Money-saving, laptop-buying tips for back-to-school shoppers

Remember when back-to-school shopping meant different needs for different age groups? Elementary school kids needed pencils and notebooks, middle schoolers picked up protractors and compasses, and high school and college students headed back to school with high-powered calculators.

These days, students of virtually every age have one need in common: a laptop.


While many toddlers are using computers to play educational games, once kids reach school, the computer becomes an essential learning tool. If you’ll be looking for a student laptop, the online shopping experts at offer these tips to help you meet your budget:

* Stick with a laptop, rather than a tablet. While tablets have their uses, when it comes to the efficiency and versatility needed for school work, they can’t replace a laptop. Often, students can use a tablet in tandem with a laptop (or desktop) if your budget allows for both. Many elementary, middle and high schools do not allow tablets. Also, it may be difficult to find tablet versions of textbooks.

* Choose the right size and weight for your student. Your student’s laptop should be light and easy to carry in a backpack, but still large enough for a variety of uses. Models that are 15.6 inches or 17.3 inches provide big enough screens for work and study, while still weighing in the very portable 5- to 7-pound range.

* Any laptop with 250GB hard drive and 4GB DDR Ram is standard on today’s models and more than adequate for school use. Choose a hard drive with 7,200 RPM to increase performance cost effectively. If your student finds out that he or she needs additional memory, adding it is an easy, cost-effective, do-it-yourself upgrade. 

* Today’s student will use their laptop for many graphic-intensive applications, like high-definition video streaming and light 2D gaming. Almost all newer laptops, even models with integrated graphics, have plenty of power for both. Unless gaming is the goal, you can save between $100 to $200 by opting out of the dedicated graphics card. 

* Be confident of battery power. Most dual and quad-core laptops provide ample battery power for students’ daily activities without the need to lug a power cord along. And since students tend to use iPods or smartphones for email, listening to music and other simple functions, they’ll use less of their laptop’s battery power. Four to six-cell lithium-ion batteries are standard and very efficient.

* Don’t fall for upsells. You can save money on the initial purchase by opting out of bundled anti-virus protection, extended warranties or Word/Office Suite. You can find free, high-quality anti-virus and office productivity software online. And you may get a longer warranty if you buy directly from the brand versus a box store. Most defects will show up before the original warranty expires, so an extended warranty isn’t necessary.

* Be a diligent discount hunter. Your student’s school ID could score you extra savings from many of the major computer makers and software brands, like Apple, HP, Dell, Lenovo, Microsoft, Adobe and Sony. You should also look for timely bargains, cash-back rewards and exclusive online coupons from tech deal sites like The website works with most major sellers like HP, Dell, Best Buy and Newegg to help increase back-to-school savings. Ebates is another easy-to-use website that offers cash back discounts on a wide variety of back-to-school supplies.

* Buy with a credit card. Using a credit card for your laptop purchase offers you all the consumer protections associated with credit card use, plus some card companies, like Visa or American Express, will automatically extend your warranty an extra year.
A laptop is a back-to-school essential, but with a little planning and research you can purchase one for your student with as much confidence as you buy pens, pencils and notebooks, and save money by following these smart tips.

Courtesy of BPT

Simple solutions to common landscaping issues

There’s one in every neighborhood – the house with the bright green grass, perfectly trimmed shrubs and flowers in full bloom. As you look at your own lawn, plagued with weeds and sparse patches, you wonder how your neighbor is able to achieve such a beautiful outdoor space. The secret isn’t in how much time or money can be invested, but rather taking the right steps at the right time to eliminate lawn and garden problems.

Here are some common landscaping issues and the easy steps any homeowner can take to correct them:

Sparse, brown lawn
If your lawn is looking sparse and brown, the likely culprit is thatch. Thatch is the layer of dead grass, leaves and stems that block water and nutrients from reaching the roots. To revive your grass, you need to remove this layer and prime your lawn for strong regrowth.

A dethatcher, also known as a power rake, is the easiest way to get rid of the layer of thatch. Then you’ll want to use an aerator to poke small holes in the dirt so that nutrients, air and moisture can get to the roots. These two pieces of equipment are critical for repairing sparse, brown lawn, but purchasing them outright is costly. Consider renting them from your local rental store.

No single method will eliminate all weeds, so the best action really depends on what types of weeds you have. Here are some tips on the most common:

* Dandelion – It’s imperative to dig out dandelions before they go to seed. You can also spot treat dandelions with a broadleaf weed killer. If you do this, make sure your product does not kill grass.
* White clover – This weed can spread quickly on undernourished lawn.  Combat by watering regularly and applying nitrogen fertilizer. You can also use a broadleaf weed killer for spot treatments.

* Crab grass – If it’s early in the season, consider applying a pre-emergence crabgrass herbicide. Because crabgrass thrives on shorter lawns, set your mower to a higher setting, about 2.5 to 3 inches.

Overgrown hedges, shrubs and trees

Meticulously trimmed hedges and trees make a yard look perfectly manicured. The tools of the trade will make the job a breeze, but you don’t need to purchase a tree trimmer or chainsaw. You can easily rent those at your local rental store for a fraction of the cost of buying them. 

The most important consideration when operating a chain saw or trimmer is safety. When you rent, you get personalized training on the equipment. Tell the rental professional what you want to accomplish and they will help you find the equipment you need to get the job done, while providing you with tips on how to use the equipment and safety.

When you’re done trimming and clearing out your area, renting a chipper can make cleanup quick and easy. 

Wilting, dead plants
No matter where you live, if your outdoor plants start to wilt or turn brown, it’s likely that they need water. Sounds simple enough, but it’s also easy for plant novices to overwater – which can kill your plants and flowers just as easily as under watering them.

Start by always watering during the early morning or late evening hours. Watering during peak sun hours will cause most of the water to evaporate and little will reach the plants’ roots. Research the recommended watering schedule for your lawn and plants so that you can create a weekly watering schedule. Some plants may only need watering once a week, while others may need it daily. You can also ask your local nursery for planting and watering recommendations in your area.

Striped lawn
Nothing is more frustrating than the homeowner who spends lots of time on yard work only to wake up one day to a striped lawn. If you have healthy lines of green grass that alternate with yellow or brown stripes, likely the cause is uneven fertilizer application. 
The trick to fertilizing evenly with a drop spreader is overlapping wheel tracks by an inch or two. This will help ensure no area gets missed and any potential for stripes is eliminated.

Courtesy of BPT

Make your condo balcony an urban haven

(NC)-Most condo and apartment balconies are barren spaces surrounded by dull, grey concrete, steel and glass. They’re not very inviting. And that’s probably why most of us don’t use them very often.


But why not use every inch of your little piece of urban real estate to its fullest? If your building’s rules allow you to, the experts at Lowe’s Home Improvement Warehouse offer a range of suggestions to maximize your living space by creating a cozy outdoor haven.


A concrete floor isn’t very welcoming.Addinga small outdoor area rug will make it comfortable for your bare feet.


Look for small-scale furniture that is both comfortable and functional. A cushioned corner chair or lounge at one end of a balcony gives you a place to read a book or take a breezy nap.


A small bistro table and two chairs tucked into another corner create a relaxing nook for your morning tea or evening glass of wine.

If you have the space and a suitable corner, two short storage benches or deck boxes and a square table form a dining booth for entertaining.


Whatever furnishings you choose, make sure your seating is comfortable. If your current chairs don’t have padding, invest in a few washable outdoor cushions. Then add some outdoor pillows and throw blankets.


Don’t be afraid to choose bright colours and fun designs. A balcony is for relaxing and entertaining, so it should be friendly and inviting!

If you’ll be using your patio at night,the rightlantern or outdoor candle can create a warm, relaxing ambiance.


A tiny garden can also add some life to your balcony. Many potted flowers and plants – including tomatoes, peppers and herbs – thrive in small spaces.


“For a little variety, combo planters are great for creating balcony gardens, and they come in a range of colours and styles,” says Sarah Skeates, a Merchandising Specialist with Lowe’s. “If you don’t have space for a garden, a hanging wall bag adds a splash of colour to any outside wall space.”


Now that Spring is here, it’s time to get started with turning that dreary condo patio into an urban haven!

Courtesy of Newscanada

6 simple steps for you to follow for a clean and organized garage

Your garage’s main function is usually to safeguard and store your car, truck or motorcycles. That can’t take place if your garage has turned into a glorified storage unit, stuffed to the rafters with boxes, toys, tools, bikes, strollers and everything else you either don’t have room for or just don’t want in the house.

Below are 6 easy to follow steps that will help you clean and organize your garage and seize control once again.

Step 1 – get everything out of the garage and sort it all into groups. Categorize it all and put everything into groups with like items. For example, toys with toys, carpentry tools with carpentry tools, yard tools with yard tools etc. Make a pile for trash, anything you don’t want that you can sell in a garage sale and items to give away.

Step 2 – Get the appropriate organizational tools and supplies. After you’ve grouped everything, decide on exactly what tools and resources will help you organize these items better.

For example,do you need shelves? If so what kind… a free standing shelving system or shelves mounted to the wall? Do you need storage bins, cabinet systems, tool chests, peg boards, hanging roof systems, hanging bike racks, hooks etc.

Step 3 – Clean garage. As soon as you empty your garage it’s important to take time to sweep out all the loose debris and remove cobwebs. You’ll appreciate your garage much more if it’s clean so make sure to sweep and dust routinely.

Step 4 – Decor. This does not mean you need to remodel your garage into pseudo-living room, however you could think about a fresh coat of paint on the walls. Next think about the floor?

Lots of people prefer to paint and seal the floor of their garage to protect it from stains and also makes cleaning easy. Transforming your wall and floor surfaces will have a enormous effect on the appearance of your garage.

Step 5 – Arrange Items For Storage. As soon as you are done with cleaning the garage (floor and walls) now’s the time for you to put everything back. Place those items that you use on regularly within easy reach.

Put items less frequently used further back in the garage or higher up on shelves or in cabinets. Putting labels on shelves, bins and boxes will make it a lot easier for you to find what you’re looking for.

Step 6 – Lastly, make some rules for yourself and family members and implement them. Rules along the lines of, “Always return the items you used back to where you got them,” needs to be put into practice at all times if you plan on keeping your garage clean and organized.

If you follow these 6 simple steps, in no time you will have a clean and well organized garage. Not only will you be able to park your car in your garage but you’ll also be able to find anything want when you need it. One more thing, don’t forget to have a garage sale to help get rid of all those unwanted items and put some cash in your pockets!

by: Walter Jensen

Garden now to refresh your outdoor space for entertaining

This summer gardens and outdoor green spaces often look limp and lifeless due to lots of hot, sunny days and limited precipitation. No need to despair, just a few simple tips can help to rejuvenate any outdoor space well into fall – and be water-wise as well.



Mulch adds a nice, finished look to beds, paths and containers alike. It also helps to keep weeds out by blocking access to sunlight, reduce competition for water and nutrients from weeds, retain moisture in the soil where the roots can access it and moderate soil temperatures. In essence, mulching around plants, trees and shrubs is fundamental to keeping water where it is needed. Mulch your landscape beds at a depth of 2 to 3 inches of straw, shredded leaves, or bark mulch. Here’s another tip: Ever see mounds of mulch piled up around a tree base, sometimes called a “mulch volcano”? Don’t do this. Piling mulch up against the trunk of trees, shrubs, and other plants damages them. Properly applied mulch should taper from thin (less than 1 inch) at the base of the tree to thicker (2 to 3 inches) as you move out. To figure out how much mulch is needed for your space, visit and use the mulch calculator under useful tools in the lower right hand corner.

Food and water

Just like humans, plants need food and water. Regular feeding and watering can help your plants thrive in hot summer weather. Make sure to water wisely. Make sure to water in the morning between the hours of 6 and 10 a.m. to reduce wind effects on sprinkler uniformity and reduce evaporation loss. Water when needed and before leaves wilt. The best way to water roots is with a soaker hose or drip irrigation system that puts moisture at soil level where it is directly available to the plants’ roots.

Dead-head and cut back

With flowering plants, be sure to dead-head the blooms when they start to wilt. This will keep the plant producing blooms much longer. Feel free to leave a few seed heads on perennials to encourage re-seeding for next year. If you have not already done so, prune early blooming shrubs and perennials to encourage new growth. You could even get an extra bloom or two out of some perennials this way.

Fill in the blanks

Even seasoned gardeners’ beds can suffer from unsightly gaps in beds this time of year. Whether some plants have been lost or early perennials and bulbs have been cut back after blooming, sometimes garden beds need a little help by mid to late summer. This is a great time to pop in some annuals for an added splash of color. Plant fresh, new annuals in-ground or in containers, and spread a bright new wave of blooms around your outdoor space. Many nurseries have a wide selection on sale now too. Just be sure to water daily until established.


In edible gardens, it is always important to harvest fruits, vegetables, greens and herbs in a timely fashion. If you harvest more than you can possibly eat, try canning, drying or just simply sharing. Many areas of the country have food pantries that take fresh vegetable donations in the summer.


Weeds like to move in when plants are stressed from drought and heat. Then they steal moisture and nutrients, which stresses your plants even more. If you have an overabundance of weeds creeping into flower beds and vegetable gardens, take action now. Control them by spraying Roundup Weed & Grass Killer on the weeds in your garden. Be careful not to spray the plants you like. If you accidentally spray your flowers and vegetables, wash them off immediately with water.



A great way to bring back those fading colors of summer and add a fresh look to the patio, porch or balcony is with new pillows or cushions. This time of year most retailers have outdoor furniture and furnishings on sale so a new color scheme isn’t necessarily out of reach. Also, add color with some fresh new containers, a splash of paint on old furniture or a new set of serving ware and napkins for a dinner party.


Lighting is always a fun way to perk up any space, especially an outdoor space. Whether adding a strand of twinkle lights around the porch, a few solar lanterns to light a path or some new candles to illuminate a dinner on the balcony, lighting can make all the difference. Recycle mason jars and wine bottles into new lanterns by filling with candles or a string of twinkle lights.

Don’t let the heat of summer destroy the garden. All is not lost when plants start to wilt; just following these few simple steps can bring new found color and interest to any outdoor space at this time of year. You might even start wishing that summer would last a bit longer.

Courtesy of BPT

Cheating tips for your lawns

The perfect  home has a perfect green lawn. This perfect green lawn is like a living carpet: it has a uniform texture of grass with no daisies, dandelions or worm casts, it is perfectly smooth and flat (perfect for croquet or lawn bowls), and it is a consistent shade of pure emerald green. It is always clipped to an exact height of about an inch or so long. And when it is mown, a subtle damask-like pattern of stripes running back and forth should appear.

Now it’s time to wake up. This sort of lawn was the ideal set down in the days when stately homes employed a small army of full-time domestic cleaners, including several gardeners. This idealized lawn is a full-time job, requiring weekly (or even twice-weekly) mowing, not to mention watering, rolling and careful weeding. Most of us – even if we hire a professional gardener to take care of our lawns – can’t afford the time to do this. These days, you should only put this sort of effort into a lawn if you are a full time gardener at a stately home, or if you are the groundsman/woman for your local country club – and even then, only the pitch needs quite such grooming.

The first thing most of us can do to make life a bit easier for ourselves when it comes to lawns is to stop worrying about having a perfect even texture. You will save yourself a world of bother – not to mention problems with chemicals – if you leave lawn “weeds” in their place. Daisies, for example should be left. As somebody once said, if daisies were sold in bunches, we’d appreciate them more and go to great lengths to have them on our lawns. The same goes for other things like dandelions and clover. Besides, a lawn with more than one species of plant growing in it is more resistant to diseases and is more natural.

However, if things get too weedy, it could be good to re-sow your lawn just to readdress the balance of things. Grasses are tough plants and will take over, given a bit of encouragement.

Dogs can burn patches in a lawn with their urine. To prevent this happening, dilute the urine after they have “been” to stop it burning the grass. Don’t worry about worm casts. Worms are vital for the health of the soil, so don’t try to kill them. Those worm casts are very rich in nutrients. If you absolutely can’t stand them, rake them off and put them into a flower patch or vegetable garden – the plants there will appreciate them.

A well aerated soil is a healthy one. An old trick for improving drainage and aerating the soil is a to drive long thin holes into it. In the past, gardeners used something like clogs with an inverted bed of nails on the bottom to drive in the holes. You could make your own out of pieces of wood and driving nails into them – tie these onto the bottoms of your shoes (point side downwards, of course!) and walk about the lawn in them – possibly while you’re mowing the lawn.

If you live in a drier area and hate mowing the lawns during summer, make life simpler for yourself and don’t water the lawn. In dry climates the lawn will not die off for lack of water. It won’t have the perfect emerald shade of a well-watered one and may look a more dusty khaki, but you won’t have to mow it in the heat.

The ultimate cheat for lawns is not to mow them at all. This is not recommended if you have children who like to play outside and will inevitably lose beloved toys in the result. It will also make outdoor games like croquet and petanque rather difficult, if not impossible (picnics, however, have a delightfully secluded nature in a long lawn). Long grass is quite beautiful, especially in the wind and/or with a mixture of wildflowers growing inside it. Cats and other small animals love lawns like this, as it gives them plenty of space to hide in.

To avoid people thinking that you’re slovenly and lazy and to show that you are leaving your lawn long by choice, mow a path or two through it and keep this neat and well maintained – it makes things easier for you to walk through, too.

by: Nick Vassilev