Archive for the ‘Finances’ Category

How Do You Define Success?

March 10, 2008

One of the things that became immediately obvious while trying to set our goals, was that we did not have a clear definition of what success meant to us.  Which is probably another reason we ended up in our financial fallout.  We had the usual culprits of fame and fortune raise their heads briefly, but was that really the way we wanted to define whether we are living a successful life?  Here are a few of the things to consider when creating your own definition of success.

What is the main objective to your life.  If it could be said that you accomplished one thing in your life, what would you have it be?  Personally, we do not think that “they made a lot of money” should be the main topic at our funerals.  If you did not have any bills, and loads of money, what would you wish to achieve in this life?

Money alone is not a worthy goal.  Most people who say they want a million dollars (or some other figure) in the bank before they can consider their life a success.  I have never heard of a case where money was the only destination.  More often than not, the desired result is something the person believes the money can provide.  Security, freedom,  conveniences, are usually the end result that is sought.

Be careful not to tie your success to a finite object or amount of money.  If you define your success as getting the newest Lamborghini  Diablo, one of two things could happen: (a)If you do not purchase the object or achieve the large bankroll in your lifetime, you may consider yourself a failure, or (b) Once you have the object, you will become complacent and think that you have “arrived.”

It is of some debate now, but this quote was at one time attributed to Emerson.  Regardless, the meaning is an awesome statement and a great way to define success:

To laugh often and much;
To win the respect of intelligent people
and the affection of children;
To earn the appreciation of honest critics
and endure the betrayal of false friends;
To appreciate beauty,
to find the best in others;
To leave the world a bit better,
whether by a healthy child,
a garden patch or a redeemed social condition;
To know even one life has breathed easier
because you have lived.
This is to have succeeded.

This is by far one of the best definitions of success I have ever heard.  Another great way to live a successful life: To love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your mind, and all your might.  To love your neighbor as you love yourself.  If we all lived that way, this would be a better world.

Finally, make sure that it is YOUR definition.  We are so bombarded by television and the media about how we should define success.  I look at these people (movie stars, singers, and so forth) and I feel sorry for them.  They have no privacy.  Many end up on drugs and alcohol.  Even though they “have it all,” many are never satisfied.  Be sure that you define what your life should be about.  Take the time to consider this carefully.  By defining what is truly wanted out of life, you may find that the eighty hours a week or more that you are working are doing nothing to get you closer to your idea of success.

Take a few minutes to think about your definition of success.  Are you currently getting closer?  Farther away?  What can you change to make your life a success as you define it? 

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How Will You Offset the Rising Price of Flour?

February 27, 2008
Wheat
It has been in the news since December. Now it seems that it is going to trickle down to all of us. Estimates are that a price increase of up to thirty percent can be expected. Here is an excerpt from a recent article in The Christian Science Monitor:
“Why the increase? The prime ingredient in flour is wheat, which these days is acting more like oil – rising sharply on commodities exchanges. On Monday, the price of March spring wheat on the Minneapolis Grain Exchange shot up to $24 a bushel, the highest price ever. Within the past month, the price of some types of wheat has risen over 90 percent. Already, agricultural experts say, it’s getting hard to find the type of wheat used to make pasta, noodles, pizza, and bagels.”Supplies of some types of wheat will be extremely tight,” says economist William Lapp, president of Advanced Economic Solutions in Omaha, Neb. “I don’t think we’ll see physical bread lines, but supplies will be just tight.””This leads to the question of how are we going to compensate for the extra price of these wheat based goods. One thing we are going to do is buy a 25lb. bag of flour now, before the price goes up again. This will usually last us around a couple of months for us (we bake a considerable amount of pizza and breakfast goods) if we pace ourselves.Another way to help with this increase in price is to look for ways to decrease your expenses in other grocery categories. One thing that we do is use a price list. Granted, doing this will take a little time and effort, but it will pay off. A fabulous resource that we have used extensively is a program on saving at the grocery store. I cannot begin to explain all the wonderful information we gleaned from this product. Nothing is left out, and the whole process of lowering your grocery expense is laid out step by step.

Once you have found ways to decrease the expense in other categories, that will obviously allow for an increase in your flour and wheat based products. If the price were to increase too drastically though, we will have no choice but to consider a change in diet. There are many programs (Adkins, South Beach, etc.) that sing the praises of a carbohydrate free meal, just are there are those that warn against high intakes of protein. Personally, I love my pastas and bread.

To read the rest of the article mentioned above, please click here.

How do you plan to deal with the increase in the price of wheat? Do you have bread with every meal?

Saving Money While doing Your Household Shopping

February 22, 2008
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One of the ways to save money while doing your shopping is to maintain a price list. This is something we learned about while looking for ways to save money after our fallout. It is simple to do, yet the savings can profoundly affect your budget. There are a couple different ways to go about the process, as always pick what you can use and leave the rest.

Take a notebook with you while shopping. This recommendation is that you jot down items that you normally buy along with their price as you do your shopping. We have also seen the suggestion that you shop at a different store each week for three weeks to compare your prices. If you live in a city where competition is level, this would be fine. However, where we live there can be a two dollar difference in a gallon of milk. It would not be feasible for us to shop there and blow our monthly budget in one trip.

Save your shopping receipts and make the list once you get home. It is alright to do this if you wish to do this every week for a while and shop at your three different stores. The only problem is that you are only going to have the items listed that you are using for your current menu.

Make a list of the items you need most, then go compare. This is the method we use. We sat down and made a list of the 56 items that we use most on a monthly basis, and then we went shopping. In our area we have a Kroger, Save-A-Lot, Wal-Mart, and an Aldi. We made our list before we left, looked for sale items that we could purchase from each place, and away we went. We were able to write down all our prices and do business with each store.

Our findings were different than we thought they would be. We were able to take around $70 off our monthly budget just by doing this to compare prices. Even though we are now shopping at three different stores, our trip only takes about an hour and a half every two weeks.

The same principle also works for household goods as well (toilet paper, shampoo, soap, carpet cleaner, etc.) Just make your list and compare.

By doing this you will have a good idea on what you are paying for items at several places, thus it will allow you to take advantage of sales more effectively. Have you ever bought something on “sale” only to find it cheaper at regular price elsewhere? We sure have. By knowing your average prices, when you see items that you use regularly you can stock up on them and help your budget even more.

How do you try to find the best deals? Do you keep a price list? What about coupons? Are they worth the trouble?

A Great Resource on Kiplinger.com

February 21, 2008

Hello everyone!!

I just saw this article on Kiplinger.com about savine money on almost everything.  Some good information on various categories.  Let me know what you think!

Save Money on Practically Everything.

This will fit well in the post series on saving money on expenses!  Have a great day!

Start Your Savings 2: Your 401k or 403b plan.

February 20, 2008

In this series we are discussing various savings accounts and how to possibly fund them. To get the rest of the series click here, or subscribe to our RSS feed. The post will be delivered as soon as they are made available!

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Lets take a few minutes and talk about your 401k or 403b retirement plan. If your employer does not offer one, take heart, you may change jobs in the future and work where one is offered. If you are very influential, you may convince your employer to offer one (encourage as many coworkers as possible.)

Taxes. We just completed our taxes the other day, so this is foremost in my mind. Your contributions to your 401k come out of pre-taxable income. Depending on your income level, this could place you in a lower tax bracket if your income is right on the line.

Employer match. Most employers will match a certain amount of your contributions. The amounts vary greatly, but it is usually x% of your contributions up to y% (example-they may match you 25% on the first 4% of your contribution). Regardless of the amount, this is free money. If you contribute nothing more, at least get the maximum amount that your employer will kick in.

Tax deferred growth. Again, I am going back to taxes. The contributions, and the earned interest/dividends (compounding is your friend), grow tax deferred. The 401k’s have investment options in stocks, bonds, mutual funds, etc., but the capital gains and dividends are not taxable until withdrawn.

It is automatic. You can set this on auto-pilot and forget it. We found that if it was gone before we seen it, we did not miss it. I would review once a quarter, and only change after careful consideration. Avoid watching CNN and other news networks at all cost. They live on promoting fear and the gloom and doom of “the coming recession.” The facts are these: recession or not, the market has cycles. It will forever go up and down. Whether it be the tech bubble bursting, or the sub-prime market falling on its face, it will always be a roller coaster ride. The Dow Jones started in 1896 with an average of 40.94. It is now over 12,000. Yes, it has seen low periods, but it continues to grow over the long run. Which brings me to my next point.

Stay in for the long haul. Unless you plan on retiring in the next 10 years or so, do not stress over the ups and downs of the market. Just keep plugging along and ride it out.

As we have stated in our about page, we are not financial advisers or professionals. Your situation is unique, and you should consult a competent professional before making any decisions. We are only sharing our thoughts and what has worked for us.

Do you contribute to your 401k? How much does your employer match?

Start Your Savings 1: Build an Emergency Fund

February 19, 2008

In this series we are discussing various savings accounts and how to possibly fund them. To get the rest of the series click here, or subscribe to our RSS feed. The post will be delivered as soon as they are made available!

Freefoto.com

I will say that I am extremely biased on this topic. It seems to me, from the research that we have done, is that there are two schools of thought. Either you pay off you high interest debt, then build your savings, or you get a specific amount saved before you begin paying more than the minimum payment on your debt.

Having been in a situation where the income suddenly disappeared, I am now a firm believer in having an emergency fund. It would have been nice to have a cushion to fall on when things went haywire. We have started our emergency fund, but we have a long way to go to reach our goal. When you first begin, I recommend setting your goal to be enough to cover at least one month of expenses.

The first step is finding the money to place in the fund. We had a zero budget when we began, which means everything we had coming in (and then some!!) was going back out. Here are some of the ways we have “found” money to save:

  1. We created a budget. The list included all of our expenses that we had gathered. I am working on a spreadsheet budget, and as soon as I get it finished and uploaded we are going to do an entire post on budgeting. Once you have created a budget, any amount that is not used in a category (providing all other expenses are covered) can be placed in your savings.
  2. We started a change jar. We placed a simple mason jar on our kitchen counter and place all loose change (other than quarters) in the jar. Our first month we had around eight dollars. If you use your debit card for most purchases (as we do), this will not add up quickly, but every little bit will help.
  3. Look for ways to lower your expenses. For a list of general ideas on how to save on expenses check these post. Again, whenever you are able to lower an expense, place some (if not all) of the savings into your emergency fund.
  4. Sell unused items. Anything that has value, that you are not using or personally attached to, get rid of. This was a two fold bonus for us. We made money for our savings, and the extra space and clutter free rooms really made a positive difference in our house. Ebay is one place to start. Although, I do not recommend selling anything that will not bring at least five dollars. It is not worth the time and effort to list items and pay the associated fees for less. Ebay has great research tools available to see what most items are selling for.
  5. Take on additional work. This is not a favorite choice, but it is an option. Either volunteer for overtime or extra work at your current employer, or find “odd jobs” to help people with. Unless circumstances are dire, I would try to find other ways before taking additional time away from family.

Once you have a little extra money, the next matter to consider is where to save it. Here are some of the choices we considered.

  1. Our local bank. If you need to have the money immediately available, then this is your best option. You can walk in and withdraw your money if need be, but you are going to pay for this luxury dearly. I am not talking about an actual expense, but rather in lost interest. Our bank currently only pays 0.5%. Our bank also requires a minimum balance, or you are assessed a $3 fee every month your balance is below minimum.
  2. Online savings accounts. These accounts are insured just like your local bank accounts by FDIC. There are many options available, and the interest rates will vary, but we chose ING. At the time of this posting their rate is 3.4% APY. While there are banks that are paying higher, all of our research lead to the fact that ING has phenomenal customer service, and an easy to use site. We were not disappointed.
  3. Interest bearing checking. This was an option for about two minutes for us. First of all, most require a minimum. Secondly, we decided that this was to be a savings account, and even though we wanted to have “quick” access, we did not want immediate access. We know enough about ourselves at this point to know that we could find an “emergency” (we should buy that limited edition thingamajig, they might run out!) if we had instant access.

Even though there are many other options available, those are the only ones we considered. As with most avenues in personal finance, patience is a key factor. It may not make you feel like dancing in the street, but that $4.40 deposit (yes, we have made one) will get you closer to your goal.

Do you have an emergency fund? How do you save for your fund? Where do you invest the money? We would love to know!

Improve Your Financial Situation Through Education

February 16, 2008

It seems that some people loose hope and feel that they must stay in their current situations forever. Although it may not be easy, there always exist a way for people to improve their earning potential. Again, it could require self sacrifice, and less sleep sometimes, but these are some of the ways to increase your marketability.

Free/Low cost

Here are three ways to educate yourself that will only require your time, and maybe transportation cost:

  1. Your local library. Whatever your decision, your library is the best place to start. There you can find information on job markets, the process for getting certified to certain jobs and so forth. For a list of some ways your library can be a great place to visit check here. Your library will also have an array of books on just about any skill set. This will not only help you decide if you want to pursue that avenue, you may be able to glean enough information to gain an entry level position with demonstrated knowledge.
  2. The internet. The world wide web is choke full of information. There are literally thousands of sites with. Although you must validate the authority of the site, usually a .org, .gov, or .edu are sites that will give you accurate information. I have found free ebooks and tutorials on such things as HTML programming, internet marketing, how to run a saw mill, and the list goes on. Again, this information may not get you the job, but it may increase your chances if you are able to talk intelligently with the interviewer about their companies operations.
  3. Find a mentor. This is a great way to learn a particular skill. Find someone who is an expert in any field, and ask them to teach you. Now, never expect nor ask for anything for free; rather offer to volunteer to help them a couple hours a week, or even join their team and get on their payroll. There are many high demand jobs on the blue collar front that only require a demonstration of the skill. Welding, car repair, HVAC helper, and a few others.

Expense education/Ways to pay for it

This list are the some of the obvious (and not so obvious) ways to get an education by paying for it. We will also list some ideas on how to pay for these expenses. First we will start with the institutions.

College

There are basically three types of colleges in our area that we had to choose from:

  1. Private. This is by far the most expensive route to take when getting a higher education. Even though the universities where we are have programs in place to aid low income individuals with tuition, it is often the little expenses that make this choice not an option.
  2. State universities. Our state universities are around 60% cheaper than the private universities. Most will have financial aid programs in place if you live or graduated in their state. State universities are usually more apt to offer classes at varying hours for those who work. State universities normally offer more online classes. This is the best option for those who work full time or more, and have a family to take care of as well. These classes allow you to set your own schedule; however, it is imperative that you set a schedule and stick to it.
  3. Community colleges. This is the cheapest option in our area. If it has been a while since you have been in school, I recommend a community college for remedial courses to help bring you up to speed in the core curriculum areas. The cost is less, and they are a great help to those who just need to freshen up on the general subjects. Most community colleges offer and array of associates degrees that can be completed in two years or less. Even though these jobs may not pay the best, if it is an increase to where you are now it can always be used as a stepping stone to a higher degree. Our community college also has an agreement with the state colleges for a full transferability of college hours should you choose to pursue a four year degree.
  4. Technical schools. I will place these under this heading, but I honestly do not know much about them. It is my understanding that they offer career specific training. This would probably be a good option if you knew what you wanted to do, and the courses were offered. I knew a gentleman who loved to paint cars. He made decent money on his own, but by going to technical school he did not have to take the english and history that may be required in college, instead they focused entirely on his line of work. By completing these courses, he raised his hourly rate and was able to take on new business from insurance companies and such because of his certification.
Now we will review some of the ways to pay for this educaiton.
  1. Fill out a FAFSA. This is a Free Application for Federal Student Aid. This type of aid can be used at both colleges and technical schools. The financial aid office at your school of choice will make the decision on some of you aid, so it is best to talk to them directly once you have filled this out and submitted the information to the.
  2. Your state programs. Again, some states have programs in place for residents or graduates in their state. The financial aid office will have more information on this as well.
  3. Check with your employer. Some companies will reimburse employees for college courses. Although some may reimburse the full amount, most will only do a percentage, and some will only pay on courses that relate to your line of work. Your companies HR office will have more information on this type of aid.
  4. Pay for it yourself. This is the least favorite, but sometimes only option available. One way to facilitate this is to start saving on expenses. Take the money that you save and apply it toward your education. Maybe you have a bad habit that you can stop and place the money in an account for college. Some schools have work programs that allow you to work twenty hour a week or so and apply part of your wage toward your bill.
  5. Scholarships. There are also many scholarships available. All have guidelines that have to be met, as well as deadlines. Check with the financial aid office for more details for your area and line of study.
The main thing is to do your research and pick the route that works best for you. Keep in mind that it is a long process, but the payoff will be worth it.
How did you pay for your education? Are you considering going back to school?

 

Save Money on Your Utility Bill Part 3-Heat and Air

February 15, 2008

This is the second of three post on saving money on your utilities each month. The post will be here once they are completed. Subscribe to our feed to get all the post as they become available!!

 

Heat and Air

This area is hands down our biggest expense in electricity. To save money on heat and air bills will require a little more time and effort than was required for electricity or water.  Because your heat and air units require so much energy (electricity, gas, propane, etc.), the payoff will be well worth it.  Without further ado, here are a few ways to reduce the cost of heating and cooling your house:

  1. Change your filter regularly.  This is perhaps the easiest, yet most often neglected, way to decrease your utility bill.  Estimates range from twelve to twenty percent as the amount of efficiency replacing a filter can add to your unit.  This is also true of window air units.  Any unit that requires air circulation to “condition” the air needs the proper amount of air flow to do the job optimally.  If you are prone to allergies, there are plenty of high quality filters that remove airborne allergens while your heat or air is on.  Not only will having a clean filter reduce the amount of money you pay monthly in utilities, it will also prolong the life of your heat and air system.
  2.    Seal air leaks around windows and doors and other areas in the house.  Most of the heat and air loss that occurs in a home takes place around your windows and doors.  Any hardware store has the necessary equipment to fix these problems.  First, we will look at windows.  One of the simplest things to do is to either purchase or make some heavy drapes to hang in front of the window.  This will prevent some of the draft from breezing through out your dwelling.  If you live in a considerably old house or apartment building, you may want to consider plastic shrink wrap.  The average cost in our area is about $11 for a package that will seal five windows.  Now, doors.  The best way to stop air flow around your doors is to insure a proper fit when closed.  One way to check this is to close the door, turn off all the inside lights, and leave an outside light on.  If at from any angle you can see light, it is a good idea to weather strip the door jamb.  Weather strips vary in thickness, so measure the area needed to make the door close tightly, and purchase the closest size.  Foam spray is a great tool for do-it-yourself projects when preventing air loss.  Look anywhere items come in the house from outside (dryer vents, water pipes, electrical conduit, etc.) and seal up any cracks or crevasses around them.
  3. Properly service your heat and air systems once a year.  At least once a year have a licensed HVAC repair person service your system to keep it running properly.  In our area, a “tune up” visit only cost around $40-$50.  Most of the time the inside of the unit will need to be cleaned out, as well as the correct gases filled up to keep the unit running optimally.  If you have window units, there should be an HVAC repair shop in your area that will complete this service for around $15-$20 for larger sized window units.  Important note:  Be sure to do your research before choosing a repair person.  Check with family and friends (just about everyone has had heat and air trouble at some point) and find out who they recommend.  If you cannot find a repair person this way, call your local Better Business Bureau.  They will have reports on companies in your area that preform this service.
  4. Use a programmable thermostat.  Keeping your temperature set and not “yo-yoing” it up and down will help save money as well.  With a programmable thermostat you can set it to your desired temperatures and then forget it.  Turning the temperature down while sleeping, even if just a couple degrees, will help on your bill.

I am sure there are many other ways to save in this area.  These are just a few that we have tried that seem to work well.  This article finishes our series on saving money on utilities.  Hope some of this information will help you save money as well.

How do you prevent air loss in your abode?  We are always looking for new ideas!

Save Money on Your Utility Bills Part 2-Water

February 13, 2008

This is the second of three post on saving money on your utilities each month. The post will be here once they are completed. Subscribe to our feed to get all the post as they become available!!


Water


This post will list and describe ways to save on your monthly water bill. Nothing will be too complex, and most will only require implementing a new way of doing things. Keep in mind that changing just a few of these items can make a big difference in your water expenses!

  1. Repair or replace leaky faucets. A faucet with slow leak can cost you up to three gallons of water a day. If you have name brand faucets (we use Delta and Moen), they are fairly easy to repair. Just a few screws out and replacing a gasket or cylinder and you are finished. If you have to replace, I recommend choosing a good, quality faucet. They last longer, and you are more apt to find the parts needed to service them in the future.
  2. Replace your shower head. The standard shower heads in our area are 2.5 gallons per minute of water flow. One of the easiest ways to reduce your water cost is to install a one gallon per minute shower head. They have the same amount of pressure while you shower and the save a significant amount of water. On a 10 minute shower you will have saved 15 gallons of water. If you shower everyday (as you should!) that will amount to 450 gallons per month in savings.
  3. Install an aerator on your kitchen sink. This handy little device reduces the amount of water you use by mixing it with air as it comes out of your faucet. If you use you kitchen faucet to “fill” a lot of items with water (such as water filters, fish aquariums, etc.) I do not really recommend this one as it will drastically increase the amount of time to complete these task. Also, if you do not use a dishwasher, when you rinse you dishes, if you stop the drain you will accumulate enough water after the first few to rinse the rest without letting the faucet run.
  4. Wash only full loads of laundry. This prevents excessive use of water for small loads. If you wash small loads, be sure to change the water level setting before starting the cycle.
  5. Replace flush valves and flaps in your toilets if they leak. As with a leaky faucet, these items can cost you many gallons of water a day. To check if your toilet is leaking, after a flush add 4 drops of food coloring to the back of the tank. The next time you go, if any of the color is inside the bowl you know it is time to replace the flap.

These are just a few of the quick fixes that we have used in our house over the last few years. They have made a huge difference in our utility bill. Stay tuned, the last part of the series will be coming your way withing the next week or so.

What ways do you conserve water at your dwelling? Have you tried any of these?

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Save Money on Your Utility Bills Part 1-Electricity

February 12, 2008

This is the first of three post on saving money on your utilities each month. The post will be here once they are completed. Subscribe to our feed to get all the post as they become available!!

Out of necessity we have researched, and implemented, several ways to reduce the cost of utilities for our household. Although some of these tips may only apply to single family dwellings, most can be used in apartments as well. It is a good idea to insert a disclaimer here. Some of the information we came across was rather drastic, and while these things work for us, they may be drastic to you. Assess your comfort level, then proceed. The items are listed in no particular order, just a random collection of ideas to make living a little cheaper.

Electricity

  1. Hot water heater. Adjust the temperature on your hot water heater to a few degrees lower. Buy an insulation blanket for your water heater. A temperature of one-hundred twenty degrees is recommended by www.energystar.gov for a savings of up to $461.00 per year.
  2. Install CFL’s in most used light fixtures. This simple move made a 600 kwh difference in our electric bill in one month. That is 7200 kwh/year x .098/kwh = $705.60 in one year!!! Basically you get the same amount of light for around 1/4-1/3 of the cost. Over the life of the bulb it is estimated that it will save you around $30 in energy cost. They also last longer than incandescent bulbs, so you save on the cost of purchasing bulbs every few weeks.
  3. Clean out your dryer vent before each cycle. As with your car filter , a clean filter lets your dryer breathe and remove the moisture quicker. Another way to save is to air dry clothes on a line. Personally, we do not like the way this makes the clothes feel, so we use a combination. We air dry, on a line outside or on hangers in the house, until the clothes are almost dry. Then we place them in the dryer for around 10-15 minutes just to use the fabric sheets and take the “stiffness” out of them. We have not calculated how much this saves, but the dryer is in use approximately 1/3 less than usual. This could benefit both gas and electric units.
  4. Refrigerator/Freezer. Invest in a cheap thermometer to gage the temp inside your refrigerator and set your thermostat to the proper setting. One way to save is to place bottles of water in the freezer to take up space. A full freezer requires less energy to cool. When you need all the space in the freezer, the bottles can be placed in the refrigerator and will actually help keep that area cool as the ice melts. Also be sure to clean out the coils on the your refrigerator per your units instructions. Again, proper air flow is crucial.
  5. Cooking. Try to do all your baking together. If you are baking biscuits for breakfast, and plan on corn bread for supper, bake them together. It saves a great deal of energy preventing the oven from having to heat up twice. If you are using your oven for toast, bagels, or just a couple of biscuits, consider purchasing a toaster oven. They use considerable less electric vs. a conventional oven. When possible, reheat items in a microwave instead of on the stove.
  6. Unplug unused items. Most electrical items can use a trickle of energy even when not in use. Take a stroll around your abode and unplug all items not in use.

Other ways exist to lower the bill a little here and there, but these are the ones we have practiced that made the biggest difference. In the next post pf this series we will explore ways to save on the water bill.

How do you save on electricity? What has made the biggest impact on your household?