Homework a must for smart consumers

Posted Sept. 12, 2010, at 8:39 p.m.

OK, class, please pay attention. This lesson involves finding what you need to know to be a smart consumer.

Like everything else, it begins with education.

Week after week in this column, we urge consumers to be their own best advocates. We can all do this by learning all we can about the things we buy: the price, how an item compares with other similar items, how one item might work better than another, and so on.

While there is a wealth of information on the Internet, it is of very uneven quality. Good information requires good research, and there are some resources close to home that can supplement your investigation.

Around this time of year, we suggest that consumers look at continuing education classes. These offerings cover a range of topics to help your dollars go further. They have the added benefit of letting you meet others who have similar interests; classroom discussion might touch on ways of doing things the curriculum may have missed.

There are multiple sources of ongoing learning, and we can’t cover all of them in this limited space. We’ll suggest a few places to start and — as always — urge you to do your own exploring and learning.

Adult education classes are offered in many communities around the state. Courses cover almost any topic you can name, from stretching food dollars to starting a business. Personal growth and enrichment courses are offered as well. You can start searching nearby course offerings through the Maine Adult Education Association, www.maineadulted.org.

Penquis and other community action agencies offer many classes and seminars that focus on maximizing resources. For example, there are offerings specifically for first-time homebuyers. A 12-hour course costs $25 and covers the basics of finding and financing a home. The goal is to help buyers ward off predatory lenders and avoid foreclosure. MaineStream Finance (a Penquis subsidiary) also offers classes for repeat homebuyers and on home repairs, second mortgages and reverse mortgages.

University of Maine Cooperative Extension is another excellent resource. Business and community development, food safety and nutrition, family, farm and garden issues are among the Extension’s areas of expertise. A range of publications is available, most at little or no cost.

For health and human services issues, 2-1-1 Maine is a great resource. Formed in partnership with United Way of Maine and Youth Alternatives Ingraham, 2-1-1 Maine is working on a comprehensive health and human services information system. This includes referrals on both routine and critical matters. You get there by dialing 211 or visit www.211maine.org on the Web.

When considering resources to better educate yourself, don’t forget your local library. People there can help you find other classes, including sessions on safe working practices (www.safetyworksmaine.com) and other areas of interest. Also visit Northeast CONTACT’s blog (see below) for other links.

Consumer Forum is a collaboration of the Bangor Daily News and Northeast CONTACT, Maine’s membership-funded, nonprofit consumer organization. Individual and business memberships are available at modest rates. For assistance with consumer-related issues, including consumer fraud and identity theft, or for more information, write: Consumer Forum, P.O. Box 486, Brewer 04412, or go to http://necontact.wordpress.com.

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