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Ellen Phillips

Stories by Ellen

Q. We've finally decided to buy a home but need to know what to look for in a home inspector. We've heard horror stories from friends who've picked the wrong inspector, so what should we look out for?

Trying to figure out where to complain (other than regulatory agencies about which I write and talk) can be tough. However, online sites can help you not only to vent, but also to help provide information about companies.

Some folks who're finishing up their tax returns have recently asked about tax deductions for giving to charity. As most of you know, non-cash items are legitimate deductions; however, certain rules must be followed for Uncle Sam to accept your offerings.

Everyone loves to save money and coupons certainly help. However, according to, we can save a lot of money on groceries even without coupons.

To continue with “guarding” secrets via protecting your identity from those ever-present ID thieves, we sometimes don’t think it’s vital we do so while shopping.

While we normally think of summer when traveling, I know a number of folks who plan to do so this month (lucky dogs!); therefore, I thought a column on specific fees that really irk travelers might be in order.

Unfortunately, according to an October 2011 report by J.D. Power and Associates, owners of totaled cars were less satisfied with their insurance companies than if their cars were repairable.

Last week I discussed simple methods to protect ourselves from thieves. Following up this week are six ways to stay safer that we might not think about when contemplating self-protection tactics.

According to Consumer Reports, members of the public are a very easy target for thieves. This week’s and next week’s columns will center upon the tactics (most of which are very simple errors on our part) we should use to protect ourselves against criminal activities.

A size eight sweater instead of the size 12 you normally wear (or vice-versa)? Another purple and yellow-ducky patterned tie to match the one from last year that you still wouldn’t wear to your worst enemy’s funeral?

It’s Christmas Eve morning and you realize you don’t have the right gift for that special person. Think about the following last-minute ideas that won’t take much time and won’t break the bank.

In the event readers didn’t buy up the holiday gift departments during Black Friday, the following suggestions should help to get you through the season without credit card debt.

Last week I described what debt collectors can’t do when following federal guidelines, but perhaps as important is what they don’t tell us — sometimes intentionally, according to Reader’s Digest.

As we continue from last week’s column, please don’t forget those local charities, as well as the ones noted today. They each need your time and money.

Several readers have asked for a repeat of last year’s Halloween column about child safety. These revised strategies from the “scary” column helps to keep kids safe on the scariest night of the year, compliments of Cathy Lewandowski, AT&T’s marketing director then and now.

Dear Mr. Junior: Scams target everyone, but seniors whose minds aren’t quite as sharp as they used to be are more likely to be targeted. A few really stand out and are those that your parents should be most likely to remember.

Dear Mr. Auto: Sounds to me like you’ve got a lemon on your hands. Unfortunately, sometimes, despite all our best efforts, we land up with a vehicle that snuck by the quality control fellows.

I love staying in nice hotels -- restful oases away from the stresses of home.

According to Kiplinger’s Retirement Report, it’s relatively easy and inexpensive to create a caregiving suite or room for your mom.

This week’s column features several computer tablets other than the better-known iPad. Obviously, taking into consideration last week’s hints as to weight, size and price will help to make up your mind as to the tablet best suited to your own needs.

Since I find myself in the same shape as you, I’m glad you asked this question. I’ll share what I’ve learned through research for just the right tablet.

Dear Mr. Sickly: Your question comes at the right moment, as I’ve been researching this issue for my own purposes. Hopefully, you’ll see substantial savings for the future.

We’ve all heard horror stories of a quick posting on Facebook that comes back to haunt us later on, such as telling of an upcoming vacation and returning home to find we’ve been burgled or bragging how much our wife “Tina” loves to cook and our other wife whom we didn’t take the trouble to divorce finds out about Wifey Tina.

It’s true that no activity equals expiration. However, you don’t have to use your mileage for travel and still derive some enjoyment before they run out, plus any activity at all automatically resets the expiration date to give you more time to come up with some (hopeful) vacation travel.

According to USA Today, technology actually eases the (mislaid) document dilemma. Because we have fewer documents these days to worry about (i.e. no paper plane ticket), other avenues are open when we find ourselves in a fix.

I hadn’t planned on making last week’s column a two-parter, but I saw some great hints to look for when searching for a walk-in tub.

With the huge number of us baby boomers advancing in age, not only is yours an appropriate question, but also an important issue. As folks age, we simply don’t get around as easily and need safety features.

The ECRI Institute which works to improve patient care offers the following stay-safe suggestions to ask your physician before giving permission for implantation of any kind.

The IRS came knocking on a friend’s door, which scared the patootie out of the couple.

Hopefully, none of you have been victimized by identity thieves. However, just to ensure they pass you by, here are a few sensible tips:

Dear Mr. Anxious: Run, don’t walk, to your phone and call at least one of the three credit reporting agencies — TransUnion, Equifax, or Experian — to see if you’re a victim of identity theft.

Dear Ms. Vacationer: You and I must be on the same wavelength. I’ve been researching airlines myself for a family member and discovered US News and World Reports’ release of the 2011 Airline Quality Rating report released April 4.

This week continues with “Mr. Rug’s” request for carpet buying information and centers on installation and padding.

Dear Mr. Rug: First off, it doesn’t really matter where you purchase (as long as you get a good price); instead, it matters most what you buy. Just because carpet or a rug looks and feels good in the store doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a good investment.

Lots of readers have expressed interest in other columns about freebies or low-cost merchandise.

Dear Ms. Beautiful: I’ve looked in several beauty magazines and, even better, researched Good Housekeeping for its investigation in the field.

What you’re referring to, I believe, are nonessential insurance plans and, just as the term implies, it’s not as necessary that you provide protection for certain properties as say, life or health insurance.

You’re a smart cookie to start planning for your vacation early. With air fares and gasoline prices up so dramatically, planning’s a good idea for upcoming reservations. (Don’t forget to review one of last summer’s columns that featured “staycations” — vacations close to home.)

Continuing with last week’s savings via AARP, let’s visit programs and events, health, and the ways we can help those perhaps less fortunate than us.

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