Where Americans Are Most and Least Financially Literate – 2021 Edition

Where Americans Are Most and Least Financially Literate – 2021 Edition – SmartAsset

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Individuals with higher levels of financial literacy tend to adhere to better financial practices – such as having an emergency fund and planning for retirement – and are also more likely to build wealth further by investing in the stock market. Many Americans, however, lack financial knowledge and do not follow financial best practices. Less than 50% of American adults have set aside three months’ worth of emergency funds, only 41% have tried to figure out retirement savings needs and just 32% have investments apart from retirement accounts.

In light of Financial Literacy Month this April, SmartAsset took a closer look at financial literacy in the U.S. In this study, we discuss the growing number of states with financial education standards along with how adults fare when asked a series of economics and personal finance quiz questions. Using data from the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) Foundation, the Council for Economic Education and Experian, we then identify the states where residents are most and least financially literate. For details on our data sources and how we put all the information together to create our findings, check out the Data and Methodology section below.

Key Findings

  • A mismatch exists between perceived and tested financial literacy. The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) Foundation said in a recent national financial capability survey that roughly 71% of American adults believe they have a high level of financial literacy. However, when tested on personal finance topics, respondents struggle. On average, adults surveyed were able to answer only half of the literacy questions correctly.
  • Midwestern states perform well while Southern states fall behind. More than half of the 10 most financially literate states are in the Midwest: North Dakota, Minnesota, Nebraska, South Dakota, Kansas and Wisconsin. All of them rank in the top 10 states for our financial knowledge & education index. At the other end of the study, Southern states rank in the bottom 10: West Virginia, Louisiana, Georgia, Texas, Tennessee and Delaware. All of these except Tennessee rank in the bottom 20 states on our financial knowledge & education index.

Financial Education and Literacy in the U.S.

The number of states requiring that personal finance be included in their standards has grown substantially over the past two decades. According to data from the Council for Economic Education, only 21 states included personal finances in their K-12 standards in 1998, relative to 45 states in 2020. Notably, only some states additionally require that these standards be implemented by individual districts within the state. In 1998, 14 states required that personal finance K-12 standards be implemented, compared to 37 states in 2020.

Though the prevalence of financial education in the U.S. is growing, many adults struggle when asked to respond to questions covering fundamental concepts of economics and personal finance. The FINRA Foundation’s National Financial Capability Study asks respondents a series of six quiz questions, shown below. Multiple choice answers are shown below the questions. Correct answers are listed at the end of the study in the Data and Methodology section.

  • Mortgage Question: A 15-year mortgage typically requires higher monthly payments than a 30-year mortgage, but the total interest paid over the life of the loan will be less.
    a) True
    b) False
  • Interest Rate Question: Suppose you had $100 in a savings account and the interest rate was 2% per year. After 5 years, how much do you think you would have in the account if you left the money to grow?
    a) More than $102
    b) Exactly $102
    c) Less than $102
  • Inflation Question: Imagine that the interest rate on your savings account was 1% per year and inflation was 2% per year. After 1 year, how much would you be able to buy with the money in this account?
    a) More than today
    b) Exactly the same
    c) Less than today
  • Risk Question: Buying a single company’s stock usually provides a safer return than a stock mutual fund.
    a) True
    b) False
  • Compound Interest in Debt Question: Suppose you owe $1,000 on a loan and the interest rate you are charged is 20% per year compounded annually. If you didn’t pay anything off, at this interest rate, how many years would it take for the amount you owe to double?
    a) Less than two years
    b) At least two years but less than five years
    c) At least five years but less than 10 years
    d) At least 10 years
  • Bond Price Question: If interest rates rise, what will typically happen to bond prices?
    a) They will rise
    b) They will fall
    c) They will stay the same
    d) There is no relationship between bond prices and the interest rate

On average, adults surveyed were able to answer only half (i.e. 3.0) of the above questions correctly. In fact, only 7% of adults were able to correctly answer all six questions. About 34% and 40% of surveyed adults were able to answer five and four questions, respectively. The compound interest in debt and bond price questions were the most difficult for respondents. Less than one in three respondents were able to correctly answer either question. Meanwhile, more than 70% of adults correctly answered both the mortgage and interest rate questions.

Notably, there are distinct differences in performance on the financial literacy quiz questions across different demographics according to education, income and race. The average number of correct quiz questions among individuals earning $75,000 or more and college graduates is 3.6 and 3.8, respectively. In contrast, individuals earning less than $25,000 and those with a high school education or less answered an average 2.2 and 2.3 questions correctly. The chart below breaks out survey respondents by race, showing the average number of correct answers for each group.

States Where Residents Are Most Financially Literate

North Dakota ranks as the state where residents are most financially literate, taking the top spot on our financial knowledge & education index and the third spot on our financial practices index. According to the Council for Economic Education, the state of North Dakota requires that personal finance coursework be integrated into another course in the K-12 curriculum. In 2018, residents correctly answered about 55% of the National Financial Capability quiz questions discussed previously – almost five percentage points higher than the national average.

Minnesota and New Hampshire follow closely behind North Dakota. Minnesota is the top-ranking state on our financial practices index and ranks fifth on our financial knowledge and education index. Minnesota residents have the highest average credit score (739) of any state and the eighth-highest percentage of adults who report paying their credit card bill in full monthly (58.04%).

Six of the remaining seven states where residents are most financially literate are located in the Midwest and West. They include Nebraska, South Dakota, Kansas and Wisconsin in the Midwest, plus Utah and Colorado in the West. All of these states require that personal finance be included in K-12 standards and survey adults rank within the top 12 of the study on FINRA’s financial literacy six-question quiz.

States Where Residents Are Least Financially Literate

West Virginia ranks as the state where residents are least financially literate, with the lowest financial knowledge & education index and third-lowest financial practices index. West Virginia ranks in the bottom five states for three of the seven individual metrics we considered: percentage of adults that believe they have a high level of financial knowledge (67.37%), average percentage of personal finance quiz questions answered correctly (46.79%) and percentage of adults with a three-month emergency fund (42.53%).

Like in West Virginia, Nevada residents fall particularly far behind on our financial knowledge and education index. Though the state includes personal finance in its K-12 standards, only about two in three adults believe they have a high level of financial knowledge, the ninth-lowest of all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Additionally, the average percentage of correctly answered economics and personal finance quiz questions for Nevada is 49.14%, ranking within the bottom 15 of the study.

Across the eight other states where residents are least financially literate, three are not in the South: Indiana, Alaska and Pennsylvania. Of those three, Indiana ranks lowest for both the financial knowledge and education category as well as the financial practices category. Across the seven metrics, Indiana ranks in the bottom five states for its percentage of adults with a three-month emergency fund (44.05%) and percentage of adults paying their credit card bill in full monthly (49.82%).

Data and Methodology

To find the states where Americans are most and least financially literate, we examined data for all 50 states and the District of Columbia across two categories that include seven individual metrics:

  • Financial knowledge and education. For our financial knowledge and education index, we analyzed the state’s financial education score, percentage of adults that believe they have a high level of financial knowledge and percentage of correctly answered personal finance quiz questions. The state’s financial education score comes from the Council for Economic Education. Data for the other two metrics comes from the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) Foundation’s 2018 National Financial Capability Study.
  • Financial practices. For our financial practices index, we analyzed average credit score, percentage of adults with a three-month emergency fund, percentage of adults paying their credit card bill in full monthly and percentage of adults regularly contributing to an IRA or 401(k). Average credit score figures come from Experian. Data for the other three metrics comes from the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) Foundation’s 2018 National Financial Capability Study.

We created our final rankings by first ranking each state for each individual metric. Then we averaged the rankings across the two categories listed above. For each category, the state with the highest average ranking got a score of 100. The state with the lowest average got a score of 0. Finally, we created our final ranking by finding each state’s average score across the two categories.

The answers to the FINRA Foundation NFCS quiz questions are as follows:

  • Mortgage Question – a) True
  • Interest Rate Question – a) More than $102
  • Inflation Question – c) Less than today
  • Risk Question – b) False
  • Compound Interest in Debt Question – b) At least two years but less than five years
  • Bond Price Question – b) They will fall

Tips for Improving Your Finances

  • Take advantage of compound interest. One of the most important things to note about saving is that it helps to start early. Waiting to invest can potentially decrease your total return on a potential investment. Compound interest is interest that’s generated from existing earnings. In other words, when you put money into a savings account earlier, the interest compounds. As a result, you earn interest on the money you initially invested as well as the interest that money has already made. To see how this works, take a look at our investment calculator.
  • Some kind of retirement account is better than none. If a 401(k) is not available through your job, consider an IRA. 401(k)s are often valued more than IRAs since there is a possibility that your employer will match your contributions to the plan up to a certain percentage of your salary. This means that if you choose not to contribute, you are essentially leaving money on the table. However, if your employer does not offer a 401(k) plan, an IRA is another great option. In 2020, the IRA contribution limit is $6,000 for people under 50 and $7,000 for people age 50 and older.
  • Consider working with a financial advisor. Investing and planning for retirement are complicated and difficult tasks. A financial advisor could help you manage your money smartly. SmartAsset’s free tool matches you with financial advisors in five minutes. If you’re ready to be matched with local advisors that may be able to help you achieve your financial goals, get started now.

Questions about our study? Contact us at press@smartasset.com.

Photo credit: ©iStock.com/Damir Khabirov

Stephanie Horan, CEPF® Stephanie Horan is a data journalist at SmartAsset. A Certified Educator of Personal Finance (CEPF®), she sources and analyzes data to write studies relating to a variety of topics including mortgage, retirement and budgeting. Before coming to SmartAsset, she worked as an analyst at an asset management firm. Stephanie graduated from Williams College with a degree in Mathematics. Originally from Philadelphia, she has always been a Yankees fan and currently lives in New York.
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Fastest-Growing and Fastest-Disappearing Jobs in Each State – 2021 Edition

Fastest-Growing and Fastest-Disappearing Jobs in Each State – 2021 Edition – SmartAsset

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It’s no secret that the U.S. unemployment rate peaked at 14.7% in April 2020, as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak — up from a pre-pandemic rate of just 3.5% in February 2020. As the job market continues to rebound with the vaccine rollout and the recent wave of federal aid, which could help many Americans prepare for financial emergencies and boost their savings, Americans looking to be strategic about their job searches would do well to examine employment trends over the last few years to see where the most robust opportunities may exist. Given that some sectors have seen more expansion while others shrank — with varied changes depending on location — SmartAsset took a closer look at the fastest-growing jobs and the fastest-disappearing jobs in each state.

This is the fifth version of SmartAsset’s study of the fastest-growing jobs in each state. Check out the 2020 version here.

To do this, we looked at information from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) for 2016 and 2020 for all 50 states. It should be noted that the 2020 data only partially accounts for the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic as responses were collected from November 2019 to May 2020. For details on our data sources and how we put all the information together to create our analysis, check out the Data and Methodology section below.

Key Findings

  • Education jobs are both increasing and disappearing, depending on location, but growth is more robust than decline. Jobs that fall within the broader category of education, training and library occupations comprise many of the fastest-growing and the fastest-disappearing jobs across the 50 states. These jobs are the fastest-disappearing job type in eight states and the fastest-growing job type in seven states. In the states where these are the fastest-disappearing jobs, they saw an average decline of 71.57% (with the steepest decrease at 82.61% for secondary school career/technical education teachers in Montana). In states where these are the fastest-growing jobs, they saw an average increase of 276.75% (with a high of 466.67% for postsecondary agricultural sciences teachers in Illinois).
  • Jobs are growing almost 4.5 times faster than they are shrinking. The average increase for the growing jobs in this study is 333.00%, while the average rate of shrinkage was only 74.89%.

The Fastest-Growing Jobs in Each State

Education is the leading industry for growing occupations nationwide (even though it is an industry that has seen steep decline in particular states). All told, seven states in this study have occupations in education at the top of their list. As an example, postsecondary nursing instructors make up the fastest-growing occupation in Alaska. In Nebraska, foreign language and literature teachers have grown faster than any other occupation, and in Oklahoma, archivists have outgrown all other jobs.

There are two different job types that are the fastest-growing occupations in multiple states. Bailiffs are the fastest-growing job in both Kansas and Maryland, while psychiatric technicians are the fastest-growing occupation in Nevada and New Jersey (as well as the District of Columbia).

The state with the top fastest-growing occupation is California, where the number of hoist and winch operators (who use these machines to lift and pull loads using power-operated cable equipment) has grown by more than 1,487%.

The Fastest-Disappearing Jobs in Each State

Office and administrative support occupations are the fastest-shrinking jobs in 10 different states. Some of the specific occupations that are shrinking include:

  • Meter readers for utilities in California
  • Word processors and typists in Delaware
  • Correspondence clerks in Florida
  • Proofreaders and copy markers in Washington
  • File clerks in New Hampshire

There are five other occupations which are the fastest-shrinking jobs in more than one state:

  • Photographic process workers and processing machine operators in Alabama, Ohio and Pennsylvania
  • Word processors and typists in Delaware, Missouri and Mississippi
  • Career/technical education teachers in Arizona and Montana
  • Bailiffs in Colorado and Utah
  • Library technicians in Vermont and Rhode Island

In Idaho, the number of demonstrators and product promoters has shrunk by more than 88%, the biggest drop in this study.

Data and Methodology

To find the fastest-growing and fastest-disappearing occupations for each state and the District of Columbia, we looked at employment data from 2016 and compared it to 2020. The 2020 data only accounts for the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic in part as responses were collected from November 2019 to May 2020. We filtered out any occupation for which the standard error for the estimated number of people employed in the occupation was greater than 20. We also filtered out any occupation with “other” in the title. To rank the occupations, we considered the percentage change in people employed in each occupation during this period.

All data, including earnings data, comes from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupation Employment Statistics.

Financial Planning Tips for Workers 

  • Need advice for a career change? If you are thinking about changing jobs, a financial advisor can help you manage multiple retirement accounts from different employers and create a financial plan to keep your retirement and investing goals on track. SmartAsset’s free tool connects you with financial advisors in five minutes. If you’re ready to be connected with  advisors get started now.
  • Taxes don’t have to be taxing. A career change may end up being what is best for some people. With that, you’ll likely have a new salary. See how much of it you can expect to give to the government using SmartAsset’s free tax calculator.
  • Use your budget to prepare for hard times. A budget can be a great tool for planning for unexpected expenses. You can use the budget to set up an emergency fund you can rely on if you lose your paycheck for a period of time.

Questions about our study? Contact press@smartasset.com. 

Photo credit: ©iStock.com/ablokhin

Ben Geier, CEPF® Ben Geier is an experienced financial writer currently serving as a retirement and investing expert at SmartAsset. His work has appeared on Fortune, Mic.com and CNNMoney. Ben is a graduate of Northwestern University and a part-time student at the City University of New York Graduate Center. He is a member of the Society for Advancing Business Editing and Writing and a Certified Educator in Personal Finance (CEPF®). When he isn’t helping people understand their finances, Ben likes watching hockey, listening to music and experimenting in the kitchen. Originally from Alexandria, VA, he now lives in Brooklyn with his wife.
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How COVID-19 Has Impacted Long-Term Job Growth – 2021 Study

How COVID-19 Has Impacted Long-Term Job Growth – 2021 Study – SmartAsset

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While many economists believe that the U.S. economy will return to pre-pandemic levels by late 2021, they are less confident that the job market will bounce back as quickly. According to February data from the National Association of Business Economics, 82% of economic forecasters surveyed expect real GDP to return to pre-COVID-19 recession levels sometime in 2021. By contrast, only 59% of respondents anticipate the total number of workers (excluding farm workers) will return to pre-pandemic levels in 2023 or later. As Americans scramble to boost their savings and map out their job prospects during the pandemic, SmartAsset analyzed data from 720 occupations to project the long-term impact of COVID-19 on the job market.

In this study, we use data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) to examine the coronavirus pandemic’s long-term impact on specific occupations. The BLS annually publishes 10-year growth projections for all industries and jobs in the U.S. After publishing 2019-2029 projections in the fall of 2020 that did not capture the effects of the pandemic, the BLS issued alternate scenarios that model how jobs might be impacted if COVID-19 continues to have either a moderate impact on the economy, or a strong one. We compare pre-pandemic and strong pandemic impact projections to determine the jobs that could be affected most positively or negatively by COVID-19. For details on our data sources and how we put all the information together to create our findings, check out the Data and Methodology section below.

Key Findings

  • Almost three million less jobs. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the BLS projected that six million jobs would be added to the U.S. economy from 2019 to 2029. In their revised strong pandemic impact scenario, less than 3.1 million jobs will be added over that time. With a total of about 163 million workers in 2019, the strong pandemic impact scenario represents an almost two percentage point drop in the preliminary 10-year employment growth projection, from 3.7% to 1.9%.
  • About four in five jobs may experience lower 10-year job growth due to COVID-19. Of the total 720 occupations we considered, strong pandemic impact projections are lower than pre-pandemic estimates for 560 of them, or about 78%. BLS data shows there is no difference between pre-pandemic and strong pandemic impact projections for 50 jobs (6.94%) and that 110 jobs (15.28%) may see increased growth than previously expected.
  • Restaurant, lounge, coffee shop and bar jobs face the most uncertainty. The BLS’ moderate impact scenario assumes that increased remote work is the primary change in the U.S. economy. However, its strong impact scenario accounts for more widespread and permanent changes to consumer and business behavior, whereby both consumers and businesses continue to limit human interaction. As a result, many of the occupations with the largest negative differences between pre-pandemic and strong pandemic impact projections are concentrated in service industries. The three jobs with the largest decreases in expected job growth are restaurant, lounge & coffee shop hosts and hostesses (8.2% to -18.0%); bartenders (5.9% to -13.8%) and waiters and waitresses (3.7% to -12.9%).

Jobs Most Likely to Be Positively Affected

Two occupations that focus on the research of diseases – epidemiologists and medical scientists – rank as the jobs most likely to be positively affected. Prior to COVID-19, the BLS predicted that over the next 10 years the occupations of epidemiologists and medical scientists would grow by 4.6% and 6.1%, respectively. But now the BLS predicts that they will grow by 31.0% and 28.9%, respectively, in the moderate pandemic impact scenario and by 31.2% and 30.7%, respectively, in the strong pandemic impact scenario.

Three other life, physical & social science occupations rank in the top 10 jobs most likely to be positively affected, reflecting the likelihood that more lab research will continue over the next decade. They are biochemists & biophysicists, microbiologists and biological technicians. Projections for all three jobs were more than four percentage points higher in the moderate pandemic impact scenario and more than five percentage points higher in the strong pandemic impact scenario than pre-pandemic projections.

The expansion of remote work will drive demand for information technology (IT) and computer-related occupations, particularly ones involved in IT security, as noted by the BLS. With the change in demand, the remaining five occupations in our top 10 are all computer & mathematical occupations:

  • Information security analysts
  • Web developers and digital interface designers
  • Network and computer systems administrators
  • Computer network architects
  • Database administrators and architects

Information security analysts handle IT for a variety of business and financial companies. Computer network architects design and build communication networks, while network and computer systems administrators are responsible for the day-to-day operation of computer networks.

Jobs Most Likely to Be Negatively Affected

Job growth estimates dropped more than 10 percentage points for 12 jobs. Beyond the three service industry occupations listed above – restaurant, lounge & coffee shop hosts and hostesses; bartenders as well as waiters and waitresses – other jobs affected this drastically include receptionists, flight attendants and cashiers. Across all 12 jobs, flight attendants and restaurant cooks are the only two with expected positive job growth in the strong pandemic impact projections, despite the growth rate being lower than initially projected. Prior to COVID-19, the BLS predicted that over the next 10 years the occupations of flight attendants and restaurant cooks would grow by 17.3% and 23.1%, respectively. The BLS predicts that they will grow by 9.2% and 13.9%, respectively, in the moderate pandemic impact scenario and by 3.7% and 10.9%, respectively, in the strong pandemic impact scenario.

Notably, there are large differences between the moderate and strong pandemic impact scenarios for many of the jobs likely to be negatively affected. For example, in the strong pandemic impact scenario, the number of bartenders may decline by almost 14% from 2019 to 2029. By contrast, BLS projections show that the number of bartenders may only decline by 2.1% over the next 10 years in the moderate pandemic impact scenario. The table below shows the top 20 jobs most likely to be negatively affected by the continuation of COVID-19 and its economic effects.

Data and Methodology

Data for this report comes from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ (BLS) employment projections. We considered initial 2019-2029 projections that do not account for COVID-19 along with two alternate scenarios: a moderate impact scenario and a strong impact scenario. The alternate scenarios identify occupations whose employment trajectories are subject to higher levels of uncertainty. The BLS does not intend them to be precise estimates of employment change over the projection period.

To rank the jobs most likely to be positively and negatively affected by COVID-19, we compared pre-COVID-19 pandemic and strong pandemic impact scenario projections for a total of 720 occupations. We calculated the percentage point difference between those two projections. A positive difference indicates that strong pandemic impact projections are higher than pre-COVID-19 pandemic projections and that those jobs are more likely to be positively affected. A negative difference indicates that strong pandemic impact projections are lower than pre-COVID-19 pandemic projections and that those jobs are more likely to be negatively affected. Though we did not use the moderate impact scenario numbers in ranking occupations, we used them qualitatively to evaluate less severe lasting effects of the pandemic on certain jobs.

Tips for Improving Your Savings in Preparation for a Financial Downturn

  • If possible, keep your budget top of mind. One of the best ways to save more, and bolster your emergency savings if you can, is through budgeting. Our budget calculator can help with this. Beyond looking at how much you spend each month and what six months of expenses would look like, you can see how cutting back on discretionary expenses can increase your savings rate.
  • Consider professional help. A financial advisor can help you make smarter financial decisions to be in better control of your money and navigate the current market. Finding a financial advisor doesn’t have to be hard. SmartAsset’s free tool matches you with financial advisors in five minutes. If you’re ready to be matched with advisors, get started now.

Questions about our study? Contact us at press@smartasset.com.

Photo credit: ©iStock.com/Blue Planet Studio

Stephanie Horan, CEPF® Stephanie Horan is a data journalist at SmartAsset. A Certified Educator of Personal Finance (CEPF®), she sources and analyzes data to write studies relating to a variety of topics including mortgage, retirement and budgeting. Before coming to SmartAsset, she worked as an analyst at an asset management firm. Stephanie graduated from Williams College with a degree in Mathematics. Originally from Philadelphia, she has always been a Yankees fan and currently lives in New York.
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Most Livable Small Cities in the U.S. – 2021 Edition

Most Livable Small Cities – 2021 Edition – SmartAsset

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Almost one in two Americans (48%, to be exact) prefer to live in a town or rural area, according to a 2020 Gallup survey – up from 39% in 2018. And while 27% still say that they want to live in a city, almost two-thirds of that group (16%) prefer a small city to a big one. The coronavirus crisis has also made places with low population densities more appealing, and small cities can offer the energy and creativity of urban life while boosting your savings in an affordable community. SmartAsset compared almost 300 cities with populations between 65,000 and 100,000 to identify and rank the most livable small cities in our 2021 study. 

We analyzed data from 291 cities across the following metrics: concentration of entertainment establishments, restaurants, bars and healthcare establishments, Gini coefficient (a measure of income inequality), home affordability, housing costs as a percentage of median income, percentage of residents below the poverty line, unemployment rate percentage of residents without health insurance and average commute time. For details on our data sources and how we put all the information together to create our final rankings, check out the Data and Methodology section below.

This is SmartAsset’s fourth study on the most livable small cities. Read the 2020 study here.

Key Findings

  • Midwest ranks at the top. Eight out of the top 10 cities in this study are located in Midwestern states, with two in Missouri, two in Wisconsin, two in Indiana and two in Iowa. All eight of these cities rank within the top 70 (out of a total 291) for strong home affordability and within the top 60 of all cities for their low Dec. 2020 unemployment rate. The other two spots in the top 10 are claimed by cities in New York and Texas.
  • Unemployment tracks nationally. In December 2020, the national unemployment rate was 6.7%. That’s the exact same as the average unemployment rate in the small cities we analyzed for this survey, so living in a small city doesn’t appear to be a major factor when it comes to the availability of work. The lowest unemployment rate we found was 2.1% in Ames, Iowa.

1. O’Fallon, MO

Just over 30 miles away from St. Louis, O’Fallon, Missouri leads our study as the most livable small city in America. The city ranks 11th for low income inequality, with a Gini coefficient of 0.36. In addition, it ranks 30th for its relatively low proportion of residents living below the poverty line, at 4.0%. Median housing costs equal just 16.93% of median household income in O’Fallon, ranking 19th for that metric in the study overall.

2. Oshkosh, WI

Oshkosh, Wisconsin is located 75 miles from Milwaukee and ranks 15th in our study for home affordability with a 2.39 ratio of home value to household income. County-level data shows that Winnebago County, where Oshkosh is located, has the highest concentration in the study of bars compared to all establishments (2.63%) and ranks 20th for entertainment establishments compared to all establishments (2.46%).

3. Sioux City, IA

Sioux City, Iowa ranks 11th for home affordability with a 2.25 ratio of home value to household income. This city also has the 14th-lowest unemployment rate in our study, at 3.4% in December 2020. According to county-level data, it also has the 11th-highest concentration of bars (1.29%).

4. Flower Mound, TX

Only 1.9% of Flower Mound residents live beneath the poverty line, the third-lowest rate for this metric in our study. The county in which this Texan city is located has the 14th-highest concentration of restaurants, 9.07% of all establishments. Median housing costs equal 17.43% of median household income in Flower Mound, the 21st-lowest ranking for this metric.

5. Eau Claire, WI

Eau Claire, Wisconsin has the third-highest concentration of bars in our study, at 1.89% of all establishments at the county level, and the third-fastest commuting time with an average length of 15.1 minutes. Eau Claire also ranks 22nd out of 291 for its high number of healthcare establishments, at 14.08% of all establishments.

6. Lafayette, IN

Lafayette, Indiana has the 13th-highest concentration of restaurants, at 9.13% of all establishments at the county level. This city also ranks 15th for its high concentration of healthcare facilities, at 14.30% of all establishments. But 14.6% of the residents in Lafayette live below the poverty line, ranking 200th out of all 291 cities we analyzed.

7. St. Charles, MO

Median housing costs amount to 16.33% of median household income in St. Charles, Missouri, ranking 15th in the study. St Charles has the 39th-highest concentration of healthcare establishments at the county level (13.44%) and the 55th-lowest Dec. 2020 unemployment rate (4.7%) – both top quintile rankings.

8. Ankeny, IA

Median housing costs in Ankeny, Iowa equal 15.72% of median household income, the seventh-lowest rate for this metric in the study. This city ranks 14th for its relatively high concentration of bars, making up 1.04% of all establishments, according to county-level data. But ranks 215th for its concentration of restaurants, which account for only 6.72% of all establishments at the county level.

9. Fishers, IN

Median housing costs equal 15.39% of median household income in Fishers, Indiana, ranking fifth for this metric out of all 291 cities we studied. The city had the second-lowest unemployment rate in the study, with just 2.7% in Dec. 2020. And only 2.5% of its residents live below the poverty line, 11th-lowest in this study.

10. Cheektowaga, NY

Cheektowaga, New York has a 7.6% unemployment rate for Dec. 2020 (the highest rate for this metric in the top 10). Despite this, only 3.3% of residents are uninsured (29th-lowest rate for this metric out of 291). Cheektowaga also ranks 19th for home affordability, with a 2.43 ratio of home value to household income.

Data and Methodology

To find the most livable small cities in America, SmartAsset compared 287 cities with at least 65,000 people but fewer than 100,000 across the following 10 metrics:

  • Concentration of entertainment establishments. This is the number of arts, entertainment and recreation establishments as a percentage of all establishments in a county. Data comes from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2018 County Business Patterns Survey.
  • Concentration of bars. This is the number of bars as a percentage of all establishments in a county. Data comes from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2018 County Business Patterns Survey.
  • Concentration of restaurants. This is the number of restaurants as a percentage of all establishments in a county. Data comes from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2018 County Business Patterns Survey.
  • Concentration of healthcare establishments. This is the number of healthcare and social assistance establishments as a percentage of all establishments in a county. Data comes from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2018 County Business Patterns Survey.
  • Gini coefficient. This is a statistical measurement of income inequality. A Gini coefficient of zero indicates total equality of wealth distribution, while a coefficient of one indicates total inequality of wealth distribution across groups. Data comes from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2019 1-year American Community Survey.
  • Home affordability. This is the median home value divided by median household income. A lower ratio indicates that homes are more affordable and vice versa. Data comes from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2019 1-year American Community Survey.
  • Housing costs as a percentage of household income. This is the median housing costs divided by median household income. Data comes from the Census Bureau’s 2019 1-year American Community Survey.
  • Percentage of residents below the poverty line. Data comes from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2019 1-year American Community Survey.
  • Unemployment Rate. Data comes from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and is for December 2020. This is measured at the county level.
  • Percentage of residents without health insurance. Data comes from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2019 1-year American Community Survey.
  • Average commute time. This measures a worker’s average commute time in minutes. Data comes from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2019 1-year American Community Survey.

First, we ranked each city in each metric. Next, we found each city’s average ranking, with each metric receiving an equal weight. We used this average ranking to create our final scores. The city with the highest average ranking received a score of 100 and the city with the lowest average ranking received a score of 0.

It is important to note that our 2020 study on the most livable small cities in the U.S. did not include one of the metrics we used this year – the unemployment rate in each city. Due to the drastic changes in unemployment at the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, we decided to exclude that metric from last year’s analysis. We added it back into the equation for this year and considered the most recently available figures from the BLS, measured at the county level.

Tips for Managing Your Finances No Matter Where You Live

  • Professional advice can help you make the right moves. Interested in moving to one of these cities? A financial advisor can help you create a financial plan to reach your goals. SmartAsset’s free tool matches you with financial advisors in five minutes. If you’re ready to be matched with advisors that might be able to help you achieve your financial goals, get started now.
  • Forecast your mortgage costs. Buying a home is a serious proposition, and you need to make sure you are prepared. Use SmartAsset’s free mortgage calculator to see what your monthly payments could end up being.
  • Get a snapshot of your retirement timeline. For some people, work demands mean being in a big city for most of their career. In retirement, though, you may want to live a slower-paced life in a small city. Make sure you’re using a 401(k) or any other workplace retirement plan you have access to so that your retirement dreams can come true.

Questions about our study? Contact press@smartasset.com. 

Photo Credit: © iStock/DenisTangneyJr

Ben Geier, CEPF® Ben Geier is an experienced financial writer currently serving as a retirement and investing expert at SmartAsset. His work has appeared on Fortune, Mic.com and CNNMoney. Ben is a graduate of Northwestern University and a part-time student at the City University of New York Graduate Center. He is a member of the Society for Advancing Business Editing and Writing and a Certified Educator in Personal Finance (CEPF®). When he isn’t helping people understand their finances, Ben likes watching hockey, listening to music and experimenting in the kitchen. Originally from Alexandria, VA, he now lives in Brooklyn with his wife.
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Fastest-Growing STEM Jobs in the U.S. – 2021 Edition

Fastest-Growing STEM Jobs in the U.S. – 2021 Edition – SmartAsset

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The COVID-19 pandemic has caused unprecedented job losses across many industries and occupations. However, STEM jobs have been less affected generally. The 2020 unemployment rates for all three STEM occupational categories were more than three percentage points lower than the overall rate (8.1%). Specifically, the average 2020 unemployment rates for computer & mathematical occupations, architecture & engineering occupations and life, physical & social science occupations were just 3.4%, 3.6% and 4.3%, respectively. Keeping in mind that these industries could offer more opportunities to find jobs and save money, SmartAsset identified the fastest-growing STEM occupations in 2021.

In this study, we looked at how long-term STEM job growth may be impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and identified the fastest-growing STEM jobs in the U.S. We compared a total of 72 occupations across four metrics: percentage change in employment from 2015 to 2019, gross change in employment from 2015 to 2019, projected employment change from 2019 to 2029 and projected percentage change in employment from 2019 to 2029. For details on our data sources or how we put the information together to create our findings, check out the Data and Methodology section below.

This is SmartAsset’s second annual study on the fastest-growing STEM jobs in the U.S. Check out the 2020 version here.

Key Findings

  • Jobs with a computer and mathematical focus rank best again. Last year, seven of the top 10 fastest-growing STEM jobs fell under the category of computer & mathematical occupations. The same is true this year. The seven top-ranking computer & mathematical occupations include: information security analysts, statisticians, computer user support specialists, computer & information research scientists, computer system analysts, operations research analysts and actuaries.
  • Medical scientists and epidemiologists take top spots. With the COVID-19 pandemic placing a renewed emphasis on the research of human diseases, two occupations that fall within the physical & social science category rank in our top 10. In projections not accounting for the COVID-19 pandemic, the BLS predicted the occupations of medical scientists and epidemiologists would grow by 6.1% and 4.6%, respectively, over the next 10 years. By contrast, projections accounting for COVID-19 and its effects predict the two occupations will grow by upwards of 28% and 31%.

How Will STEM Be Affected by COVID-19 Long-Term?

Annually, the BLS publishes 10-year growth projections for all jobs in the U.S. After publishing 2019-29 projections in the fall that did not capture the effects of the pandemic, the BLS recently issued alternate scenarios that model how jobs could change if COVID-19 continues to have either a strong impact on the economy or a moderate one. Projections from the BLS show that STEM jobs may actually grow more quickly over the next 10 years than previously projected. The chart below maps pre-pandemic, moderate pandemic impact and strong pandemic impact projections for the three occupational categories of STEM jobs.

According to pre-pandemic estimates, computer and mathematical occupations were expected to grow by 12.1%. In the BLS’ moderate and strong pandemic impact scenarios, computer and mathematical occupations are expected to grow by 15.4% and 16.1%, respectively. Similarly, life, physical & social science occupations are expected to grow by three percentage points more in both alternate scenarios compared to initial projections. The table below shows how percentage growth figures map to expected changes in number of workers.

Taking into account both moderate and strong pandemic impact scenarios, the BLS predicts that in total there will be close to 1 million more STEM jobs in 2029 than there were in 2019. For a comparison, the BLS previously projected that the number of STEM jobs would have increased by about 730,400 from 2019 to 2029.

Computer and Mathematical Occupations

Information security analyst jobs lead the pack as the fastest-growing STEM jobs, moving up from the No. 2 spot last year. Between 2015 and 2019, the number of information security analysts grew by almost 36,700 workers, or 41.28%. This is the third-highest growth in number of workers and percentage change across all 72 STEM jobs in our study. According to BLS projections, the occupation of information security analysts will expand by about 42% from 2019 to 2029 with the addition of 55,200 new workers – the highest rate and second-highest gross increase in our study.

Statisticians, computer user support specialists, computer & information research scientists, computer system analysts, operations research analysts and actuaries are the other six computer & mathematical occupations ranking in our top 10. From 2015 to 2019, statisticians had the greatest percentage growth out of the six (about 31%), while computer user support specialists had the largest gross increase (almost 62,300 workers). The BLS predicts that over the next 10 years, the occupation of computer support specialist will continue to overtake computer systems analyst. It is expected to add 58,500 workers, which is the greatest 10-year expected growth in number of workers overall.

Architecture and Engineering Occupations

Industrial engineers are the only architecture & engineering occupation in our top 10 fastest-growing STEM jobs. From 2015 to 2019, the occupation grew roughly 44,100 workers, or 17.83%. That gross four-year change is the second highest in our study. Looking forward, the BLS expects the occupation of industrial engineer to grow by 10.9% in its moderate pandemic impact scenario. This growth would mark the addition of 32,200 new workers – the sixth-highest 10-year increase in number of workers in the study.

Three other types of engineers – mechanical, electrical and civil – rank in our top 20. From 2015 to 2019, civil engineers were the fastest-growing occupation out of the three. The number of civil engineers in the U.S. grew by more than 35,600, or almost 13%, over that time. However, the BLS expects mechanical and electrical engineering occupations to be in higher demand than civil engineering occupations over the next 10 years. From 2019 to 2029, the number of mechanical and electrical engineering jobs is expected to jump by 13,000 and 9,400 respectively, which is much higher than the 3,900 jobs projected for civil engineers over that same time frame. In percentage terms, those increases mark a 4.1% and 4.9% growth in mechanical and electrical engineering jobs, respectively, but only a 1.2% jump in civil engineering jobs.

Life, Physical and Social Science Occupations

Last year, medical scientist (not including epidemiologists) was the highest-ranking life, physical & social science occupation, tying for 10th place with architect (which excludes landscape and naval). It ranks second this year, with the separate epidemiologist job also ranking in our top 10. Across the four metrics we considered, both medical scientists and epidemiologists rank particularly well for their 10-year expected percentage growth. In the moderate pandemic impact scenario, the BLS expects medical scientist jobs to grow by 28.9% and epidemiologist jobs to grow by 31.0%.

Our top 25 includes 10 other life, physical and social science occupations. Biological technicians and forensic science technicians rank best out of the 10. Both occupations rank in the top half for all four metrics we considered. The occupation of biological technicians ranks particularly well for its four-year growth in number of workers (6,630) and 10-year expected growth in number of workers (8,200). The forensic science technicians occupation ranks higher for the two percentage change metrics, with the 11th-highest four-year percentage employment change (17.41%) and the 10th-highest 10-year expected percentage employment growth (14.0%).

Data and Methodology

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) defines science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) occupations as including computer & mathematical, architecture & engineering, and life & physical science occupations, as well as managerial and postsecondary teaching occupations related to those functional areas and sales occupations requiring scientific or technical knowledge at the postsecondary level. For the purposes of this report, we considered only occupations falling under the first three categories.

To find which STEM jobs are growing the fastest, we compared 72 BLS-defined occupations across the following four metrics:

  • Four-year percentage change. Data comes from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and is for 2015 to 2019.
  • Four-year growth in number of workers. Data comes from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and is for 2015 to 2019.
  • 10-year expected percentage growth. Projections come from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and is for 2019 to 2029. They account for a moderate pandemic impact.
  • 10-year expected growth in number of workers. Projections come from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and is for 2019 to 2029. They account for a moderate pandemic impact.

Using the four metrics above, we ranked each occupation in every metric, giving all metrics an equal weighting. We then found each occupation’s average ranking and used the average to determine a final score. The occupation with the highest average ranking received a score of 100. The occupation with the lowest average ranking received a score of 0.

Saving Tips for STEM Workers

  • Contribute to a 401(k) or IRA. One of the best ways to save is through a retirement savings account. A 401(k) is an employer-sponsored defined contribution plan in which you divert pre-tax portions of your monthly paycheck into a retirement account. Some employers will also match your 401(k) contributions up to a certain percentage of your salary, meaning that if you chose not to contribute, you are essentially leaving money on the table. Our 401(k) calculator can help you determine what you saved for retirement so far and how much more you may need. If your employer does not offer a 401(k) plan, an IRA is another great option.
  • Consider professional help. A financial advisor can help you make smarter financial decisions to be in better control of your money. Finding the right financial advisor doesn’t have to be hard. SmartAsset’s free tool matches you with financial advisors in five minutes. If you’re ready to be matched with local advisors that will help you achieve your financial goals, get started now.

Questions about our study? Contact us at press@smartasset.com.

Photo credit: iStock.com/sanjeri

Stephanie Horan, CEPF® Stephanie Horan is a data journalist at SmartAsset. A Certified Educator of Personal Finance (CEPF®), she sources and analyzes data to write studies relating to a variety of topics including mortgage, retirement and budgeting. Before coming to SmartAsset, she worked as an analyst at an asset management firm. Stephanie graduated from Williams College with a degree in Mathematics. Originally from Philadelphia, she has always been a Yankees fan and currently lives in New York.
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Lavish and Luxe Bird Streets Mansion Perches Atop the Market at $34M

It isn’t easy these days to come up with a multimillion-dollar renovation in Los Angeles’ Bird Streets that truly stands out.

An array of modern boxes rub elbows with each other on the hillsides—all with jetliner views, walls of glass, infinity pools, wine rooms, and elaborate spas. One even has a walk-in shark tank, and another a dedicated cannabis growing room.

So what makes this modern six-bedroom, 7.5-bathroom residence so special that it merits the representation of not one, not two, but three agents coming together to list it for $34 million?

“My favorite feature of this spectacular new contemporary Bird Streets estate is the 60-foot, retractable, dimmable skylight that runs the width of the property,” says James Harris.

He’s listing the property along with his partner, David Parnes, of “Million Dollar Listing Los Angeles” and Mauricio Umansky, a staple on “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.” They’re all with The Agency.

That remarkable skylight is not something that has hitherto been seen in these parts. Created by the renowned luxury architect Zoltan Pali and the award-winning home builder Dugally Oberfeld, the roof opening is quite an attraction. As is the 106-foot swimming pool with a view, plus a stainless-steel lilypond built right in.

Bird Streets modern
Bird Streets modern

realtor.com

Sixty-foot retractable skylight
Sixty-foot retractable skylight

realtor.com

The length of the pool is 106 foot.
The length of the pool is 106 foot.

realtor.com

Stainless-steel lilypond
Stainless-steel lilypond

realtor.com

“The property is masterfully positioned to maximize far-reaching canyon, city, and water views, while landscaped for absolute privacy,” adds Harris.

Living room
Living room

realtor.com

Of course, the expansive, 11,583-square-foot modern, completed earlier this year, also has the floor-to-ceiling walls of glass, automated glass pocket doors, and an open floor plan that takes full advantage of the views and is ideal for entertaining.

Great room
Great room

realtor.com

Other standout features include a cascading water wall, two Poliform kitchens, plus a multiroom “wellness center” with a sauna, steam room, gym, hot tub, and massage room.

The center also has a saltwater floating isolation “DreamPod,” that users claim calms the mind, heals the muscles, reduces stress, and enhances longevity.

One of two kitchens
One of two kitchens

realtor.com

Wellness-center sauna
Wellness-center sauna

realtor.com

Massage room
Massage room
Gym
Gym

realtor.com

DreamPod lounge
DreamPod lounge

realtor.com

The primary suite is a bit of a dream as well. It features an expansive terrace, built-in custom Italian bed, and a Poliform dressing room that could double as a living room. There’s a luxe bathroom with textured marble walls.

Primary suite
Primary suite

realtor.com

Closet
Closet

realtor.com

Primary bathroom
Primary bathroom

realtor.com

The half-acre hillside lot that the home is built on last changed hands in 2013, for $5.95 million. The former home that inhabited the lot was completely demolished to make way for this one.

The location, right on the border of the famed Trousdale Estates, is valued for its proximity to both Beverly Hills and West Hollywood, as well as the film and TV studios just over nearby Coldwater Canyon.

Pool with a view
Pool with a view

Source: realtor.com

Leanne Ford Infuses a Pittsburgh Home With Parisian Flair—Take a Look

Steve and Leanne Ford love renovating homes in their hometown of Pittsburgh, yet in the latest episode of “Home Again With the Fords,” this brother-and-sister team is thinking about a whole different city: Paris.

In “Paris in Pittsburgh,” Steve and Leanne meet Bridgette and Dan, high school sweethearts who’ve been around the world. But now, with two young kids, they’re ready to return home to Pittsburgh and settle in the neighborhood of Franklin Park.

However, it seems they’ve brought back a love of European style, because they ask Leanne to bring some Parisian flair into their home, hoping the space could feel like a chic “Pittsburgh pied-à-terre.”

But Leanne and Steve have a lot on their to-do list as it is. With four different types of flooring and a stuffy style, this house needs lots of work. And with only $80,000 to work with, Leanne will need to be smart with her budget.

Read on to see how Leanne adds some Parisian style to this home, which might inspire you to copy her moves for a mental mini vacation.

Give your living room a dark fireplace feature

Leanne Ford thought this white fireplace wasn't working.
Leanne Ford thought this white fireplace wasn’t working.

HGTV

Bridgette and Dan love their new house, but they hate the wallpaper in the living room. So Steve and Leanne remove the wallpaper and replace it with clean, white walls. However, once the room is painted, it looks a little stark.

Leanne decides to put some color back into the room by making the fireplace darker. She starts with a black marble hearth and realizes that painting the mantel to match could add even more style to the space.

This black fireplace serves as a statement piece.
This black fireplace serves as a statement piece.

HGTV

“We’re making the mantel high-gloss black to tie into the marble around the hearth, and it’s going to feel really, very cool and modern,” Leanne says.

When the fireplace is finished, it stands out as a bold feature in this minimalist living room. Now, this room feels a little more exciting, a little more European, and way more chic.

Love wainscoting? Install cabinets with the same look

These cabinets are inspired by the paneling in the living room.
These cabinets are inspired by the paneling in the living room.

HGTV

While Bridgette and Dan say that they hate the wallpaper in the living room, they make a point to mention how much they love the wainscoting.

Leanne agrees that the beautiful paneling is too nice to take out. In fact, she loves the look so much that she’s inspired to bring a similar look to the kitchen cabinets.

“The cabinets are all custom-built, and the style is a rip-off of the molding that Dan and Bridgette already had in their living room,” Leanne explains once the cabinets are installed. “I love playing with molding, which is in every gorgeous French pied-à-terre.”

The stylish cabinets elevate the kitchen, giving the whole room a hint of old-world French elegance.

Use a two-tone countertop for an edgy, modern style

These kitchen counters are a mix of light and dark.
These kitchen counters are a mix of light and dark.

HGTV

When Leanne is designing the kitchen, she runs into a big problem. While she loves a particular type of marble, she can’t get enough of it to cover the entire island. So she gets an idea to use the marble she loves, paired with a dark marble with complementary veining.

“My idea is to split the island at a diagonal, using white marble with gray veins at one side and black marble with some gray veining on the other,” Leanne says. “It’s going to look super cool.”

This countertop is the best of both worlds.
This countertop is the best of both worlds.

HGTV

When the marble is finished, the two colors look great. It’s a unique, modern look, and Steve especially likes it.

“Honestly, if it was all black, I feel like it would be too dark,” he says, “but because it has that white and the black, it’s like the perfect countertop now.”

In keeping with the French theme, Leanne declares, “The marble is the pièce de résistance in this home.”

Use transitions between flooring styles

With so many different types of flooring, Leanne and Steve Ford knew they needed a way to transition between styles.
With so many different types of flooring, Leanne and Steve Ford knew they needed a way to transition between styles.

HGTV

One of the biggest problems with this house is the flooring. When Steve and Leanne first tour the house, they’re surprised to see not one, not two, but four different parquet patterns in various rooms. They know something needs to be done.

While they replace the kitchen floor, they don’t want to replace all of the original parquet, so they come up with a way to make the different patterns work together.

Now, the different flooring styles can flow together.
Now, the different flooring styles can flow together.

HGTV

Leanne tells Bridgette and Dan that they’ll install wider, heavier transitions between the floors.

“It feels more purposeful and turns it into a beautiful thing as opposed to an afterthought,” Leanne explains.

They end up installing planks of wood in a diagonal to make the transition seem more intentional, and in the end, Bridgette and Dan get to keep the beautiful parquets in a way that works.

Paint everything white to pull it together

Too many tones can be distracting.
Too many tones can be distracting.

HGTV

While Leanne and Steve notice a lot of different floors, they also take note of the busy walls.

“Visually, there’s a lot going on in this house still with the trim, with the crown molding. I mean, there’s so many different tones of wood,” Leanne says.

Luckily, she has an easy fix and decides to have the interior painted a clean, crisp white.

“By giving it all the same coat of white paint, it’s going to simplify,” Leanne says.

With a monochromatic tone, it’ll be easier to appreciate the textured details of this house, like the vertical wood paneling and the brick accents, all while leaving the home with a clean, European style.

With a coat of white paint, Leanne is able to make the different materials work together.
With a coat of white paint, Leanne is able to make the different materials work together.

HGTV

Source: realtor.com

Top 5 Fall Home Maintenance and Safety Tips

As summer begins to wind down, it’s time to start thinking about the fall. Not just football season and haunted houses, but getting our homes ready for the transition to the cooler months and possibility for inclement weather ahead. Not only will these tips help keep your home more energy-efficient, but they can also actually keep your home safe and secure. 

Lawn and Garden Tool Maintenance

After you’ve given your lawn its last mow of the season, it’s a good time to drain any remaining fuel and give it a good wash. This applies to any other gas-powered lawn equipment you may have used over the summer, too. Leaving gas inside of these machines could break down the mechanics especially after months of not being used. You should also be mindful of your sprinkler systems, drain them if necessary, and any garden hoses, which should be kept indoors during colder months. Hose bibs that are still connected have the potential to burst when the temperatures dip. 

Gardening and landscaping concept - worker, gardener working with lawnmower and cutting grass in gardenGardening and landscaping concept - worker, gardener working with lawnmower and cutting grass in garden

Trim Branches, Bushes, and Other Foliage

Spring and summer help the trees and bushes around our homes thrive and grow but during fall and winter it’s important to look for any overhanging tree branches that may pose a threat. If they hang over roof lines they could cause potential damage, not only from inclement weather should they fall, but it creates a foliage bridge for the critters in the trees. As the weather gets colder those critters are going to look for places to keep them warm, like your chimney or attic, so be sure to trim back any overhanging branches near your home. Take a look at your shrubbery and give them a trim if they intrude on walkways or exterior doors. When the seasons change, so does the amount of daylight we have and you want to make sure nothing could potentially be hiding after dark.

Exterior Maintenance and Repairs

Check your weather stripping around doors and windows and replace or repair where necessary. These little open areas can allow cold air in and warm air out which will increase your heating bills. This applies to caulk around windows and doors as well. While you’re checking the seals, also make sure your windows are free of cracks. 

Hands of worker using a silicone tube for repairing of window indoorHands of worker using a silicone tube for repairing of window indoor

Heating System, Fireplace, and Chimney inspection

Did you know that you should have your HVAC system inspected twice a year? Right before you turn your air conditioner on and again right before you turn your heat on. You can also check with your local electric/gas company as some offer programs to check how energy efficient your system is working. This would also be a great time to have your chimney and fireplace checked. Making sure that your flue is opening properly and your chimney is clear of soot can help prevent a potential fire. Another place that should be cleared out periodically is your dryer vent. Get into the habit of clearing out your dryer vent every couple of months to also prevent a fire in your dryer from the built-up lint.

Smoke Alarms

Typically it’s recommended to change out the batteries in our smoke alarms when we adjust our clocks for the time change. The other thing that may need to be swapped out is the smoke alarm itself. According to the U.S. Fire Administration, we should replace our actual smoke alarm every 10 years. The manufacture date can be found on the underside of the smoke alarm. If it is time to replace, you may want to consider some of the newer smart home smoke alarms that work with your Alexa. 

Home maintenance is essential to keep your investment looking gorgeous. By taking the time each season to do these necessary steps, you can keep also ensure to keep your home safe and cozy for your family for years to come. 

If you’re looking to buy, rent or sell, visit Homes.com to find step-by-step guides that will walk you through the entire journey from beginning to end.


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Brooke has a lifestyle blog called Cribbs Style and currently lives in Charleston, SC. This wife, mom of two almost tweens, and mom of three fur children enjoys all things DIY and organizing. When she’s not helping others tackle the chaos of life, she’s either working out, at the beach, or just enjoying time with family and friends.

Source: homes.com

How to Turn Your Bathroom into a Spa-Inspired Escape

Your home should feel like a calm and comfortable space where you can unwind, relax, and recharge. Here are tangible ways to let the soothing qualities of a day at the spa inspire your bathroom decor.

1. Aromatherapy: Choose scents that match your desired mood and intention. If you are stressed, nervous, or can’t sleep use scents like bergamot, chamomile, cinnamon, lavender, clove, rose, sandalwood, or vanilla. If you are feeling a bit melancholy, use scents like clary sage, cypress, or marjoram. Tired and fatigued? Try cinnamon, cypress, eucalyptus, fennel, lemon, peppermint, sage, or spiced apple. Learn more at Underground Health, then set up a collection that makes scents for you!

2. Vanity: You’ll feel like a celebrity when you do your makeup at your vanity. As an extra perk, you can keep all of your beauty products and jewelry organized and accessible.

3. Mood Lighting: Skip the florescent bulbs. Your lighting affects your mood. Take some cues from the New York Times article, LEDs Change Thinking About the Light Bulb.

4. Calm Colors: Use the principles of color psychology when you choose your paint colors. In an interview with WebMD the color consultant Leslie Harrington recommends painting the bathroom in shades of blue, green, or turquoise. These colors, “give a sense of being clean and fresh — and calm.”

5. Little Luxuries: Incorporate little luxuries like, fresh flowers, a heated towel rack, pretty soaps and storage containers, a bath pillow, bath salts, fluffy bathrobes, and an additional shower head.

6. Storage Space: Keep your bathroom clean, open, and clutter-free. Recent studies have shown that clutter causes stress. Don’t let a mess ruin your at-home oasis.

Now the only thing left to do is to draw a bath, pick up a good book, and relax.

Source: century21.com

‘Marriage or Mortgage’: Nichole Holmes Reveals Why Real Estate Trumps Romance

What’s a better use of your hard-earned money: a big, beautiful wedding or a house of your own? That’s the question posed on a new Netflix reality show, “Marriage or Mortgage.”

In the show (premiering on Wednesday), real estate agent Nichole Holmes and wedding planner Sarah Miller compete for the business of 10 engaged couples who are trying to decide whether to splurge on a wedding or their first home.

“It’s up to Sarah and myself to make sure that we do right by them,” Holmes says of the couples. “I find the best real estate and offer it up to them, and she shows them the fanciest weddings and then they get to decide.”

And while a big wedding may be lots of fun, Holmes, who hails from Marion, IL, argues that a home is typically the smarter investment.

In this exclusive interview, Holmes dishes about her own personal experience deciding between a wedding and a home, why she regrets her choice, and her hard-won wisdom for other home buyers.

Sarah Miller (left) and Nichole Holmes in "Marriage or Mortgage"
Sarah Miller (left) and Nichole Holmes in “Marriage or Mortgage”

©NETFLIX 2021

Have you personally ever had to decide between buying a house and having a big wedding?

I have! I’ve been married twice before, it’s my history, so I’m always happy to talk about it.

My first wedding was a very large and extravagant wedding, and my father came to me and said, “Are you sure you don’t want a big down payment on a house or two matching luxury cars in the driveway?” And I was, like, “No, I’ve got to have my big day, Daddy!” Well, fast-forward seven years, and I got divorced. And then I was amortizing how much everything cost, and what it cost per year that the marriage lasted, and I was, like, “Wow, that really wasn’t a smart financial decision on my part!”

When I got married the second time, I learned from the first one, and we went to the courthouse. It was a very low-key wedding, but that one still didn’t work. Still, I understand this is a union that people feel drawn to, and that’s amazing.

Why is a house such a good investment for a couple?

A couple won’t make money off of a wedding. But if they listen to their real estate agent, a home can be a great investment.

So to me, having gone through what I went through, it just makes good sense to me to take that money and put it into a down payment and find the dream home. Or not even a dream home. Maybe you buy your “right now” home because you can make money off those, too.

Holmes shows engaged couples their dream home, hoping they'll invest in real estate rather than a fancy wedding.
Holmes shows engaged couples their dream home, hoping they’ll invest in real estate rather than a fancy wedding.

©NETFLIX 2021

You spend most of your time on ‘Marriage or Mortgage’ showing couples houses. What should they be looking for?

It’s important for couples to have an open mind. For example, if you perhaps want to be in a specific school district, you may need to compromise on something like yard size. There are always compromises. Otherwise it would be “Marriage and Mortgage,” not “Marriage or Mortgage.”

I once had a young lady who wanted a grand staircase and all of these other things. I was just striking out with each house that I showed her. Everybody’s time is valuable, so I was, like, “You know what, would you be interested in building a home?” Because what she was describing wasn’t necessarily something that I thought we were going to find in the market, at that price range. Yet, they could have built it, at the time, in their price range, so that’s what happened!

Holmes and Sarah Miller toast one couple's pending nuptials.
Holmes and Sarah Miller toast one couple’s pending nuptials.

©NETFLIX 2021

Do you have any tips for house-hunting couples who are trying to avoid butting heads?

Go into it with a good, solid budget. Know your parameters, know what you’re willing to stretch up to, or know what you’re willing to put into a house in elbow grease and sweat equity.

It’s important that couples talk amongst themselves before they call a real estate agent to figure out what is important.

Sometimes I feel a little bit more like a referee than a real estate agent, but it’s part of the business—it’s all about managing expectations. It wouldn’t serve any of us very well if I took everything that they described to me, and I showed them that house, and it was $200,000 over their budget. So we just all have to be on the same page.

How much should young couples spend on a house—or a wedding, for that matter?

The national average is between 25% to 35% of a person’s take-home pay goes toward their mortgage. Anything over that is kind of overextending.

[For a wedding], it’s totally up to the couples, and what their income is, and what they’re comfortable with. You may have a couple that’s making excellent money but a wedding’s not that important to them. Or you might have quite the opposite, which is generally the case: They don’t make as much money, but they want the huge house and the huge wedding.

A wedding dress costs thousands of dollars that could be put toward a down payment on a house.
A wedding dress costs thousands of dollars that could be put toward a down payment on a house.

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What’s your No. 1 piece of advice for any home buyer—single, married, or otherwise?

Certainly work with a real estate agent. Everyone can look online and find houses or go to open houses—that’s the fun part! But when it comes time to put the offer in, in this market, when there are multiple-offer situations going on, good luck for anyone who’s not in the real estate industry to know what to do.

Source: realtor.com