8 Unique Smart Home Devices and Automation Accessories

8 Unique Smart Home Devices and Automation Accessories

Everyone’s home could use a few high-tech home automation upgrades, right?

 

There are so many options out there. How do you know which Google Home accessories you need and which gadgets are a waste of money?

 

Chances are, you might regret splurging on that automated washing machine or refrigerator in a few years.

 

Yes, everything seems super cool when it hits the market. However, not all cutting-edge smart home devices are worth the splurge.

 

8 Home Automation Devices and Accessories to High-Tech Your Life

 

The purpose of smart homes and home automation accessories is to make your life easier, right?

 

The goal isn’t to spend a bunch of money to impress your friends.

 

Well, maybe it is. But that’s probably a waste of cash if you can’t actually use the smart home devices on a regular basis.

 

These devices and accessories can get pretty pricey, but they’re very useful. The only question is: what will you splurge on?

 

1. Neato Botvac Connected Robot Vacuum

 

If you’ve been waiting for the price of robot vacuums to come down, it doesn’t seem like that’s going to happen anytime soon. You might as well spend your money on something high quality like the Neato Botvac Connected.

 

This robot vacuum works well so you can be sure it’s not just a novelty device. Plus, you don’t have to chase it down because the app offers complete control.

 

2. Alexa Echo

 

At this point in the game, a multi-purpose utility speaker is nearly a staple item in many smart homes. Not only is the Alexa Echo affordable at just under $100, but it’s also compatible with other smart home devices like lighting options, security gadgets, and thermostats.

 

3. Google Home Accessories

 

Just like Amazon’s Alexa Echo, Google Home offers a full suite of compatible devices for connecting your entire home. Whether you want voice-activated speakers, Wi-Fi-infused outlets, or lighting for smart homes, Google Home accessories have you covered.

 

4. Security Lighting for Smart Homes

 

There are so many options here it’s hard to narrow down one featured product. You really need to take the size of your home and needs into consideration before making a final decision on security lighting.

 

Smart lighting offers major advancements to improve your home’s safety – and not just from intruders. The BeOn bulbs, for example, work during power outages. You can also program them to turn on or off on a schedule or based on an event like when the doorbell rings.

 

5. Ecobee4 Smart Thermostat

 

If you spend a lot of time away from your home or just have a large house, a smart thermostat can help save your money and the environment by reducing energy consumption.

 

Not only is the EcoBee4 Alexa compatible, but it contains its own Alexa Echo speaker for optimal efficiency. Beyond Amazon, you can integrate this thermostat with other brands like Apple HomeKit, IFTTT, and Samsung’s SmartThings.

 

6. WeMo Wi-Fi Smart Plug

 

Smart plugs may seem like a novelty device, but they’re really worth the money – mostly because they don’t cost very much (about $30) and are extremely versatile.

 

The WeMo Wi-Fi smart plug is compatible with most smart systems (besides Apple or Siri) and provides home automation on a large scale: you can automate just about any device. Plus, it’s safe and small so it won’t block other outlets.

 

7. Remote-Controlled Shades

 

Most smart shades don’t come cheap. If you know someone with a disability or medical condition that affects their mobility (or you just want to treat yourself) this is a great item.

 

These are also an excellent solution if you have a home with shades in hard-to-reach places. Although they’re expensive, smart shades are super easy to install and control with an app or remote.

 

8. Kwikset Kevo Smart Lock (2nd Generation)

 

This is the coolest smart lock for average folks. You’ll never need to fumble with keys while your arms are full of groceries ever again: just touch the lock.

 

It unlocks the door based on close-range authentication like many car key-fabs. You can choose from a regular key and lock, keyless touch, or app control. This smart lock also lets you give your friends or family eKeys for easy sharing and access when needed.

 

What You Should Know About Smart Home Devices

 

Although it’s tempting to splurge on the latest and greatest everything, it’s best to wait until these smart home devices and home automation accessories have been on the market for a while.

 

Why?

 

Because you can read reviews and give the companies a chance to work out all the kinks. (There are always kinks or glitches in first generation devices.)

 

This means if you wait to buy a second or third generation device, you’ll get something improved and tweaked based on customer feedback.

 

After all, you want these devices to make your life easier, right?

Amazing and Unique Top Dog Toys of 2018

Amazing and Unique Top Dog Toys of 2018

When it comes to the top dog toys, you have no shortage of options to choose from.

 

Whether you need chewy toys, indestructible dog toys, or something fresh and interesting, this list has you covered.

 

You’ll just need to figure out which toys work and which flop.

 

Indestructible Dog Toys for Tough Guys

 

Just a few years ago, if you needed an indestructible toy for your dog there weren’t many options. The only thing available was the heavy-duty rubber red Kong toy.

 

This meant energetic dogs were doomed to playing with one toy over and over unless their owners could fashion something themselves. Creating your own dog toy isn’t always safe because if your dog likes to chew and destroy things, this could impose a choking hazard – yikes.

 

Fortunately, manufacturers have figured out how to create indestructible toys over the years. Now, several plush and rope options exist for your friend to have something colorful, soft, and fun to play with.

 

Although, they’ll still probably try to figure out a way to destroy them. (Good luck with that.)

 

  1. Kong Cozies Squeak Toy: The indestructible brand you trust now offers plush squeaky toys.
  2. Braided Toys: These come in all shapes and sizes and are much less likely to degrade after hours (or weeks) of chewing.
  3. Stuffing-less Toys: Lots of manufacturers now make plush toys without stuffing so you don’t have to worry about that annoying clean-up.
  4. Gnawt-a-Rock: Got a dog who loves to chew on rocks? Give her this instead. It’s made of heavy-duty rubber and has a hole to dispense treats.

 

The Freshest Top Dog Toys to Hit the Market

 

The pet industry is a huge market for startups – everyone thinks they can figure it out better than the last.

 

For consumers, this means lots of fresh and interesting new toys for your dog. From novelty gadgets to updates on old favorites, something new is always around the corner.

 

Who loves these novelty toys more: the dogs or the owners?

 

  1. iDogmate automatic tennis ball launcher: This remote-controlled gadget launches tennis balls a whopping 30-feet and is battery operated. It’s a win-win for you and your dog.
  2. Smart Pet Behavioral Aid: This snuggly toy mimics a soft heartbeat and includes a warming function to reduce anxiety and encourage proper sleep.
  3. Zogoflex Tug Toy: The Zogoflex offers innovation on the modest tug-of-war with a unique “S” shape design.
  4. Trixie Interactive Toy: This exciting toy is perfect for pets that get bored. Your cat might even want in on the action.

 

Chewy Toys for Dogs to Reduce Stress and Improve Teeth

 

Chewy toys aren’t just fun to play with: they’re great for a number of reasons.

 

  • Reducing stress in anxious dogs
  • Encouraging healthy chew habits (giving your shoes and furniture a break)
  • Maintaining proper oral health in gums, teeth, and breath

 

Plus, there are a ton of options when it comes to chewy toys so your dog will never get bored.

 

  1. Benebone Chews: These chew toys aren’t edible but they’re flavored so they taste great and last a lot longer than standard options.
  2. Raw Marrow Bones: You might need to check your local supply store for these – but your dog will thank you.
  3. Nylabone: This heavy-duty toy cleans your dog’s teeth while stimulating her imagination with bright colors.
  4. Mammoth Flossy Chews: Every dog needs a high-quality rope toy to drag around.

 

Must-Have Puppy Toys for Ultimate Fun

 

Puppies are full of energy and love getting into everything. Puppy toys aren’t just nice to have: they’re vital for keeping your home and wardrobe intact.

 

When your little guy is just learning how his teeth work, it’s important to encourage healthy habits. He needs to know that he has something of his own to chew and play with so he won’t go straight for your shoes.

 

If you don’t give him puppy toys, he’s going to find something else to play with. This could end up being your couch or cat. Either way, avoid this hassle by loading him up with some high-quality puppy toys.

 

  1. Kong Teething Stick: It provides a unique shape with special grooves to soothe sore gums.
  2. Nylabone Teething Ring: This adorable toy looks just like a baby’s favorite set of keys.
  3. Loofa Dog Plush Toy: The squeaker, soft exterior, and bright colors give your pup all the excitement they crave.
  4. Kong Puppy Flyer: The best part of having a dog is playing fetch and this heavy-duty flyer from Kong is perfect for just that.

 

Selecting the Best Toys for Your Best Friend

 

Every dog is unique so each pup requires different types of toys.

Some dogs may love chewy toys while others require indestructible dog toys. You’ll have to pay attention to how your dog plays so you can decide which toys are best.

Either way, you have plenty of options when it comes to selecting the top dog toys for your best friend.

12 Fresh Summer Vacations and Unique Ideas Everyone Can Enjoy

12 Fresh Summer Vacations and Unique Ideas Everyone Can Enjoy

There’s nothing quite like summer vacations: you get to spend time with your loved ones creating unforgettable memories.

 

Thinking of running off for a little escape by yourself? That’s okay too: everyone needs some time to themselves.

 

Either way, you need some amazing vacation ideas and unique vacation spots to get the ball rolling.

 

Whether you’re looking for cheap vacations or the best family vacations, there’s something here for everyone.

 

4 Fresh Vacation Ideas for Unforgettable Summer Getaways

 

Sick of the same-old, same-old? No problem: these vacation spots are perfect for spicing things up and chilling out somewhere new.

 

1. Skaftafell, Iceland

 

Skaftafell offers a slightly more laid-back option for visiting Iceland because it’s part of a beautiful national park. Plus, this town is a four-hour drive (along the marvelous Icelandic coast) from the bustling city of Reykjavik.

 

2. Fes el-Bali, Morocco

 

Morocco can get a little hot in summer. If you can stand the heat, you’ll be glad you made the decision to visit. Fes al-Bali is full of fabulous colors, shopping, beaches, cuisine, and culture. In fact, UNESCO lists the entire town as a world heritage site. What more do you need?

 

3. Pictured Rocks National Lake Shore in Michigan, USA

 

If you’re an outdoors person and looking for something a little different, this is your place. Michigan’s Pictured Rocks National Lake Shore offers a unique landscape for kayaking, hiking, or just chilling out. Between the stunning colors, rock formations, shipwrecks, and twelve-mile beach, you’ll never run out of things to do.

 

4. Sedona, Arizona

 

If you’ve been meaning to take a trip through the great American Southwest but want to avoid the hustle and bustle of high profile locations, Sedona is the place for you. You get unique shopping, luxurious lodging, and stunning hike options to keep you occupied for any length of time.

 

The 4 Best Family Vacations with Something for Everyone

 

Taking young kids on international flights isn’t relaxing or fun for anyone. These interesting US-based spots are some of the best family vacations you can find domestically.

 

5. New Orleans, Louisiana, USA

 

When it comes to vacation ideas, people don’t usually think of New Orleans as a family destination. However, this location offers something for everyone: museums, shopping, history, dining, you name it.

 

6. Glacier National Park in Montana, USA

 

Parks aren’t always the most exciting vacation spots for young kids, but Glacier National Park has something to keep everyone busy. Even within the park, there’s no shortage of places to stay for a few nights. Kids will love the star gazing, horseback trail rides, and Native American-run cultural activities.

 

7. Salem, Massachusetts, USA

 

Salem is an excellent destination when it comes to summer vacations because it’s a lot less busy than the fall months. This makes it one of the best family vacations to soak up interesting sights, activities, history, and architecture without the massive crowds during Halloween season.

 

8. Sequoia National Park in California, USA

 

While adults can hike for days, kids might get bored quickly if the scenery doesn’t change very much. Sequoia National Park is the perfect solution for this. Here, you get seriously massive trees, crystal caves, junior ranger activities, and of course: great lodging and dining to keep everyone comfortable.

 

4 Cheap Vacations to Enjoy Your Time Off While Sticking to a Budget

 

For a lot of people, traveling isn’t a financially viable option. These cheap vacations have you covered.

 

9. Anywhere in Thailand

 

Just about everywhere in Thailand is chock-full of activities like swimming, hiking, shopping, or vegging out at the spa. Although the plane ticket gets a little pricy, your money will go very far once you get there.

 

10. Zanzibar, Tanzania

 

Again, a plane ticket might set you back a bit, but once you arrive it will be money well spent. If you’ve always wanted to take an ultra-luxurious vacation and never had the budget to do so, Zanzibar is your ultimate destination.

 

11. Gatlinburg, Tennessee

 

Folks who love cheap vacations and hiding out in the middle of nowhere to reconnect with themselves will love Gatlinburg. Whether you want exciting outdoor activities or just want to kick-back and absorb the scenery, this is the place to go.

 

12. Biloxi, Mississippi

 

If you want to soak up the sun on a beach for a few days, look no further than Mississippi – yes, really. Here you can find casinos and American Civil War attractions to peak your interests and of course: the glorious Gulf coast.

 

Selecting the Best Summer Vacations

 

Think about the goals of your vacation.

 

What do you want to get out of the trip? Fun activities, relaxation, history and culture, or maybe all of the above?

 

This will help you narrow down a list of the best vacation spots so you can choose the perfect place.

Here’s the Secret to Saving for College

Here’s the Secret to Saving for College

College is expensive. How can you afford it?

 

You can’t pull money out of thin air or rob a bank.

 

As an adult, it’s nearly impossible to save money for school – but you have other options.

 

When it comes to kids, saving for college isn’t easy but it is very possible if you do the proper planning and budgeting early.

 

These options are as close as you can get to pulling money out of the sky.

 

Funding and College Savings Plans: What are Your Options?

 

Not all college savings plans are created equal. In fact, some can be a rip off.

 

It’s important to understand your financial situation and education goals before deciding which college savings plan is right for you.

 

Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)

 

Before you look anywhere else, check FAFSA.

 

If you live paycheck-to-paycheck or are worried that investing in college savings plans is just not an option financially, you might be eligible for federal education funds. The level you receive is based on your personal and family financial history and college experience.

 

FAFSA has many benefits and the downsides are easy to manage.

 

  • The money is tax-free and you don’t need to pay it back.
  • The application is thorough but moves quickly and doesn’t require you to submit documents.
  • You can use the money at just about any accredited school.
  • You need to reapply every year.
  • If you’ve used FAFSA before and withdrew from your program, you may need to pay for an initial semester if you want to receive FAFSA again.
  • When you apply for FAFSA, you may also have the opportunity to receive federal student loans. (These you will have to pay back.)

 

Since FAFSA is essentially “free money” with no strings attached, check here before looking into a 529 plan or other college savings plans.

 

529 College Savings Plan

 

Not every 529 plan is the same. Deciding which one is best for you depends on your financial situation. Brokers often charge outrageous commission rates so beware.

 

  1. Prepaid Tuition 529 Plan: This allows you to pay for tuition at a two or four-year college or university upfront at the current rate. By the time the student is ready for school, their education is already paid for.
  2. 529 College Savings Plan: Earnings placed in a 529 plan are tax-deferred as they grow. Later, you can make tax-free withdrawals for qualified education expenses.

 

Every state offers different 529 plans – check with your home state first. If you find a good rate in your state, you may qualify for a yearly state tax deduction due to your investment.

 

You may, however, find a great rate in another state and that’s okay too. Check with an advisor to work out all the details.

 

Coverdells and Custodial Accounts

 

You might know Coverdell Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) as their previous name: Education IRAs.

 

You can use these options for investing money for a variety of educational purposes including private elementary and high school in addition to college.

 

ESAs provide a variety of flexible investment options. Although contributions aren’t tax deductible, you can make tax-free withdrawals for tuition and other expenses.

 

The yearly contribution limit is $2,000 for an ESA if your income is under $95,000 per year.

 

Savings Bonds

 

Educational savings bonds are a great way to save tax-free money for college tuition and other qualified education expenses.

 

However, there are a few financial limits. Couples filing jointly must make under $116,300 per year while single filers need to stay under $77,550. (These numbers apply to the 2017 tax year so future investors should use this as a general idea.)

 

Although the concept seems simple, college savings bonds are anything but uncomplicated. When in doubt, talk to an advisor.

 

Scholarships

 

When people think of scholarships, they often imagine high school students playing sports or exceeding in other activities. The truth is, there are thousands of scholarships out there for all kinds of people – just like you.

 

If you have a specific degree or certification picked out, look for professional organizations in that field. The American Welding Society, for example, provides dozens of scholarships each year for students of all ages. Industrial gas distributor, Praxair, also provides scholarships to welding students.

 

Just about every industry has companies and organizations that give out substantial scholarships – many of them go unclaimed due to lack of applicants. One or two could pay for your entire tuition each year.

 

Putting it into Action

 

The hardest part about saving for college is taking the first step.

 

If you’re uncertain, look for a qualified financial advisor to help guide you through the process. Seek out second opinions: your money is important and you want to make sure it’s invested in the best way possible.

Brewing Coffee: All the Questions You Were Too Afraid to Ask

Brewing Coffee: All the Questions You Were Too Afraid to Ask

Coffee seems to be the Western world’s beverage of choice.

 

Although brewing coffee is easy, perfecting the craft is another story. Too many folks don’t actually know how to make coffee the right way. Their product often turns out bitter or burnt – that’s no good.

 

No wonder so many people say they don’t like coffee: they’ve only had cheap brands brewed poorly.

 

What about iced coffee and cold brew coffee? Are they the same thing? Not at all.

 

Here’s everything you wanted to know about making coffee but were too afraid to ask.

 

Brewing Coffee: How to Make Coffee from Start to Finish

 

A lot of factors contribute to the quality of your coffee before it even reaches your pot.

 

The soil, farm location, roasting method, shipment, and freshness all factor into creating a great tasting cup of coffee.

 

The only way to disrupt this process is by purchasing high quality coffee beans and grinding them yourself. (You probably don’t want to go through the hassle of growing, harvesting, drying, and roasting your own beans.)

 

Instead, let’s start with purchasing your coffee and move on from there.

 

Find a Perfect Balance with Grinding

 

If your coffee is too fine, it will taste bitter. If it’s too course, it won’t have much flavor at all.

 

Coffee grinders are convenient, but they aren’t the best way to grind your own coffee. You’re better off asking the baristas at the store to do it. They have access to a burr or mill grinder which will make sure your coffee is ground at a consistently optimal size. Your local grocery store might have one, too.

 

Water Matters

 

When it comes to brewing coffee, cold and filtered water is always best. Use tap water if you must but avoid using distilled or softened water at all costs.

 

As a general rule, use one or two tablespoons of coffee (ground) for each six ounces of water you put into your machine.

 

Keep Your Machine Clean

 

Keeping your machine clean is crucial not only for your health, but for ensuring you make a great tasting cup of coffee.

 

Leave the top open after brewing to let the steam air out. Run a vinegar and water mixture through your machine once a week to remove debris and germs. Don’t forget to run a few plain water cycles through afterwards to remove the vinegar smell.

 

How to Make Coffee

 

Once you’ve got your pot, grounds, and water ready to go you can start brewing your coffee.

 

  1. Measure your water: 6 ounces for each cup. Remember a little bit will evaporate during brewing.
  2. Add a coffee filter to the basket.
  3. Add ground coffee to the filter.
  4. Press the start button and wait for your delicious coffee.

 

How to Make Iced Coffee

 

On a hot day – or any afternoon, really – crisp and cool iced coffee is an excellent pick-me-up or treat.

 

Just like hot coffee, you don’t want your beverage to taste bitter or bland. Here’s how to make iced coffee the right way.

 

Follow the same steps in the “how to make coffee” guide with one difference: make the coffee stronger because you’ll be adding ice to the final product.

 

If you plan on sweetening your coffee, add sugar while the coffee is still hot.

 

After the coffee is done brewing, turn off the machine and let the pot cool for about an hour. After an hour, transfer the coffee to a carafe and place it in the refrigerator for about two hours.

 

When the coffee is cool, pour it over ice in a tall glass and top it off with some milk.

 

How to Make Cold Brew Coffee

 

Is cold brew coffee the same as iced coffee? Not exactly, it depends how the coffee is brewed.

 

There are a few benefits to brewing your coffee cold.

 

  • Less acidity so it tastes less bitter
  • Very easy: no coffee pot required

 

Cold brew coffee sounds too good to be true, but it’s really not. Here’s how to make it just about anytime and anywhere.

 

  1. Add course coffee grounds to a large pitcher.
  2. Pour about nine cups of water into the pitcher. The water should be room temperature.
  3. Let it steep for 8-12 hours.
  4. Strain the coffee using filters or cheesecloth.
  5. Enjoy your cold brew with milk, sugar, or just plain.

 

What’s Your Favorite Coffee?

 

Coffee is so versatile: it’s great hot or cold and it even makes for a great secret ingredient in your recipes.

 

The trick to great tasting coffee is all in how it’s made from growing to brewing.

 

What’s your favorite? Iced with coconut milk, hot with cream and sugar, or just straight black?