Tag: saving

Make It a Green Winter With These Energy-Saving Tips

Conserving energy is a great way to protect the planet and save money. While energy bills might be highest in summer thanks to air conditioning units, certain factors around a house can make winter more wasteful and costly than it needs to be.

Energy bills are influenced by a variety of factors, including geography and how energy-efficient a home is. For example, according to data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the average monthly utility bill in Connecticut in 2015 was $153.13, while New Mexico residents paid slightly more than half that amount ($79.23) on average. Homeowners cannot control winter weather, which can greatly affect how much energy homeowners consume between December and March.

However, there are other ways for homeowners to curtail their energy consumption and save money throughout winter.

Address any leaks or drafts

Drafty windows and doorways can make the air inside homes feel warmer in the summer and colder in the winter. As autumn weather grows colder, homeowners can perform simple inspections around windows and doorways to determine if they have any leaks. On a cold and/or windy day, place a hand near all windows and doors to feel if there are any leaks. Use caulk or another type of sealant to address leaks so you can keep cold air out and set your thermostat to a reasonable, eco-friendly temperature.

Inspect air vents, faucets and plumbing fixtures

Air vents, faucets and plumbing fixtures attached to exterior walls should be inspected for leaks. Such inspections might need to be conducted from outside the home, which can make it more difficult to detect if cold air is entering the home. Look for gaps in the insulation around these areas, filling in those gaps as necessary.

Inspect heating systems at the start of each new season

According to EnergyStar.gov, heating systems account for 29 percent of the average homeowner’s energy expenditures. Inspect your heating or HVAC system before the start of winter, making sure all gas or oil connections are operating properly. EnergyStar.gov notes that dirty burners and cracked heat exchangers can cause heating units to operate less efficiently and may even pose a safety risk. Inspect the air filter of the heating system at least once per month, as filters can quickly become dirty during a heavy-use season like winter. Dirty filters cause the system to work harder to keep a home warm, unnecessarily wasting energy as a result.

Install a Wi-fi enabled programmable thermostat

Some programmable thermostats can be very difficult to use effectively, making it far too difficult if not impossible for homeowners to set their thermostats for various temperatures in a single day. Wi-fi enabled programmable thermostats that allow homeowners to control their heating and cooling systems via their smartphones can be more user-friendly than many other programmable thermostats, ensuring homeowners are saving money and not wasting energy heating empty homes.

Winter utility bills can be costly, but homeowners can reduce their cold weather energy consumption in various ways without sacrificing comfort.

How College Kids Can Save When Dining Out

Dining halls may be the eatery of choice for college students, but that does not mean students don’t enjoy dining out. Tight budgets may make it difficult for some to dine out very often, but there are various ways for students to make dining out more affordable.

Take advantage of your student status.

Many restaurants in the vicinity of college campuses offer student discounts to patrons who present their college identification cards to their servers or cashiers. Students who patronize such restaurants can save substantial amounts of money.

Look for discount nights.

Just like many college-area restaurants offer discounts to customers who present their student ID cards, others may host discount nights when certain items on their menus are offered at substantially discounted prices. Such discounts are traditionally offered on nights that would otherwise be slow nights for restaurants. Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays tend to be slow nights for many establishments, and students might be able to find great meal deals on these nights.

Abstain from alcohol.

College students who are of legal drinking age can save money on date nights by abstaining from alcohol. A bottle of wine tends to be considerably more expensive in a restaurant than it would be if customers were to purchase the same bottle at a nearby liquor store. College students who still want to enjoy a drink during their next dinner out can save money by visiting BYOB restaurants.

Embrace food sharing.

Some restaurants offer food sharing or “family style” options to parties that exceed certain sizes. This can be a great way for college students to dine out and save money, as the cost per person might be less when sharing plates than it would be when each person is paying for his or her own entrée.

Tight budgets may prevent college students from dining out too often, but various saving strategies can make dining out more affordable for college students.

Go Green When Spending Time Outdoors This Summer

The great outdoors beckons people year-round. But nature is especially enticing in summer, when warm weather compels people to leave their couches and soak up some sun. Spending time outdoors is rewarding, and it can be even more so when men and women take steps to make their outdoor recreation as eco-friendly as possible. Whether it’s choosing certain activities or taking other measures, there are various ways to go green when spending time outdoors this summer and beyond.

Leave the car at home.

Americans and Canadians consume more gasoline per capita than any people in the world. According to data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration and the United Nations, Americans consume 4.39 liters of gasoline per capita each day, while Canadians consume 3.62 liters per capita each day. In lieu of driving everywhere this summer, men and women who want to be more mindful of the environment can leave their cars home more frequently. Rather than driving the family to a nearby ice cream stand, walk or bike there instead. Run as many errands on foot or on a bicycle as possible. Walking or cycling is a great way to get some time outdoors on warm summer days, and reducing fuel consumption is an equally great way to help the planet.

Vacation locally.

Another way to help the planet when spending time outdoors this summer is to vacation locally. People who vacation close to home typically do not fly, and that’s a significant benefit to the planet. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change notes that aviation emissions release black carbon, nitrous oxide and sulphur oxide, which contribute to the greenhouse gas effect. And while the EIA notes that automobiles and airplanes produce relatively similar amounts of carbon dioxide per gallon, airplanes burn considerably more fuel than cars, thanks in large part to the considerable amount of fuel planes burn on the runway. By vacationing locally, outdoor enthusiasts can reduce their reliance on airplanes, thereby reducing the effects those airplanes have on the environment.

Embrace eco-friendly activities.

Various activities, from organic gardening to planting trees to beach cleanups, provide a great way to get outdoors and help the planet at the same time. Men and women who grow their own vegetables can take solace knowing that the vegetables they’re eating each night did not require the depletion of any natural resources to go from garden to table. Signing up for beach cleanups can prevent trash, including harmful plastics, from making its way into the world’s oceans, and such cleanups provide a great excuse to go to the beach.

Volunteer with a local park service.

The National Park Service offers a variety of volunteer opportunities to individuals who are enamored with the great outdoors and are interested in protecting their local and national parks. Such opportunities can be explored by visiting www.nps.gov/getinvolved/volunteer.htm. Parks Canada (www.pc.gc.ca) offers similar opportunities to outdoor enthusiasts.

Outdoor enthusiasts can make their summers more rewarding by taking steps to be as eco-friendly as possible when spending time outdoors.

Set and Stick to Your Holiday Budget

The chance to give gifts and spend time with loved ones makes the holiday season a special time of year. But for many people, the holiday season often leads to overspending.

A 2016 survey from the American Research Group found that American shoppers anticipated spending an average of $930 on gifts that holiday season. Data from T. Rowe Price confirms that parents are spending between $400 and $500 per child each year. In 2015, CPA Canada conducted a random phone survey of 1,004 adult Canadians and found the average adult planned to spend $766 on holiday gifts.

Although these numbers can reflect an overwhelming sense of generosity, many times excessive spending is based on a desire to outdo gifting from the year prior – sometimes at the risk of personal finances. Some people are taking drastic measures to make holidays over-the-top, with some delving into emergency savings while others withdraw prematurely from retirement accounts. Budgeting for the holiday season can help shoppers keep their finances in check.

Determine spending patterns

An examination of receipts and spending habits from previous holiday seasons can help individuals establish budgets for the current year. Make a list of all expenses – even the ones that extend beyond holiday giving. These may include expenses such as gym service fees, homeowner’s insurance, traveling expenses, gift exchanges at work, and more. Extra costs can add up and should be factored into holiday budgets.

Try to recall if your spending last year felt comfortable or if you were paying off credit cards long after the holiday season had ended. If it’s the latter, resolve to make adjustments.

Establish a budget that fits

There is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all budget. Figure out if there is extra money this season or if times are tight. This will help you plan accordingly and avoid overspending. Shifting priorities can help free up some cash. If children are interested in this year’s hot (and likely expensive) gift, cut back on holiday travel or entertaining. Instead of buying gifts for coworkers, buy a drink during a night out.

Use the holidays as an opportunity to sell

Collectibles, gently used toys, video games, action figures – all of these items may be collecting dust at your home, but they might be coveted by other shoppers. Rely on the season for spending to make some extra income that can be cashed in for your own holiday purchases.

Set up an account and track spending

Establish a separate account strictly for holiday spending. This can include a credit card only used for gifts and entertaining or a savings account at a bank or credit union. You won’t know what is going out of your account unless you keep careful tabs on it. Tracking spending is the biggest key to sticking with a budget, according to the financial advice group The Balance.

Holiday budgeting can be challenging. But with some effort, it is possible to avoid debt and still enjoy a happy holiday season.

How Being An Early Bird Can Benefit Holiday Shoppers

Come the end of the often hectic holiday shopping season, many people resolve to begin shopping earlier in the following year. While such resolutions can be hard to keep, shoppers would be wise to consider the myriad ways they can benefit by starting their holiday shopping earlier than they’re typically accustomed to doing.

Deals

The more time shoppers give themselves to find gifts for their loved ones, the more time they have to comparison shop and find the best deals. Retailers often offer steep discounts during the holiday season, but such deals may pale in comparison to those that can be had throughout the rest of the year. Holiday shoppers who begin shopping early can always skip buying in late summer or autumn if they think better deals can be had once the holiday season begins.

Shipping

By shopping early, shoppers can choose the least expensive shipping option offered by online retailers, potentially saving substantial amounts of money as a result. In addition, shoppers who start early won’t have to worry about items failing to arrive on time, a common source of stress for last-minute holiday shoppers.

Credit score

Another advantage to shopping early for holiday gifts is it allows consumers to protect their credit scores by spreading their spending out over several months instead of doing so in the handful of weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas. In a survey examining debt associated with the holiday season, MagnifyMoney found that the average holiday debt in 2016 was slightly more than $1,000. Credit card debt can negatively affect consumers’ credit scores, especially if balances are not paid in full when bills are due. Shoppers can avoid such situations entirely by shopping early using only disposable income to make purchases instead of credit cards. Such financial flexibility may not be possible for shoppers who wait until the holiday season has begun to start shopping.

Time

Shoppers can save more than money by starting their holiday shopping in advance of the holiday season. In spite of the popularity of online shopping, many people still visit traditional brick and mortar retailers to do their present buying. Such stores can be overwhelmed with shoppers between Thanksgiving and Christmas, leading to long lines and lengthy searches for parking. Shoppers are far less likely to encounter big crowds and crowded parking lots if they get their shopping done before the dawn of the holiday season, saving themselves substantial amounts of time as a result.

Shoppers who commit to getting their holiday shopping done early can save money and time and protect their financial reputations as well.

Wenger & Myers Insurance My Franklin Shopper App

Money-Saving Shopping Tips For Savvy Shoppers

Sticking to a budget when shopping can help shoppers stay out of debt and avoid buying items they don’t need. But staying within budget is a challenge for many shoppers, especially when they come upon items that are hard to resist.

Breaking the budget is imprudent, and savvy shoppers know it’s oftentimes unnecessary. By employing a handful of money-saving strategies on their next shopping trip, shoppers can have their cake and eat it, too.

Embrace Coupons

The days of clipping coupons from store circulars or catalogues may s eem like a thing of the past, but shoppers can still use coupons to save substantial amounts of money. While national retailers may be unlikely to offer customers coupons, many small local businesses still utilize coupons to compel shoppers to visit their stores. Small businesses may not have the advertising budgets to promote their coupons as much as their larger competitors, but savvy shoppers willing to put in a little work may find their diligence rewarded with discounts. Scan local newspapers or peruse small businesses’ websites for coupons.

Try Negotiating

There was a time when negotiation was a big part of the shopping experience. While that time has long since passed, many retailers, particularly small, locally owned businesses, may be open to negotiation. Small business owners can often be found working in their stores, so budget-conscious shoppers should not hesitate to speak with business owners or managers in an effort to negotiate sale prices.

Shop at The Right Time

Retailers must make room for new products by unloading their existing inventory. Study industry trends to determine when retailers mark down items as they try to clear room for new products. For example, clothing retailers tend to discount summer clothing as autumn approaches, making late summer a great time to shop for swimsuits and other warm weather apparel.

Be Flexible

If a certain item just won’t fit into your budget, try to be flexible and find a similar item that’s more affordable. When purchasing big-ticket items such as appliances, apply this approach by looking for last year’s models instead of the newest models on the market. Last year’s models might still be an upgrade over your existing items, and retailers tend to greatly reduce prices once new models are introduced to the market.

Savvy shoppers working within a budget can still find great deals without accruing debt or spending more money than they’re comfortable spending.

 
My Franklin Shopper App

How to Avoid Unhealthy Habits at the Office

According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, working professionals spend an average of 8.5 hours per day at work. Many professionals spend much of their time at work sitting down in front of a computer, which can be detrimental to long-term health.

Staying sedentary for long periods of time can contribute to a host of health ailments, including being overweight and obese. But professionals who work in offices can take various steps to ensure all that time at work is not having an adverse affect on their overall health.

· Get out of your seat. Modern workplaces are built around sitting, so workers must find some time to stand up and stretch. Sitting too long can compromise posture and lead to craning of the neck for looking at the computer screen. Get out of your chair, walk around the office and get the blood moving in your body.

· Pack your lunch. Bringing lunch to work puts you in greater control over the foods you are eating. You can pack a healthy and diverse selection of foods. Don’t forget to also bring some snacks that offer a healthy mix of protein and carbohydrates to keep your energy levels up. Otherwise, you may succumb to the temptation of the lunchroom snack machine.

· Take frequent breaks. Stale air inside an office environment can make you feel fatigued and less productive. Also, spending too much time behind your desk may contribute to feelings of stress and tension. Use every opportunity possible to get up and leave your office. Instead of sending an instant message or making a phone call to a coworker, visit him or her in person. Use your lunch hour to get outside instead of eating at your desk. Plan a brief, mid-afternoon walk outside of your office to clear your mind and get some fresh air.

· Disinfect surfaces often. Oftentimes, when one person at the office gets sick, many others soon follow. Colds and the flu can spread rapidly in close quarters. Keep your desk drawer stocked with some alcohol swabs or disinfecting spray and routinely clean your keyboard, mouse, touchscreen, and desk surfaces. You also can wipe off door handles and knobs around the office if you want to be proactive.

· Rest your eyes. Close your eyes and look away from the computer monitor every 20 minutes. Focusing on objects of varying distances can help keep the eyes strong and reduce fatigue.

It’s not difficult to remain healthy at work. Breaks, exercise and watching what you eat can help.

How to Save Money on Vacation

“Travel can be expensive, but savings are possible when travelers know where to look.”

Going on vacation often means throwing a little caution to the wind and indulging here and there on purchases or experiences a person wouldn’t normally make at home. According to a 2015 CBS News poll, the average American is entitled to 16 days of paid leave each year, and the average Canadian worker 19 days. Such time off is an opportunity to fit lots of fun into a relatively short period of time. Frugal travelers may want to be sure they’re spending their hard-earned money in the smartest ways. Traveling without breaking the bank enables the average person to take more vacations and continue to make invaluable memories. Here are some suggestions on making a getaway, whether it involves lots of traveling or staying close to home, more affordable.

Be flexible.

Travelers who are flexible in their departure dates and times can usually find great rates because they have the ability to shop price instead of date. Various airline websites and travel discount services show the average flight prices across several days. Frugal fliers can select the lowest price. The same can be true when booking hotels and other vacation components.

Pack light.

Many airlines now charge extra for baggage fees — especially for suitcases that exceed the weight limit — so don’t bring along unnecessary items. Hotels typically provide toiletries for free, so save space and money by removing such items from your luggage. Chances are if you didn’t pack an item, you can still find an affordable alternative at your destination.

Use coupons.

Coupons aren’t only for getting cents off your favorite brand of tissue at the supermarket. Coupons and discount codes are available for just about any purchase — even vacations. Check all travel websites to see if there are any deals to be had. Don’t overlook discounts related to your membership in clubs such as AAA or AARP or those linked to your alumni or military organization. According to RetailMeNot, having a social media account can help, too. Travel deal sites and airlines may post about flash sales.

Plan meals.

Look into economical restaurants before departing. Know where you’ll be eating and when, including packing a lunch or enjoying a hotel-provided breakfast. Enjoying a big lunch can be more frugal than indulging on dinner.

Rent small.

If renting a car, choose the smallest model that will fit your needs. In addition, there’s no need to pay for a large room that you don’t plan to spend much time in, so resist the temptation to book large hotel rooms.

Consider public transportation.

Investigate the public transportation options at your destination. Such options may not be as convenient as taxis, but they may be more economical.

Book based on currency.

Stay abreast of currency exchange rates. Such rates can make a big difference in choosing a destination, particularly if your money will be worth more internationally. Also, try booking a vacation through the local country’s version of the same travel site.

Skip tourist hotspots.

Talk to the locals to find out where to get the best deals. Try local foods, brews and more for a cost savings. Travel can be expensive, but savings are possible when travelers know where to look.

Successfully Switch Auto Insurance Providers

Once drivers purchase an auto insurance policy, many simply let the policy renew each year. But with a little digging, drivers may be able to reduce their insurance costs considerably. According to the Insurance Information Institute in New York, consumers should ask themselves if they’re happy with the cost, service and coverage of their existing policies whenever it’s time to renew. If they are, they should stick with their existing policies. However, if customers feel things can be better, then it’s a perfect time to see what’s available. Many driver advocates advise shopping for a new policy every two or three years. When it comes time to switch car insurance companies, follow these steps and remember to avoid gaps in the coverage.

• Compare apples to apples. When shopping for new policies, consumers should compare the same features offered by various providers, including coverage types, deductibles and any limits. Keep a copy of your existing policy’s declarations page so that all quotes can be accurately compared to the existing policy.

• Research any cancellation fees. Before switching over, find out if there are any cancellation fees associated with an existing policy.

• Eliminate coverage gaps. Eliminate gaps in coverage by ensuring a new policy begins the moment the existing one ends. This prevents potential financial ruin should a driver get into an accident without any insurance during a gap period.

• Take note of any lifestyle changes. Be sure to list anything that can affect the cost of coverage, such as anti-theft devices on the vehicle, window etching or updated driving habits.

• Explore union or group affiliations. Drivers who are members of particular clubs, professional organizations or something similar may be eligible for special policies with certain providers. Make a list of any affiliations and contact the organizers to see if they have relationships with auto insurance providers. Law enforcement personnel or veterans may be eligible for certain discounts as well. Some insurance carriers only cover police officers or former military. It pays to look into these discounts.

• Consider small companies. Just because they don’t advertise as much as some of the more well-known providers does not mean small insurance companies are not capable of providing sufficient, affordable coverage. There are plenty of reputable small companies that offer excellent rates to drivers willing to exercise their due diligence.

• Check with the existing provider, too. Drivers can discuss their current rates and coverage with their existing insurance company, who may offer suggestions on reducing coverage or even offer lower prices in an effort to hang on to customers. Consider these possibilities before switching. Shopping around for a new automotive insurance policy may help customers cut rates and increase coverage.

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Get a Head-Start on Tax Season

While the deadline to file returns may be several months away, getting a head-start allows men and women the chance to organize their tax documents so they aren’t racing against a deadline come April. The following are a handful of ways to start preparing for your returns now.

The dawn of a new calendar year often marks the end of the sometimes hectic holiday season. This time of year marks a return to normalcy for many families, as the kids go back to school and parents return to work.

The beginning of January also serves as a great time to start preparing for tax season. While the deadline to file returns may be several months away, getting a head-start allows men and women the chance to organize their tax documents so they aren’t racing against a deadline come April.

Ways to Start Preparing for your Returns Now

  • Find last year’s return. You will need information from last year’s return in order to file this year, so find last year’s return and print it out if you plan to hire a professional to work on your return.
  • Gather dependents’ information. While you might know your own Social Security number by heart, if you have dependents, you’re going to need their information as well. New parents or adults who started serving as their elderly parents’ primary caretakers over the last year will need their kids’ and their folks’ social security numbers. If you do not have these numbers upon filing, your return will likely be delayed and you might even be denied potentially substantial tax credits.
  • Gather your year-end financial statements. If you spent the last year investing, then you will have to pay taxes on any interest earned. Interest earned on the majority of savings accounts is also taxable, so gather all of your year-end financial statements from your assorted accounts in one place. Doing so will make filing your return, whether you do it yourself or work with a professional, go more quickly.
  • Speak with your mortgage lender. Homeowners should receive forms documenting their mortgage interest payments for the last year, as the money paid in interest on your home or homes is tax deductible. If these forms are not received in a timely manner, speak with your lender. You might even be able to download them from your lender’s secure website.
  • Make a list of your charitable contributions. Charitable contributions, no matter how small, are tax deductible. While it’s easiest to maintain a list of all charitable donations you make as the year goes on, if you have not done that, then you can make one now. Look for receipts of all contributions, contacting any charities you donated to if you misplaced any receipts.
  • Book an appointment with your tax preparation specialist now. As April 15 draws closer, tax preparers’ schedules get busier and busier. The earlier you book your appointment, the more likely you are to get a favorable time for that meeting. In addition, if you have gathered all of the information you need by early February, then booking your appointment early means you can file earlier and receive any return you might be eligible for that much quicker.

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