Monday, July 26, 2010
But before you ditch your plans to attend a four-year college, note that these jobs do require specialized knowledge, obtained through either a vocational training program or an on-the-job education. (And many people in these occupations do have college degrees, so one certainly can't hurt.)
"There's no high-paying job that doesn't require a high-level skill," says Lee. "You can learn it on the job, but you're going to have to learn it." With the rising cost of college tuition, pursuing one of these career paths may make sense.
1. Freelance Photographer: $47,800 median salary
Lee says that non-degree jobs tend to fall into one of two categories: technical or entrepreneurial. Being a freelance photographer requires a high degree of business savvy in addition to photography skills. Depending on the type of work you do, you might take product shots, family portraits, corporate head shots, wedding pictures, or other images, and then touch up the pictures digitally and send them to clients for review.
2. Private Detective or Investigator: $50,600 median salary
This is another career that requires a lot of personal initiative. Private detectives or investigators might testify at hearings, analyze data, search databases, or question suspects. Knowledge of psychology and the law, critical-thinking skills, and the ability to listen and read body language are also useful.
3. Elevator Mechanic: $61,500 median salary
"When [elevators] break, people are miserable," Lee points out. He adds that the job often requires travel and working at odd hours (for instance, so you can fix an elevator before an office building opens)--which may pay more. Successful elevator mechanics generally have a knack for understanding complex mechanical systems, assembling and disassembling elevator parts, and following safety standards.
4. Nuclear Power Reactor Operator: $79,100 median salary
Since nuclear power reactor operators work with highly sensitive equipment, they need an understanding of physics and engineering, as well as active learning and troubleshooting skills. The higher pay correlates to the highly specialized skill set required.
5. Personal Trainer: $37,500 median salary
Knowledge of nutrition, anatomy, and first aid are helpful, so many personal trainers have a college degree or specialized certification. Since an independent personal trainer's income is tied to the number of clients he or she trains, time-management skills, physical stamina, and customer service skills are assets in this field.
6. Director of Security: $62,400 median salary
Someone might start out as assistant to the director of security and work their way up. Tasks might include analyzing security data, investigating security breaches, and supervising others. Lee says jobs like this are "not a bad track for someone who is more physical or manual, where it's about on-the-job training and less about formal programs."
7. Air Traffic Controller: $60,200
Although the job doesn't require a college degree, the FAA screens prospective air traffic controllers with a pre-employment test and other requirements, so it's a competitive field. The job might entail monitoring aircraft, issuing take-off and landing instructions, and directing ground traffic.
Saturday, July 17, 2010
That's bad news for consumers. Experts say that losses from skimming are approaching $1 billion. Nearly one in five fraud victims reported having their credit card PIN or debit card ATM PIN information stolen in 2009, according to Javelin Strategy & Research. And Robert Vamosi, an analyst handling risk, fraud and security at Javelin, sees ATM skimming continuing to rise this year and next.
"Consumers aren't aware of ATM tampering," he says. "ATMs have 40 years of trust."
Skimming isn't new. It's been around for at least 10 years. What has changed is that the "technology of the bad guy is getting better and better every year," says Robert Siciliano, a security expert based in Boston. "It's up to consumers to watch their own backs."
Typically, ATM thieves use two devices to capture your PIN and card data. One device sits near where you swipe your card and reads the magnetic stripe on your card with your account number. Even more confusing, the device mimics the card slot. "The technology has evolved to a point where the molded plastic fits like it belongs there," says Siciliano. Devices are even readily available over the Internet for as little as $300.
A camera, hidden from view, captures the PIN. "You can get the data in real time," says Siciliano. "You can be in your car with a laptop remotely accessing the device."
Thieves then burn the data onto a blank card to access your money.
U.S. Secret Service spokesman Max Milien wants consumers to be warned. "The public is notified after an event," he says. And don't take bank security for granted. Fraud can occur at any bank in any part of the country. Thieves are even sending out false text alerts to get consumer data.
Banks, they say, are slow to adopt anti-skimming measures. When Javelin surveyed 25 banks, four stood out, though, for their anti-theft measures. They are Bank of America, Chase, Citibank and Wells Fargo.
Experts add that debit card users are most at risk. Typically, consumers must report fraudulent charges within two days, limiting your liability to $50. If you report ATM skimming fraud within 60 days, you're liable for the first $500 of any transaction. Siciliano adds that thieves carefully orchestrate ATM withdrawals, maxing out cash withdrawals one day and waiting until after midnight for the next stash, which quickly adds up.
Here are four tips to help you protect your account.
1. Cover your password with your hand
Hidden cameras are disguised so they can pick up your password. By protecting it, ATM thieves can't access your account.
2. Use familiar ATMs and limit your visits
ATMs in dimly lighted spots or used late at night could be more susceptible to fraud, while ATMs under video surveillance can be safer. Stay away from ATMs at retail stores or restaurants, adds Siciliano. Recently, skimming devices were found on ATMs in a popular grocery store in central Florida. Airports, convenience stores or kiosks are equally vulnerable to ATM thieves. Still, even highly trafficked ATMs outside a bank branch have been targeted by thieves.
Also, try to limit your visits to the ATM. "With frequency, there's risk," says Siciliano.
3. Check bank balances frequently
Given the two-day window for reporting fraud, it pays to check your account frequently. If you don't report fraud within 60 days, you have unlimited liability. "Sign up for alerts and notice unusual withdrawals," says Vamosi.
With credit cards there are more protections in place, and you can dispute charges."You have at least a billing cycle," says Siciliano.
4. Observe the ATM
Vamosi cautions consumers to look at an ATM to make sure a card slot is "legitimate and not tacked on." Look for things that strike you, he says. "Some people have felt that when they inserted their card, something went awry," he says. In that case, try another ATM.
When protecting your account against ATM thieves, "it's all about awareness, paying attention and understanding risks," says Sicilano. "There are 400,000 ATMs and every one of them is susceptible to fraud. The speed and convenience of technology has replaced the security of technology."
Monday, July 12, 2010
Cities along the East Coast endured record-setting highs Tuesday, with more than half a dozen topping temperatures not seen since 1999, according to Accuweather.com. (Baltimore topped 105 degrees, compared with 101 in 1999; and Warwick, R.I., hit 103, up from 97 in 1999.) Power demand during the heat wave is also expected to hit record highs, with many utilities warning of brownouts and blackouts.
Here's how to stay cool and keep electricity bills reasonable:
Fine-Tune Your Equipment
Arrange an HVAC inspection. Anyone can hire a certified technician for an annual check that their home's heating, ventilation and air-conditioning system is operating at peak efficiency. Leaking ducts, for example, could reduce energy efficiency by up to 20%, says Ronnie Kweller, a spokeswoman for the Alliance to Save Energy. Inspections usually cost $50 to $100, but that could be offset by the energy savings over time.
Shop for size. Consumers in the market for a new room or window air conditioner should use Energy Star guidelines to determine how powerful a unit they need. A too-powerful unit not only wastes energy, it's also less effective at reducing humidity.
Keep it clean. Clean air filters monthly for central air and individual window or wall units. Dirt and dust hinder air flow, reducing efficiency.
Program the thermostat. Give the air conditioner a break during the work day. Shifting the settings to allow higher daytime temperatures could cut the average household's electric bill by $180 a year, according to Energy Star.
Seek out incentives on appliances. Investing in a new energy-efficient unit can cut long-term bills -- and be cheaper upfront, too. Through the end of 2010, qualifying central air conditioners are eligible for a federal tax credit of 30% of the cost, including installation, up to a total of $1,500 for all projects. Plenty of states also still have rebates available under the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. A Maine resident, for example, can get $100 back on a qualifying central air conditioner, while Georgia offers $30 for room units and $99 on central units. Check for other government and utility deals in the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency.
Hunt Down Heat Sources
Seal up the house. Cooled air can leak through cracks along window and door frames. Invest in some caulk and weather-stripping to plug up these drafts. A home that's properly insulated and sealed improves energy efficiency by up to 20% year-round, according to the Alliance to Save Energy. (Insulation materials are also eligible for the 30% energy efficiency federal tax credit, up to $1,500 for all improvements combined.)
Avoid chores. The hotter the space, the harder an air conditioner must work to keep things cool. Limit the use of heat-generating appliances such as the oven, dishwasher and clothes dryer during the daytime hours when temperatures are hottest, says Steve Rosenstock, manager of energy solutions for the Edison Electric Institute, an industry group. "That just makes more of a load for your air conditioner," he says.
Change light bulbs. Swapping incandescent bulbs for compact fluorescent ones can cut a home electric bill, Kweller says. Switching one incandescent for a CFL saves $35 in energy costs over the projected 10-year life of the bulb. Not only do CFLs use less energy than conventional bulbs, but they also generate less heat.
Close the blinds. Rooms get hotter without shades or curtains to block the sunlight, especially with south- and west-facing windows. Put this idea to work more effectively with insulated window treatments.
Use fans. A breeze makes the room feel a few degrees cooler. Just be sure to turn it off when leaving. "Fans cool people, not rooms," Kweller says.
Unplug. Gadgets like a cellphone charger or microwave suck energy -- and generate heat -- as long as they're attached to a power source. Standby power for appliances not in use typically accounts for 5% to 10% of residential electricity use, according to the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Plug those devices into a power strip that can be turned off when not in use.
Assess Utility Suppliers
Check alternate suppliers. Residents of states where the electric industry is deregulated can shop around for their energy provider, says Rosenstock. Depending on the options, some residents could save 5% to 15% a month. Many alternative companies use renewable energy, so they're much less dependent on volatile oil, coal and natural gas prices. Most will also fix billing rates for a year or more -- a bonus if energy prices creep up. The state's public service commission should keep a list of options. Just be aware that most providers require a commitment of at least a year and charge a hefty fee for ducking out early, Rosenstock says.
Consider time-of-use plans. A growing number of electric companies are offering so-called time-of-use plans, which offer lower rates for energy consumption during off-peak hours (usually from mid-evening to early morning). The catch is that users often pay more for peak-hours use, so consider the daily schedule before signing up. Arizona-based SRP, for example, regularly charges 10.64 to 12.12 cents per kilowatt hour during July and August, based on the amount used in a billing period. On the time-of-use plan, it charges a flat 21.30 cents for on-peak hours (1 p.m. to 8 p.m. weekdays) and 6.65 cents during the rest of the day, on weekends and holidays.
Fix the bill. Ask the utility company about fixed-bill plans, which charge the same amount every month for a set period, regardless of electricity use. Users pay a premium rate per kilowatt hour to hedge against price increases and seasonal spikes, so make sure to crunch the numbers to confirm the savings, Kweller says. Also, keep in mind that these plans periodically reconcile, which can leave users with a big bill if they've used more than the supplier anticipated. Check with the utility to see if it alerts customers using more power than they anticipated and whether users can pay extra as they go.
Wednesday, July 7, 2010
Reason #1: You're not fully committed.
I always tell clients at our first session together: Weight loss is at least 50 percent attitude. If you're not truly ready to make a full-time commitment to losing weight, chances of long-term success are pretty slim. That's because when efforts are half-hearted from the get-go, people typically lose interest in their diet soon after they start. The sad truth is, it's not really worth starting a weight loss program if your head isn't in the game.
How to Prevail:
My best advice is to do some serious soul-searching and identify a significant and enduring source of personal motivation for finally shedding the extra weight. Maybe it's to better manage health conditions... or to be around for your kids and grandkids... or to finally feel more comfortable in your own skin and boost your energy level.
The bottom line is that this motivation has to come from within YOU. Then, strengthen your resolve and recharge your motivation every single day with positive self talk and daily or weekly goals. I think long term goals are terrific, but short term goals can be even more powerful because they reinforce success every step of the way.
Reason #2: You expect miracles.
Individuals who launch a new diet with unreasonable expectations regarding how much weight they're going to lose each week--or who have an unrealistic goal weight in mind--are signing themselves up for trouble. If you can't match your desired pace of weight loss, you'll more than likely end up terribly disappointed and quickly jump ship.
How to Prevail:
Though you'll probably see a dramatic drop on the scale during the first few weeks on a new diet, most people eventually average out at a loss of one to three pounds per week for the duration of their plan. And if they do shed pounds more quickly than that--say, by fasting for long stretches of time--they're more likely to gain the weight back... and then some.
I know television shows and infomercial success stories lead you to believe that you can melt off fat in a matter of weeks, but the truth is, successful weight loss is a slow and steady process. If you can accept this fact and buckle down for the long haul, you will ultimately be handsomely rewarded with better health, a smashing figure, and newfound confidence.
Reason #3: Your plan isn't sustainable.
If you're following an extreme weight loss plan that doesn't even slightly resemble "normal" eating, there's a good chance your efforts won't last. And, in my opinion, subsisting entirely on shakes, smoothies, cookies, or tonics isn't normal eating. When you view a diet as a short-term deviation from your typical eating habits, rather than a long-term lifestyle change, you will almost certainly have a hard time maintaining your weight loss.
How to Prevail:
A diet should be based on appropriate amounts of healthy foods that keep you feeling satisfied and energized--not cranky and deprived. Most importantly, a diet should be viewed as a launching pad for a long-term lifestyle change. That's because to lose weight and keep it off forever, you really will have to permanently change your eating habits. With that in mind, it's important to choose an eating plan that you can easily transition into lifetime maintenance.
And while I can appreciate how provocative some of these quick-fix, restrictive diet plans can be, they truly are a set-up for failure and yo-yo dieting. Without fail, every restrictive plan has a calorific binge waiting right around the corner. Not the way to go for long term success. Instead, a food plan you can stick with for life is key.
Reason #4: You can't forgive your slip-ups.
This is an incredibly common diet pitfall. When people inevitably give into temptation and subsequently "fall of the wagon" for one meal or one day, they tell themselves they've blown their diet and throw in the towel for good. To be successful, you have to learn to overcome these temporary setbacks. You can't let one binge or one "off day" turn into a full week, or month, of splurging. Unfortunately, it can be incredibly difficult for some individuals to break this cycle of negative thinking.
How to Prevail:
Don't dwell on your mistakes. Instead, shake it off and get right back on track at your very next meal... or the very next day. And always remember, nobody gains weight from one rich dinner or a single slice of cake. The real trouble starts when you allow that one "splurge" to snowball into an all-out eating frenzy. Take it one meal at a time and learn to forgive yourself; every dieter has slip-ups, but the successful ones know how to keep those occasional lapses contained.
Saturday, July 3, 2010
The United States has a reputation for guzzling gasoline, especially in summer, when increased demand and processing costs drive up the price by an average of 10 to 20 cents per gallon. And while the recession has helped reduce U.S. gas demand in recent years, summer heat — combined with unforeseen variables like hurricanes and oil spills — can still wreak havoc with prices at the pump.
But whether you're planning a cross-country road trip or just trying to avoid spending your paycheck on commuting, there's plenty you can do to save money on gasoline. The best strategy is to simply drive less often, maybe carpooling or biking instead, but don't feel discouraged if that's not an option.
Check out these 10 ideas for ways to cut back the amount of time and money you spend at gas stations this summer:
1) Slow and steady wins the race
Gasoline mileage drops off in most cars once you're going faster than about 60 mph (see chart at left). For every 5 mph you drive over 60 mph, you're essentially paying an extra 24 cents per gallon of gas.
Try using cruise control on interstates and other highways to maintain a constant speed. It can also help to use your car's overdrive gears, which save fuel and engine wear by reducing your speed.
2) Be cool in traffic
Aggressive driving — speeding, swerving, sudden acceleration and braking — is not only dangerous, it can lower your gas mileage 33 percent on highways and 5 percent on city streets. Revving your engine while stopped is even more wasteful.
3) But not too cool
Air conditioning can be a big drain on gasoline, so make sure you don't just leave it on absentmindedly, and certainly don't leave it on while windows are open, even if they're just cracked. You can improve your fuel efficiency in stop-and-go traffic by turning off the A/C and rolling down the windows instead, but that's not necessarily always the best idea.
When driving above 55 mph, especially for long periods on highways, the opposite is true — open windows make a vehicle less aerodynamic by letting in air, which increases air resistance and decreases fuel efficiency. On long road trips, using air conditioning could actually improve your mileage by up to 20 percent.
4) Don't just sit there
On top of pointlessly pumping out greenhouse gases without actually getting you anywhere, idling automobiles also contribute to ground-level ozone, airborne particulate matter, and other near-surface air pollution. These emissions can aggravate asthma and even hinder breathing in otherwise healthy people, especially children and the elderly.
If you're just idling to warm up your car in winter, it still only needs to run about a minute. Anything beyond that is just wasting gas.
5) Stay in tune
Fixing a car that needs a tune-up or has failed an emissions test can improve its fuel efficiency by an average of 4 percent. More serious problems, like a faulty oxygen sensor, can reduce mileage by up to 40 percent.
And don't forget to get an oil change roughly every 3,000 miles or three months, whichever comes first (or you could look into installing an Electro-Lube Oil Refiner, which reportedly eliminates the need for oil changes while boosting efficiency 3 to 4 percent).
6) Get pumped
Keeping a car's tires properly inflated can improve fuel efficiency by about 3.3 percent. It's also safer and lengthens the lifespan of your tires, since under-inflated tires lose their tread quickly in addition to wasting fuel. Regular checkups for your tires' alignment and balance aren't a bad idea, either.
7) Take a load off
While it mainly affects smaller cars, carrying extra weight means burning extra gasoline, no matter how big your vehicle is. On average, you may be cutting your fuel efficiency by up to 2 percent for every 100 extra pounds you haul.
8) Develop motor skills
Using the manufacturer's recommended grade of motor oil can boost mileage by 1 to 2 percent. Try to also use the lowest grade of gasoline that's appropriate for your car, since high-octane grades cost several cents more per gallon.
Check your owner's manual to be sure, but as long as your engine doesn't start knocking, you're probably OK. Switching from premium to regular gasoline would save hundreds of dollars every year.
9) There's a cap for that
Gasoline can evaporate from a vehicle's fuel tank if it's able to find an opening, which is bad for your wallet and your lungs. Make sure your gas tank's cap is tightened securely after you fill up, and if the cap's threading is stripped or it fits too loosely, you might want to buy a new one.
10) Join the masses
Carpool or, even better, don't take a car at all — walk, ride a bike, or take mass transit. It saves you money, improves your personal health, and helps the planet by keeping greenhouse gases out of its atmosphere.