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TIP! Six money-smart tips to help new college grads get ahead early on

So you’ve just graduated college with a shiny new degree and you’re probably looking for a job–as well as looking forward to never having to turn in another research paper. This is it–this is the “real world” that John Mayer referenced in his popular, early-2000s hit song. What are you going to do now to get ahead in this new reality? Here are some tips.

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So you’ve just graduated college with a shiny new degree and you’re probably looking for a job–as well as looking forward to never having to turn in another research paper. This is it–this is the “real world” that John Mayer referenced in his popular, early-2000s hit song. So what are you going to do now to get ahead in this new reality?

The Virginia Bankers Association (VBA) has this list of six smart financial decisions college graduates should consider in order to position themselves for financial success as they embark on their next phase of life.

Get this: in 2017, more than 70% of college graduates began their careers owing more than $37,000 in student loans. Considering the additional living expenses you’ll soon face, you would be wise to focus on your financial future right now, folks from the nonprofit say.

“The habits new graduates develop right now will have a big effect on their financial future,” said Bruce Whitehurst, president and CEO of the VBA. “Living expenses add up quickly once you’re out on your own, and many young adults who didn’t plan ahead are delaying major milestones like getting married or buying a home because of their financial situation. The good news is that you can have a bright financial future if you think strategically about money right out of the gate.”

The VBA recommends the following financial tips for new college graduates:

  • Tip #1: Live within your means. Supporting yourself can be expensive, and you can quickly find yourself struggling financially if you don’t take time to create a budget. Calculate the amount of money you’re taking home after taxes, then figure out how much money you can afford to spend each month while contributing to your savings. Be sure to factor in recurring expenses such as student loans, monthly rent, utilities, groceries, transportation expenses and car loans.
  • Tip #2: Pay bills on time. Missed payments can hurt your credit history for up to seven years and can affect your ability to get loans, the interest rates you pay and your ability to get a job or rent an apartment. Consider working with your bank to set up automatic payments for regular expenses like student loans, car payments and phone bills. Take advantage of any reminders or notification features. You can also contact creditors and lenders to request a different monthly due date from the one provided by default (e.g., switching from the 1st of the month to the 15th).
  • Tip #3: Build credit without racking up too much debt. Understand the responsibilities and benefits of credit. Credit history is one of the five areas that the credit agencies consider when calculating your credit score. It is important to start using credit now so that when you apply for a car loan, a personal loan, or a mortgage, you will have a credit history, which will help your credit score. To start building your credit history, shop around for a card that best suits your needs and spend only what you can afford to pay back. Credit is a great tool, but only if you use it responsibly.
  • Tip #4: Plan for retirement. It may seem odd since you’re just beginning your career, but now is the best time to start planning for your retirement. Contribute to retirement accounts like a Roth IRA or your employer’s 401(k), especially if there is a company match. Invest enough to qualify for your company’s full match – it’s free money that adds up to a significant chunk of change over time. Automatic retirement contributions quickly become part of your financial lifestyle without having to think about it.
  • Tip #5: Prepare for emergencies. Hardships can happen in a split second. Start an emergency fund and do your best to set aside the equivalent of three to six months’ worth of living expenses. Start saving immediately, no matter how small the amount. Make saving a part of your lifestyle with automatic payroll deductions or automatic transfers from checking to savings. Put your tax refund toward saving instead of an impulse buy.
  • Get free help from your bank. Many banks offer personalized financial checkups to help you identify and meet your financial goals. You can also take advantage of their free digital banking tools that let you check balances, pay bills, deposit checks, monitor transaction history and track your budget.

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Trevor Dickerson is the co-founder and editor of RVAhub.com, lover of all things Richmond, and a master of karate and friendship for everyone.

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TIPS! How to pick out and care for the perfect Christmas tree

Virginia is home to more than 500 Christmas tree farms. With annual sales of Virginia Christmas trees around $10 million, the Commonwealth’s Christmas tree industry is a strong contributor to the state’s agricultural economy. Here’s how to pick out the perfect one.

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It’s a popular holiday tune. “O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree, How lovely are thy branches.” But how do you keep the branches looking lovely all season long?

“Start by picking the right Christmas tree,” says Joel Koci, associate Extension specialist in agriculture and natural resources at the Virginia Cooperative Extension at Virginia State University.

There are around 350 million real Christmas trees growing in the U.S., and 25-30 million of them make their way to homes across America for the holidays.

In fact, Virginia is home to more than 500 Christmas tree farms. With annual sales of Virginia Christmas trees around $10 million, the Commonwealth’s Christmas tree industry is a strong contributor to the state’s agricultural economy.

So what should you look for when buying a live tree?

Koci, a board-certified Master Arborist, offers tips on how to select, care for and dispose of Christmas trees.

“Trees are like produce. You want the freshest one you can find. The fresher, the better,” Koci says. “If possible visit a cut-your-own tree farm in your area—that’s the best way of making sure you have a freshly cut tree.” If that’s not an option and you’re buying your tree from a lot, ask the salesperson where the trees were grown and when they were harvested.

Buying a Virginia grown Christmas tree is not only an important way to support Virginia farmers, but is also great for the environment, as Christmas trees are both renewable and recyclable, and for every tree cut, growers replant two to three seedlings in its place. You can search for Virginia Christmas tree growers online at VirginiaGrown.com and on the Virginia Christmas Tree Growers Association’s website at VirginiaChristmasTrees.org.

Koci advises talking with your local county Extension agent to learn about the best local trees in your area.

Trees suitable for Christmas have different characteristics so it’s good to know what you’re looking for in a Christmas tree. Here are some popular holiday tree picks.

  • Frasier fir: Holds needles the longest of most soft-needle trees. It’s fragrant, easy to decorate and one of the most desirable and available trees. The Fraser fir is native to southwest Virginia and North Carolina.
  • Spruce: Has prickly needles; loses needles early; is expensive and hard to find.
  • Juniper (Eastern Red Cedar): Native and easy to find in the wild. Its prickly, weak limbs make it hard to decorate, and it dries out rapidly.
    White Pine: Very limp limbs make it hard to decorate; has medium needle retention; and no fragrance.

Whatever tree you choose, remember to inspect it before leaving the lot. Here’s what to look for when inspecting a Christmas tree.

  • Observe the overall shape and whether the needles are a good green color. If the tree is off-color, choose another.
  • Tamp the butt of the tree on the hard ground to shake out old needles and any debris.
  • Once you have selected your tree, have the lot salesperson cut 1–1.5 inches off the end and place the butt in water for a day.

A good tree stand is essential for keeping your tree at its best through the holidays, Koci says. Most trees will have a 6-inch diameter at the base. Make sure your stand is large enough to hold the tree. Water the tree as soon as you place it in the stand and keep the water level around the trunk about 2–3 inches. The tree will keep absorbing water until the tree plugs its water-conducting vessels.

The tree is unsafe and a high fire hazard when the green needles turn a grey/green color and fall off when you pull on the twig. There is no scientific evidence that any additives to the plain water will increase the water uptake and prolong the absorption of water, Koci says.

Before decorating, check electric cords of tree lights for frayed insulation. Do not use if the cord is frayed or if light sockets are malfunctioning. The heat buildup from poorly maintained electrical cords and sockets could ignite a tree. Keeping pets away from the tree is also a good idea.

After the holidays, recycle your tree, which is beneficial, especially for urban wildlife. Used Christmas trees can be placed in a pond for fish habitat or piled in the open for bird or small mammal cover and breeding. Trees can also be placed near a window and decorated with bagels with peanut butter, pinecones with peanut butter and other fruits tied to the limbs, which provide birds a place to roost and feed and birdwatchers a great view to observe the birds.

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Crime

TIP! Take steps to protect yourself during National Cybersecurity Awareness Month

Cyber crime and security breaches are ever-present in our increasingly digital world. Here are some simple steps you can take to make sure your personal information and identity are kept secure and out of the hands of bad actors.

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October is National Cybersecurity Awareness Month, an annual event encouraging folks to be more aware of the ever-increasing threat of cyber crimes, hackers, and other issues. The awareness campaign comes at a particularly appropriate time this year considering over 145.5 million Equifax customers were recently affected by a security breach.

According to the Federal Reserve, more than two thirds of the U.S. population owns a smartphone or internet-enabled device. “Customers use their smartphones for everything – whether it’s to make payments, go shopping or conduct everyday banking transactions,” said Bruce Whitehurst, president and CEO of Virginia Bankers Association. “As usage increases and more data is transmitted, it is extremely important that consumers avoid downloading any app that requests unnecessary permissions or clicking links that may raise suspicion.”

In recognition of National Cybersecurity Awareness Month, the Virginia Bankers Association is sharing the following tips to help consumers protect the data on their mobile device from cyber thieves:

  • Use the passcode lock on your smartphone and other devices. This will make it more difficult for thieves to access your information if your device is lost or stolen.
  • Log out completely when you finish a mobile banking session.
  • Protect your phone from viruses and malicious software, or malware, just like you do for your computer by installing mobile security software.
  • Download the updates for your phone and mobile apps.
  • Use caution when downloading apps. Apps can contain malicious software, worms, and viruses. Beware of apps that ask for unnecessary “permissions.”
  • Avoid storing sensitive information like passwords or a social security number on your mobile device.
  • Tell your financial institution immediately if you change your phone number or lose your mobile device.
  • Be aware of shoulder surfers. The most basic form of information theft is observation. Be aware of your surroundings especially when you’re punching in sensitive information.
  • Wipe your mobile device before you donate, sell or trade it using specialized software or using the manufacturer’s recommended technique. Some software allows you to wipe your device remotely if it is lost or stolen.
  • Beware of mobile phishing. Avoid opening links and attachments in emails and texts, especially from senders you don’t know. And be wary of ads (not from your security provider) claiming that your device is infected.
  • Watch out for public Wi-Fi. Public connections aren’t very secure, so don’t perform banking transactions on a public network. If you need to access your account, try disabling the Wi-Fi and switching to your mobile network.

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Downtown

Hurricane season is upon us: prepare now with these tips and supplies

You don’t need to be a doomsday prepper to be ready for a disaster. Creating an emergency preparedness kit is easy, and will help you make it through a bad storm.

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You don’t need to be a doomsday prepper to be ready for a disaster. Creating an emergency preparedness kit is easy, and helps you make it through a bad storm.

Hurricane Harvey’s devastating flooding is a stark reminder of what can happen when powerful storms make landfall. And Richmond isn’t immune. Thirteen years ago this week, Tropical Storm Gaston unleashed its fury on the area, flooding Shockoe Bottom and other areas around town, requiring a massive cleanup effort that lasted for several years.

Photo: City of Richmond

Richmond leaders met at City Hall Tuesday to brush up on plans and ensure the city is ready when–not if–another storm hits our area. But are you and your family prepared yourselves?

Below are items that you should consider adding to your kit. You can also save yourself the trouble and buy one from the American Red Cross. Store your kit in a waterproof container that is easy to access. Check the kit once a year to make sure the food hasn’t expired, the batteries are good to go and any other perishables like medicine are still usable.

Prep kit essentials

  • Food: At least three days worth of food that doesn’t require electricity to store. Make sure you include a can opener for canned food, along with utensils. Don’t ever use a gas grill inside.
  • Water: You should have at least 3 gallons of water per person. These are for both drinking and sanitation.
  • Radio: You should keep a battery-powered or hand-crank radio with you to monitor weather conditions if the power goes out. Keep extra batteries on hand.A great radio to have is a NOAA Weather Radios. These are receivers that can pick up important NWS (National Weather Service) warnings and alerts for your area. Basic AM/FM radios aren’t able to pick up the frequency that NWS broadcasts are transmitted on, so look for a radio that is Public Alert™ certified or has the NOAA Weather Radio (NWR) All Hazards logo.
  • No Radio? Get the App: The NOAA Radar Pro app can come in handy, but remember during storms or other disasters cell phone service can be spotty or non-existent.
  • Emergency Plan: It’s good to have a written plan with important contacts, addresses, and medications. Keep in mind that your phone won’t do you any good if its battery runs out and there’s no electricity to charge it. Having important information written down may come in handy.
  • Cash: Cash is king when the power is out and you can’t get the ATM to cough up your money.

Other important items

  • Wrench or pliers to turn off utilities
  • Flashlight and extra batteries
  • First aid kit
  • Prescription medication and eyewear
  • Dust mask
  • Sanitation supplies: moist towelettes, toilet paper, soap, and garbage bags.

Extra items to consider

  • Items for infants and toddlers
  • Books, games, puzzles, and other activities for children
  • Pet supplies
  • Local maps
  • Documents like insurance policies, family documents (store in waterproof container)
  • Sleeping bag or blanket for each person
  • Extra clothing
  • Paper towels, napkins, and plastic utensils

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