Smart Ways to Save on the Summer Cooling Bill to Start Now

Rejoice, the summer months are almost here, and we have even flirted with August temperatures in the Midwest for a while now, enough that the air conditioning has been kicking on quite a bit.  This could be a great time to check your home for efficiency to ensure that you do not have any outside heat coming in, causing the air to kick on more than it should.

Use a Programmable Thermostat

It’s hard to imagine any homes out there without a programmable thermostat, especially considering most out there now are even Wi-Fi that you can program on your phone, but I at least need to put it out there for those that may own an older home that do not have one.  By setting the temperature higher during the day while you are work, and cooling in time for you to get home, and even cooler at night, it will make quite a difference instead of running all day and adding up your electric bill.

Seal Around Doors and Windows

It can be a little more tough to find drafts in the summer time compared to the winter when you can feel by hand the cold air coming inside, but for now, if you can walk around the house and make sure that doors and windows are sealed, and touch up with some caulk, you can notice a difference with the heat staying outside.  Also, I have also noticed that if you check outlets on walls that are shared with the outside, you can put foam inserts behind the wall plate to cover any drafts, and also even plug the outlets with baby proof inserts.

Cook Outside

Nothing says summer like firing up the barbeque to cook up some burgers or steaks, but it doesn’t have to stop there.  Moving the cooking from inside on the stove and oven to now outside on the grill you will save plenty off the air conditioning bill now that you will not be heating the entire house when you cook.  Sure, this may be a great trick during the winter to give off some heat in the house, but it can be dreadful in the summer months when you are trying to keep cool.  Crack open a beer outside and enjoy the summer air while you cook and leave heat out there.

Crank Up the Ceiling Fans

Living in a colonial home, the upstairs gets so much more hot upstairs, that cranking up the air and adjusting the vents still makes it cold on the first level and warm upstairs, so that every morning I typically woke up in a pool of sweat in the summer.  Finally installing a ceiling fan has made a world of difference.  Although it is not making the temperature cold in the bedroom, at least circulating the air can give a breeze that makes sleeping a little more comfortable without tossing and turning all night, and I actually find myself using a light sheet with the breeze going.

Money Mistakes You Could Regret Later in Life

There comes a time in your life when you reach a certain age or stage in your career when you can look back and reflect upon where you are at.  You don’t have to necessarily be old to do this; you could be in your thirties, ten years into working and still have wished you had done things differently, driving further motivation to ensure you are doing what is right by your financial life.  Before it is too late, ensure you can avoid making money mistakes now so you will not have to regret later.

Renting vs. Buying

I was a fairly independent young adult, so I was ready to move out on my own outside of college, probably too soon, in fact, that I spent years renting instead of buying my starter home.  While I would not trade the great times, I had with my roommate and best friend, it would have been nice not to have thrown money away on rent for two years instead of towards equity in a home.  Looking back, either continue to live at home until I could buy a house.

Being “House Poor”

While it is great to invest in real estate, sometimes you can get over your head and buy the biggest and the best and have most of your income taken up by the mortgage payment, not leaving much left for anything else, hence being house poor, so to speak.  You can own and live modestly, while freeing up more money to have fun, afford expenses comfortably, and save, save, save.

Not Having Money for Unexpected Charges

If you had major car repair, had to purchase a new furnace, or worse case, lost your job, how would you be able to afford without putting on a credit card and sending you into debt?  Experts have said that you should keep at least three months’ worth of expenses in an account in case you need to access later.  You probably want to avoid putting too much in there though, as it could be better suited an investment account, earning more than the tiny interest in a savings account.

Never Using a Budget

A Budget is a great way to track every dollar coming in and going out.  If you can set allocated funds for bills, food, gas, spending, as well as contributing to savings account, you can continue to free up extra money as you reduce unnecessary spending.  If you review the previous month’s statement, you can circle necessary vs. unnecessary spending, and add up those that could have been avoided and you could be surprised.

Forgetting to Build in Life Experiences

Speaking of a budget, while you do factor for all spending, it is important to budget for life experiences, as they are important to not only your sanity, but enjoying life.  If you can plan vacations, concert and sporting event tickets in advance, you can still be able to take part by planning in advance and not getting hit at once when you are ready to book.

5 Excuses to Avoid Not Saving for Retirement

Retirement seems like it is so far away that it is probably the furthest thing from your mind right now, especially if you just started your career, we’re talking decades away from happening.  What you should realize is though, is that the earlier you can contribute, the more it will compound, and the more you will have to enjoy when you need it.  Avoid all of the putting retirement savings off excuses and start contributing now.

It’s Not a Priority Right Now

That might be a valid excuse for your high school, college, or even immediately out of school and into your career, but the longer you wait, the less you will have to live off and enjoy in retirement, so if it is not a priority right now, make it one.  You can still save for your next vacation but you will need reduce expenses somewhat so that you can allow a portion of your income to be saved.

Don’t Have Company Matching Contributions

Some companies offer if you contribute to 401(k) they will match up to a certain point, say 6% per example.  That is free money, of which could be thousands of dollars put in your account just by you contributing the same, but just because your company does not offer, you still need to contribute the maximum you can, and even higher without the extra gift from your workplace.  The next time you are in the market for a job, take 401(k) matching into consideration.

But I’ll have Social Security

If you are a Baby Boomer you will be lucky if Social Security will be there when you retire, let alone a Millennial.  Well maybe it is not that far off from being extinct, but any notion that you will be able to live off of Social Security can be squashed right now.  Even if it is there by the time you retire, it will be a fraction of what you make now, so if you are used to living high on the hog now, those days will for sure be over, when it will be the time you should be enjoying life even more.

Afraid There Will Be Another Crash

You could be a little more conservative with your retirement fund allocation, but you can’t let the stock market crash of roughly ten years ago sway you from saving for your future.  Sure, most of you, and if you’re younger, your parents, may have finally recovered from that devastating crash, you cannot jeopardize your future for something that may or may not happen, that is out of our control.

I Don’t have the Extra Money

Now I totally understand that if you are barely getting by with your regular bills, there is not much leftover to contribute to savings, but this is where you will have to be creative.  What is your spending money situation like?  Do you have excessive shopping, go out to eat a lot, do the bar scene?  Well every little you can avoid spending you can put towards saving, so try and make the best spending decisions you can.

Credit Card Mistakes You Want to Avoid Making

Having a credit card account comes with plenty of responsibility, which is crazy to think that creditors try and lure you in right away at the age of eighteen with free goodies, and once you start using, increase your credit limit until you have virtually an endless amount of spending you can do.  When it comes to credit cards, you do want to make sure you are financially responsible.

Not Using Cards Enough

That may actually sound strange hearing that you could be making a mistake by not using your credit cards, but in fact, the less you use them, the less it is helping your credit score.  As it turns out, the more you use for purchases and pay off your full balance, the more credit will be available, and if you leave your card put away, the creditor could close your account, which could actually hurt your score, reducing your available credit.

Missing Due Dates

Now this should be common sense, and if it’s not, then you should never pay another bill late again.  Not only will your score be virtually ruined if you are thirty days late and show up on your report, but even a day late can cost you a late payment fee, let alone even worse, boosting up your APR so that if you owe a balance going forward, you will have huge interest payments to make before you can chip away at the balance.

Only Paying the Minimum

Making only the minimum payment could hurt your credit score if you are near the ceiling of your credit availability, but more importantly unless you have a 0% APR promotion, paying only the minimum will hardly even cover the interest payment.  That means that depending on the balance of your account, it could take decades to pay off the balance, so that just means that paying even a little over the minimum could reduce the payment plan by ten years!

Maxing out Available Credit

Hitting your available credit wall just puts you in financial turmoil.  If you are charging up your account, that probably means you will not be able to pay off the full balance by the statement due date, at which you will carry over a balance and be charged interest, and depending how much you can pay at once, the balance will remain out there for years until you finally make a dent.  On top of all of this, your credit score will significantly be reduced as it shows you may not be financially responsible.

Closing Accounts with Zero Balance

Sort of along the lines of sounding funny that it may hurt you by not using your cards, the same goes for closing an account.  I certainly understand that you have worked hard to pay down your balance, probably taking years to finally pay it off, only to think you are doing yourself a favor by closing the account so you never get in that mess again.  As it turns out, if you were to keep it open and just cut up the card and never use, you would be doing your credit score more of a service.

Five Ways to Make Your Financial Life Easier

Let’s face it, managing money can be stressful, whether you have it or not.  It can put plenty of weight on your shoulders and the sinking feeling sets in if you are starting to become buried in debt.  While handling the finances can be overwhelming, there are a few ways that you can make life a little easier for yourself by not only first taking a deep breath, but to make some adjustments in your life that you will allow you to be more successful handling the family finances.

Review Finances More Often

It can be quite a shock to go over your bank or credit card statement when it comes in, seeing that total due by the beginning of the month, wondering where you are going to be able to come up with the money to pay off the balance.  By reviewing the finances more often, such as weekly, you can go over every dollar spent during the month, not to mention each bill coming due to ensure you have gotten it down to the lowest it can be (i.e., electric, gas, cable, cell phone).

Get Rid of Paper Statements

Reminded of the Seinfeld episode when Kramer decides he no longer is accepting mail, it can be annoying not only to check the mailbox each day, but to make sure you are receiving everything you should.  When it comes to bills, statements, etc., turn off paper statements and start to receive emails.  You will receive right away and can plan ahead with plenty of advance of it coming due to ensure you have sufficient funds.

Automate Direct Deposits

I’m assuming that your paycheck is already direct deposited (if it’s not, that should be the first thing you do tomorrow morning with your employer), but more specifically, once you have paid bills for the month, do you manually transfer money over to your savings account?  If there is money leftover in your checking account you will likely spend it, so save the trouble and set a predetermined direct deposit to your savings account each paycheck and avoid manually transferring money back and forth.

Equalize Monthly Bill Payments

Bills are due at all points in the month, so one way I’ve been able to have success is to divide up the bills as equally you can for each paycheck.  Let’s say for example half of your bills you can pay with the first paycheck and the other half with the second.  That way you can avoid any shortages and have more of a set payment and spending money available schedule.

Stick to a Single Card for Purchases

Credit cards can be tricky, with virtually endless spending limits, so you may be enticed to use many cards, but it will be significantly easier if you stick to one credit card or debit card for purchases, knowing what you have spent and when it is due.  Picking the card with the best rewards program can net you plenty of savings, whether is in redeemable points or a cashback check once a year.

A Plan to Improve Personal Finance Substantially by the End of the Year

Life is full of obstacles and other priorities in the moment that make it easy to put off financial planning until down the road, but the problem is that time goes by just way too fast and pretty soon before you know it you are halfway to retirement age and not much to show for it.  Before it is too late and you can salvage some financial future, the time is now to improve your personal finances significantly by the end of the year even.

Sit Down to Review Full Financial Picture

Whether it is your spouse, a knowledgeable friend or family member, or even a financial planner, you will need a place to begin.  This would be the all-important step of reviewing what your goals are, and put a place in place to reach, while paying off debt and increasing savings.  This could be a good time to go over current spending habits as well to look at areas of improvement, as you will want to reduce unnecessary spending.

Create a Budget You Can Stick To

This is where it gets tough and will take a little tweaking along the way.  You will need to note every dollar that comes in as far as income goes, and everything that goes out.  This would be monthly expenses and all spending as far as food, gas, and fun, and not to forget contributing to a savings account.  As you specify how much money goes to each, the trick will be to make sure that is enough to cover and realistically stick to it.  If you can, you will reduce spending and open up plenty of extra cash.

Build Up an Emergency Fund

An emergency fund is good to have as a place to access cash if you need it, and the key word being in an emergency.  As part of the budget you will want to reduce spending and every dollar will be accounted for, so a large unexpected expense such as auto repair may throw your budget out of whack, so instead of putting on a credit card, you can access your emergency fund to pay for.  Experts say that three to six months is sufficient, with six being there to cover an unexpected job loss.

Increase Retirement Contributions

Now that you are trending in the right direction and hopefully freeing up extra money each month as you are reducing spending, you should start to increase your contributions to a work 401(k) account or an IRA, where you can grow over time to hopefully support you after you have retired and live out the remaining of your golden years.

Continue to Make Progress

If you have followed these steps you should be in pretty good shape in the upcoming months, with the hope that you have been able to successfully figure out your goals, create a budget that you can follow, and by the end of the year hopefully you’ve been starting to build that emergency fund so that you will then be able to put your efforts to saving for retirement.

7 Unnecessary Purchases to Avoid

It is hard to save nowadays with virtually any impulse purchase you have at your fingertips being able to shop online and buy with a click of a button.  Before you hit “submit”, try and avoid some of the biggest unnecessary purchases that you can make.

Four-Course Restaurant Meals

Unless it is a once a year special occasion, there is no reason to splurge this much on a dinner.  For one, having an appetizer, salad, entrée, dessert is not healthy, it is also a huge strain on your wallet.  If you do need to eat out, make sure you are not starving when you go out, so you can avoid temptation and just get an entrée.

Too Much House

I’m not sure if it is a sign of status, but I see far too many people buying huge houses for a couple or small family, that being “house-poor” is not worth it when you figure how much you are losing out in putting in savings, or having life experiences.  Try getting a house that you can comfortably fit in instead of hearing echoes.

Overseas Vacations

Not a knock against any of the beautiful countries overseas from the United States, but the problem is the plane ticket.  With a going rate between $1,200-$1,600 at any given time, that could be the price of a mortgage payment.  While it may be a bucket list to travel abroad, save that for your later years when you can afford it.

Expensive Art

These days you can see every day on Pinterest how creative we are these days, reclaiming old wood into furniture, and buying cheap bookcase and adding molding to create an entire wall of storage that looks expensive.  There is no need to blow money on expensive art when you can create something decorative and trendy for pennies compared to what you would spend on fancy art that no one will know the difference anyhow.

Lottery Tickets

I am sorry to point out the (hopefully) obvious; you or anyone you know are not going to win the lottery.  Office teams pool together, senior play the same numbers every week, and what does it bring?  Lots of wasted money.  Give up the scratch-off’s and the easy-pick’s and invest in something that will make you interest, which will equal money.

Pet Clothes

I will keep this short and sweet.  Pet clothes look stupid, your dog does not enjoy and feels funny, and they are a complete waste of money.  Save the embarrassment to yourself and your pet, and keep the money.

Outrageous Wedding Dress

We see the wedding dress shopping reality shows on TV where the spoiled bride gets a budget of $5,000-10,000 for a dress that she will hopefully wear for only one night in her life.  Sure, it is an important day, don’t get me wrong, but although it is a great party, the memories will fade of what your dress looked like and you could have spent on a cheaper but elegant dress that still made you look beautiful.

5 Ways to Save While on a Strict Budget

Whether you are living off of wages that you feel could be higher, or do not have much leftover due to being on a strict budget, there are always ways to reduce spending so that you can gain a few extra bucks at the end of the month.  Once you have accounted for every dollar that comes in and goes out, you may have to think outside the box when it comes to saving extra money if you feel that you have reached your limit in getting rid of unnecessary expenses.

Pay Off Debt First

It may seem like common sense to pay off dent, and you might be thinking to yourself that you are already doing that but where do you get more money to do that?  Well basically any money that you have besides a necessary expense such as your mortgage, utilities, or food should go towards debt before anything else.  When I say food, I also mean grocery shopping for the necessities, not eating out or impulse purchases at the register.

Look for an Alternative to Daycare

Being a new parent I never paid attention to the prices of daycare until I had to enroll my child into one, and for those of you that do not know, it is ridiculous.  The daycare at my wife’s work is $63 per day which includes food and diapers, but for a newborn, diapers, maybe.  Let’s say this is every work day for a month, that is over $1200 a month.  If you can find a trustworthy family member to do it for say even $40 a day, that is around $800 a day, which gives you an extra $400 a month!

Sell Unused Items

If you are looking for extra money, look no further than what you probably have packed away in your house.  Try coming up with a rule of thumb, if you have not used the item in the past year, sell it, and see how that works.  If you do not have any high-priced items to sell online, then gathering your household items together for a garage sale might be a good way to get some extra cash together.  You can probably scout out items from family members too that they want to get rid of and have you sell.

Three’s Company?

A good way to bring in an extra few hundred a month, not to mention sharing utilities, whether you bring that into the overall cost or not, is getting a roommate.  Sure, you may think you left that behind in your college days, but back then your parents were paying, and now if money is tight it may be a great way to come up with some extra cash.

Trade Down

Take a look at your house and car.  Is your house too big for what you need and can you downgrade to say, a ranch?  Then maybe it makes sense to sell.  For your car, if you need a new car every few years with a lease, can you take a step down that may save a hundred or two a month?

4 Ways to Be More Financially Responsible

If you actually sit down and look over your finances, first adding up how much money comes in each month and then totaling the expenses and spending that occur, it probably will leave you sick to your stomach.  It is never too late to start being a little more financially responsible.

Set Up an Emergency Fund

Experts have said that you should have at least three, even up to six months of reserves sitting in an account just in case you have a sudden need of cash to pay for say an auto repair, or replace a TV or refrigerator, it is nice not to put on a credit card, especially if you are on a strict budget and this could take months to pay back.  Six months would be good to have, never know if there is an unexpected job loss.

Make Regular Contributions to a Savings Account

It can be tough to find extra money to put into savings, especially if you are having trouble making ends meet now, but if you have to manually transfer money over the probability that you will spend it on other things is far greater than if you were to make regular automatic deposits to a savings account.  Start with a couple hundred dollars a month if you can, gradually increasing as you get used to the money not being available in your checking account to spend.

Don’t Forget About Retirement

So, you have ample reserves for an emergency and are starting to put a little into a savings account for the future, but what about something that will grow with compound interest that you can contribute to that will take care of you in your golden years?  Well do not forget about your 401(k) account at work.  Like you have been doing with the savings account, start to give regularly scheduled contributions each paycheck, starting with say 1-3% for the first year, gradually increasing each year.  If you have the opportunity to have the company match any contributions you should take advantage of that, as otherwise it is just leaving plenty of money on the table.

Continue to Reduce Unnecessary Expenses

With a huge portion of your money now funding various accounts to leave you better prepared for the future, it may not leave much left otherwise, but that is the goal.  Now that you are an “adult”, you need to start being a little more financially responsible and stop splurging on unnecessary items.  My wife and I just went out to dinner the other night, we did not feel like cooking or grabbing unsatisfying carryout, so we went to a local favorite Italian restaurant and spent $60 on entrees, one drink, and tip.  While the food was excellent, we probably could have done without and found something to eat at home for free.  That is the mindset to start to have, how can you save extra money every week.  That savings added up every month, think of how much you can save in a year.

5 Things You Should Buy Using a Credit Card

For some may be a little leery about using a credit card, after all, all these years growing up it was always embedded into our heads that putting something on a credit card meant that you did not actually have the money and you were sort of kicking the can down the street, if you will.  That outlook has definitely changed over the years, and not only does putting charges on your credit card mean you do not have to pay until next month (and yes, make sure you pay off the entire balance by the due date to avoid interest), using the plastic is actually the financially responsible thing to do for making some purchases.

Basically, Any Online Shopping

Besides the giants like Amazon where they have pretty much a no questions asked return policy and almost instant refund as soon as the item is sent back, with free shipping back no less, there are plenty of sites that you do not know what happens when you put your credit card information in, so it would be nice to be able to dispute the charge if you do not receive the item, instead of paying with debit and waiting for the money to come back into your bank account, which could take a month.

Hotels and Rental Cars

Most hotels and rental car companies will accept debt cards at the time of reservation, but they will put a significant hold that can be upwards of a few hundred dollars on your account that will be reimbursed after completion, which then could take a week or two to be returned, a large sum of money to be missing for an extended period of time.

Big Ticket Items = Rewards $

I put everything on a credit card simply for the rewards dollars.  I do not go out of my way to purchase extra things, but the charges that I would have normally used my debit card for, like going out to eat, gas, and concert tickets, will now go on my credit card and I earn anywhere between 1-4% back on, which may not seem like much, until I received a $700 check recently for cashback on my previous year’s purchases, free to spend wherever.

Charitable Donations

I mention that it is nice to put charitable donations on a credit card simply for ease of keeping track.  When it comes to tax season you do not have to go searching for what you donated, you can check statements, instead of digging for cash receipts, which can be hard to prove if you are ever audited.

Monthly Bills

Not only will you earn rewards at the same time, but all of your monthly bills can come from the same source, and paid at once when the due date comes, instead of making sure you have enough at each pay period to spread them out over the course of the month, figuring out when the best time to pay is.  This way, you can set up automatic payments on the due date for everything and never worry about having insufficient funds or missing a payment.

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