assistant features may include access to local over-the-air radio stations, TV, thermostat, and lighting control, message dictation, audio book playback, language translation, shopping (including ordering take-out and delivery), and hands-free phone calling. However, keep in mind that those added features are provided at the discretion of the manufacturer and none, one, or more, may be built-in. Some features may require firmware upgrades, or integration with external devices that may require an additional purchase (such as a smartplug that would connect to your lights). Also, Google Home and Amazon Echo will work with some third-party control devices, while Apple HomePod will only work with Apple Home Kit compatible accessory control devices.When shopping for a smart speaker, make sure that it will be able to perform the tasks you desire - and if the purchase of additional peripheral devices to make some features work is required.
Why You May Want a Smart Speaker

In today's world, there are some good reasons to buy a smart speaker.
  1. Flexible Music Listening - Replace your clock radio/alarm clock and compact music system, and stop running down your smartphone battery when at home to stream music to a Bluetooth speaker or home audio system - Just listen to your smart speaker.
  2. Convenience - You can easily place a smart speaker anywhere in the house. Also, all you need is your voice to operate it - you don't have to search for a misplaced remote control or smartphone. Also, you don't have to pick-up the newspaper, hop onto your PC, or grab your smartphone or tablet to get the latest news, weather, sport scores, or other information that may be important to you.
  3. Interaction With Other Devices - Depending on the brand/model of smart speaker, it may provide control integration possibilities with other devices around the house that can be controlled via easy voice commands. Also, using a smart speaker for home control activities, although not as comprehensive as a custom installed system, is definitely less expensive.
  4. Sound Quality - Some of the newest smart speakers (such as the Apple HomePod) are going to begin to rival many traditional compact music systems, and other types of home speakers in terms of audio playback quality.
Why You Might Not Want A Smart Speaker
  1. Your Speaker Is Listening! - Just as with a camera and voice-equipped smart TV, your smart speaker may be listening to more than just your commands.
  2. Talking To An Electronic Device - Even though many are used to using voice commands to perform web searches on a smartphone or smart TV, if you haven't experienced that yet, or just don't like the idea of talking to an electronic device and having it talk back to you may be unnerving.
  3. The Money Pit - Just as with most electronic devices these days, there is a cost factor to keep in mind. Manufacturers draw you in with what seems to be an inexpensive smart speaker, but once you get hooked, you may find yourself not only spending money to add more speakers to put in other rooms of the house, but spending more to add peripheral devices to control other parts of your home environment.
  4. You Only Want To Listen To Music - If music is your primary use, and the added features, such as control of other devices around the house, is not important to you, then the option to buy an inexpensive Bluetooth speaker or a jump into a multi-room wireless audio system platform may suit your needs better. Although a multi-room audio system can still balloon your budget, it is focused solely on your music listening needs.
  5. Smartphone and Smart TV vs Smart Speaker - You may already have a smartphone and/or smart TV. Although a smartphone can interact with a smart speaker, there a lot of apps available that enable your smartphone to perform a lot of the same home control functions that may be provided by a smart speaker. Likewise, if home control is your desire, some smart TVs (such as some models offered by LG and Samsung) can also interface, via downloadable apps, with some of the same control systems that a smart speaker can - and also add some video control to the mix, such as baby or security monitoring.
The Bottom Line

The availability of smart speakers adds another dimension to both home entertainment and home control. Combining the ability to listen to music, with the ability to perform other personal and household tasks, definitely changes how we assess the need of traditional clock radio/alarm clock and compact mini audio systems. Whether you choose to take the plunge is up to you, but just like it is hard to find a TV that isn't smart, the smart speaker might eventually push traditional compact music systems off store shelves.

Article courtesy of

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Understanding Tire Warranties

TiresTires are among the most important replacement parts that we purchase for our vehicles. We expect them to last for years - or at least as long as their advertised life. But tires occasionally wear out prematurely. Road debris causes flats. A spare tire is the short-term solution, of course. But then the tire has to be repaired or replaced, and it's good to know if there's a warranty in place to defray the costs.

Road hazards, tire defects and mechanical wear are some of the things that can cause a flat or premature wear. Most tires come with warranties that can protect consumers from having to pay full price on a new tire.

Tire Life
Most tiremakers have determined that the usable life of a tire is either six years from the date of purchase or when there's just 2/32nds of an inch of tread left. While there's no federal law regulating tire wear, Ron Margadonna, senior technical marketing manager for Michelin tires, says that the 2/32nds measurement has been adopted by most states.

This measurement is difficult to visualize without a reference point, but there are at least two indicators that a tire is nearing the end of its life. Tires sold in North America are required to have tread-wear indicators, which are found in the tire tread's grooves. The wear indicators look like small bars of tread that run perpendicular to the groove. If the wear of the tire has reached these indicators, it's time for a new tire.

Another measure is the penny method. Put a penny in the groove of the tire, upside down and with Lincoln's head facing you. The distance from the top of Lincoln's head to the edge of the coin is about 2/32nds of an inch. So if the top of Lincoln's head is showing, you'll need to replace the tire. A similar method involves using Washington's head on a quarter to measure 4/32nds of an inch, but this is a safety indicator, not a way to support a claim that a tire has worn out prematurely.

Tread-Life Warranties
Every tire manufacturer offers tread-life warranties. Nearly every tire has a mileage estimate (the exceptions being some high-performance tires, track/competition tires and most winter tires). The tread-life estimate is based on the type of tire and the number of miles that can be expected under normal driving conditions, Margadonna says. For example, high-performance tires found on a sports car are softer and have a lower mileage estimate than the harder tires typically found on economy cars.

If a tire has worn out evenly across the tread well before its estimated mileage limit, it may qualify for replacement under the tread-life warranty. You must show proof of purchase and proof that the tires were rotated properly at the recommended intervals. In this situation, the manufacturer prorates the cost of the new tire based on the percentage of remaining tread on the old tire and the price of the replacement tire.

Margadonna says this prorating method is similar to how companies reimburse owners under car battery warranties. He uses the example of a tire with an 80,000-mile warranty and a person who was only able to get 70,000 miles of life out of it. "You haven't reached the mileage threshold that we think you should have reached, so we owe you 10,000 miles," he says.

Even so, notes that consumers have to go on driving with potentially compromised tire performance or safety before they can make a warranty claim: Manufacturers won't consider replacement until the tires are worn down to the 2/32nds tread-wear indicators.

Some notable exceptions to tread-life warranties are winter tires and split-size fitments. Michelin is one of the only manufacturers to have a tread-life warranty on winter tires. Owners must remove the tires during the off-season to ensure proper usage and keep the warranty in good standing. "We want them to be on in the fall, around October 1, and off in the spring, around April 1," says Margadonna. "If not, we reserve the right to void that warranty claim."

Some sports cars have different-size tires that cannot be rotated using the traditional method. In split-size fitments like this, rear tires get half the mileage warranty of the front tires. That's because the rear tires wear out almost twice as fast as the fronts, Margadonna says.

Road Hazard Warranties
Tire stores typically offer these warranties, which come into play if you get a flat tire. If the tire can be repaired, the repair is covered for the duration of the warranty. If the tire can't be repaired, the company will prorate the remaining mileage toward the purchase of a new tire. Some companies even throw in free tire rotations for the duration of the warranty.

Road hazard warranty prices vary, based on the tire and the vendor, but on average, they range from $10-$20 per tire. Edmunds editors have mixed feelings about them. Some have put them to use, while others feel that they are a waste of money.

The warranties are a major source of profit for tire shops, but that doesn't necessarily mean they don't have value to drivers. These warranties are essentially insurance policies. If you're considering whether to buy a road hazard warranty, think about how many times you've had a nail or a puncture in your tire in the last few years. Was the amount you spent on repair or replacement enough to justify the warranty? Do you drive in an area where there is a lot of debris on the road? Or are you just the kind of person who feels better when you buy the extended warranty on a product? If your answer to any of those questions is a yes, these warranties might be worth your money.

Some manufacturers, including Continental, Dunlop and Kumho, offer road hazard warranties on their tires. It's typically limited to one year of coverage.

Workmanship and Materials Warranty
The workmanship and materials warranty protects the consumer from any defects in the manufacturing or materials used in the tire. Most manufacturers offer this coverage for the life of the tire.

"Workmanship and materials means that we stand behind the product, should you run into some issue," says Margadonna. Some of the problems that would be covered include severe cracking in the sidewall or the loss of a block of tread. "If there was something wrong with the tire that we were at fault for, as a manufacturer, we stand behind our product," says Margadonna.

If a workmanship or manufacturing failure comes up within the first 2/32nds of an inch of tread, most manufacturers will replace the tire free of charge. Anything after that will usually be prorated.

Manufacturer's Special Warranty
A manufacturer's special warranty typically takes the form of a 30-day promotional trial. This is the best time to determine whether the tires you just bought are right for you. Consumers are eligible for a full refund or credit toward the purchase of another tire if they are not satisfied with their tires for any reason. Bridgestone, General Tire, Michelin and Yokohama are just a few of the manufacturers that offer these trial programs.

In March 2011, Michelin launched its "Michelin Promise Plan," which Margadonna says is unique in the industry. This warranty program has three components: a 30-day satisfaction guarantee, a limited mileage warranty and flat-tire changing assistance.

The flat-tire changing assistance makes the program stand out from its competitors. If a customer experiences a flat tire and does not know how to change it, or just does not want to do it himself, he can call a toll-free number and roadside assistance will install the spare free of charge. If the customer has no spare, Michelin will arrange for a tow to the nearest Michelin-approved repair center for up to 150 miles.

Uniformity Warranty
The uniformity warranty is one that a driver might never encounter. This warranty covers excessive vibration or ride disturbance caused by a tire. For most companies, the buyer has to notify the company within the first 2/32nds of an inch of tire tread.

A problem like that would be "instantaneous" and very obvious to a driver, Margadonna says. "So we tend not to cover ride issues well into the life of the tire."

In most circumstances, a uniformity problem would be covered under the 30-day manufacturer's special warranty, but the uniformity clause is there to protect the consumer against problems that happen past that.

Article courtesy of

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