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!

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Free Software that Makes My Life Easier Part 2: Mozilla Firefox Add-ons

February 18, 2008

Firefox add on symbol

Here we are going to list some of the Firefox add-ons that have been extremely helpful in saving us time and effort on a daily basis. There are too many add-ons available to count, just don’t get carried away and install too many (it will affect browser performance, I know!). My advice is to stick with only the add-ons that you will be using more than once a day. I look at them as ways to increase productivity, or to save time and money; they must meet one of these criteria before I will install them.

  1. Session Manager. This is the first add-on that I use when I open my browser. It probably saves me 10-15 minutes daily. You can create as many sessions as you wish and label them all. I have several, but my core session is the one that I use daily. It includes all the pages I visit daily. Be sure to create a master password before you save a session. It will open in tabs and log you in automatically after you enter your password. Try it out.
  2. Scribefire. This add-on will only appeal to you fellow bloggers out there. It opens an interface at the bottom of the page and allows you to post to your blog instantly.
  3. PDF Download. This is a great tool. How many times have you clicked on a link only to find it is a .pdf file that takes 5 minutes to download? This add-on stops that. Whenever you click on a link that is a .pdf, it automatically detects the file and lets you choose how you want to handle the file.
  4. No Script. If you visit sites that you are not familiar with often, this add-on is a great security feature. It will allow absolutely no script to run on the page without your permission. You only have to allow sites that you frequent often once, and there is a menu if you change your mind about certain scripts.
  5. Auto Shutdown. This allows your computer to automatically shutdown once all files have been downloaded. I usually grab any music, podcast, or videos before bed and let them download. Whenever they are finished, my PC automatically shuts down. At the time of this post, the add-on was not found. It is possible that an update is being processed.
  6. StumbleUpon. This will add a StumbleUpon toolbar. If you frequently use this application, this is a great tool. All of your stumble options can be managed from the toolbar.
  7. Twitterbar. If you use Twitter to let friends know what you are into, this allows you to post to Twitter directly from your address bar by clicking a little green circle.
  8. Answers. Provides one click information on words or phrases that you may encounter on the net.

These next two are for the Thunderbird email client developed by Mozilla.

  1. Lightning. Adds calendar functionality to Thunderbird.
  2. Provider for Google Calendar. Allows Lightning and Sunbird to sync with Google calendar.
I hope that you will find some of these useful! Have a great day and enjoy making your life a little easier!

Five Frugal Ways to Have Fun with Your Child

February 18, 2008

This post is by Mrs. Perfectlyimperfectmusing, an Interdisciplinary Early Childhood Education major.

Sign for playing children

 

This post is designed specifically for those with kids in mind. (Or…those who are simply kids at heart!) Whether you are looking for something to do on a rainy day or something fun (and frugal) to do with your family this post is for you.

 

Let me begin by first stating one of our personal philosophies when it comes to children: First and foremost we believe that learning occurs in young children best through play! This means lots of playing…yes, that means mom and dad get in the floor, in the yard, in the kitchen…wherever and play! We know, sometimes it is hard to do that, but honestly if we don’t play with our little ones and enter their worlds of make believe (while we are still invited) then what makes us think that when our children reach their teenage years that they will want us involved in their lives. O.K. Off of my soap box…

Children love messy, icky, and all around gooey textures. With this in mind, let me warn you ahead of time; some of the fun, frugal ideas here are a bit messy. My recommendations are put down an old sheet or some wax paper and let the fun begin. For those of you who are a bit leery of a mess let me give you some motivation for allowing the icky, messy stuff. Allowing young children to experience the different textures and temperatures is very beneficial to their sensory-motor development; this is true for children with or without special needs.

Certain foods and ingredients make for great fun! I am going to list several activities that you can do at home for a minimal cost, but for maximum fun.

  1. Make some play dough! I am going to list two separate recipes so that even very young toddlers can get in on the fun.

Peanut Butter Play dough
3 ½ cups peanut butter
4 cups confectioners’ sugar
3 ½ cups of honey
4 cups of dry milk powder

In a large bowl, mix together peanut butter and confectioners’ sugar, then beat in honey and fold in milk power. Divide into 15 equal portions and refrigerate or freeze until ready to use.

The above recipe is great for toddlers who are too young to try to keep them from eating it!

Regular Play Dough
2 Cups of flour
½ cup of cornstarch
1 Tbsp. powdered alum
2 cups of water
1 cup of salt
1 tbsp salad oil

Place all ingredients in saucepan. Stir constantly over low heat until mixture thickens into consistency of cough. Remove from heat and let cool until it can be handled. Knead like bread dough until smooth. Add food coloring if you wish. Store in airtight container. Keeps for up to one month.

**Great for those days when kids are WILD and you need to de-stress….the kneading of dough is a natural stress reliever**

    2. Finger Paint! No, I am not crazy! This is loads of fun and there are some great non-toxic recipes that can be used for children of all ages. My favorite is:

Condensed Milk Paint
2 cups condensed milk
4 small bowls

Various plastic or wooden spoons
Red, yellow, green, blue food coloring
Divide the condensed milk evenly into the four bowls.
Add a few drops of food coloring to each bowl (create more colors by mixing and experimenting)
Mix food coloring into the milk with spoons.
Put down construction paper and let the fun begin!

You can give your toddler wooden or plastic spoons, cookie cutters, basting brushes or anything that they can “paint” with…of course fingers work great.

    3. Make Goop. This stuff is fascinating, it hardens in the air and turns to liquid when it is held, can resist punching, but a light touch causes a finger to sink in. Try to explain this to a curious child of four and you have yourself a challenge.

 Goop
3 cups of corn starch
2 cups of warm water

Slowly add water to the corn starch. Mix ingredients together with hands. Goop is ready to use when it changes from being lumpy to satiny.

 

    4. Have children tell you a story or have them act out a story you have told them. This is especially fun when the child is old enough to draw some of their own story prompts. Many people wrongly assume that a preschooler has a limited attention span, but give them your attention and *listen* to them, talk *to* them not at them and I think many would be pleasantly surprised at just how much of an attention span they have and they would be shocked at their creativity.

 

    5. Sing, dance and use your imagination with your child. Ok, I know this is hard for a lot of us, but I promise you this: young children don’t care whether or not we can sing or dance, they just want us to be involved with them. When doing these things remember that it is irrelevant how crazy you feel or how out of sorts you feel, what is important is that you are showing your child that you are willing to have fun with them in a way that you both can enjoy.

 

To close this post let me state that having fun with your family in a frugal manner is really rather simple. I believe that it is the pillow fights, the wrestling matches in the living room floor, the make believe princesses and super heroes, and the little things that make great memories. These things will be what children and parents remember most when looking back, not the expensive vacation that leaves everyone exhausted and cranky! So, what are you waiting for? GO PLAY.

 

What are some of your best memories from childhood? What are ways that you have frugal fun with your family?

 

Free Software that Makes My Life Easier Part 1

February 17, 2008
2 3.5 floppy disk
Over the last few years the amount of free, open source software has increased exponentially. Most of these programs work just as good, if not better than, their “name brand” competition. Here is a list of the 100% free software that I use on a daily basis.
  1. OpenOffice. This is by far the program that I use the most. It has all the features that MS Office has, and you can even save in Office format if you need to share the file widely or use it on a system that you cannot download OpenOffice on. You can get you free copy here.
  2. Gimp Shop. Same features as Adobe Photoshop, only loads cheaper. I will say that if you are not familiar with photo editing software, this may not be the best choice for you. The amount of editing this program allows you to complete is astronomical.
  3. Adobe PDF. This is a free pdf reader. I usually end up hitting one or two files online each day that are only available in .pdf format.
  4. Mozilla Firefox. This is a great web browser. The add ons are phenomenal, and it is a very smooth running browser that has rarely crashed on me. I will write another article on my favorite Firefox add-ons; way to many to list here!
  5. Mozilla Thunderbird. A very sleek email program that is similar to Outlook for sending and receiving emails. Also has add-ons available to add the calendar aspect as well.
  6. GnuCash. This is a program to rival MS Money, Quicken, and other financial software. It is not as easy to navigate, or set up as the others, but it has good built in help files to get you started. Be sure to download the last “stable” release.
  7. MusikCube. If you only listen to music on your PC, this is a very light media player. It has a wonderful customizable dynamic play list that lets you create your own dynamic list.
  8. Truecrypt. If you travel and use flash drives for sensitive information, this is a must have. Cutting edge encryption that actually makes the data invisible to those who do not know it is there. Website has more details.
  9. Sunbird. Another Mozilla application. A very user friendly calendar. I use it to schedule routine task. Also, you can download an add-on that will sync with Google calendar so you have access no matter where you are!
  10. Keypass. A password tool that keeps all your passwords encrypted and in one place. Allows drag and drop feature, and you can link to the sites inside the program.
Those are just a few, the rest will be revealed in later post. I think we will also do a post on Firefox add-ons only. They really make the functionality of my browser go through the roof.
What free software do you use? Ever had any massive failures while trying open source programs?

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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How to Set and Achieve Goals

February 12, 2008
Targets
One of the most liberating things that you can do is set goals and review them often. At one time I thought of goals as useless, and just more work on top of an already stretched day. Here are some simple ideas about properly setting goals, and the importance of setting goals. I will confess that we have “wondered” around rather aimlessly until recently. Here is the process that we went through.
My wife remembered seeing information in her college orientation book about goal setting. Here is a summary of the information that was included: Make your goals S-M-A-R-T. The acronym stands for specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely.
  1. Specific. It is best to be as specific as possible when setting a goal. You do not want to say “I would like to make a ton of money in 2008.” This is to vague, and has no real value. Your idea of a ton may differ from the norm. A specific goal would be as follows: “To make $30,000 from a small business endeavor by 1JAN09.” It is very detailed, as well as having a deadline.
  2. Measurable. As with the above examples, the first one givs absolutely no clue as to when the goal will be achieved. It is psychologically important for me to be able to track my progress. I am a visual learner, thus seeing a line chart or bar graph showing progress is like a shot of adrenaline for me. Make sure that your goal is measurable and the progress can be tracked.
  3. Attainable. Nothing will kill your spirits more than a sense of hopelessness. When you set unattainable goals, it does nothing more than discourage you and lead you to abandon the entire goal setting process. For example, I am completely out of shape; I would not want to set a goal of running six miles in one hour next week.
  4. Realistic. Goals must be realistic, or again, you will become discouraged. I highly advocate setting challenging goals, but do not make them impossible. If you want to set a goal that may border realistic, consider if you are able to attain the goal as well as committed to making the necessary sacrifice to achieve the objective.
  5. Timely. It is vital that you place a time frame on your goal. “I would like to visit the Rocky Mountains”, is not a timely goal. When do you want to visit the Rocky Mountains? Without a time frame there is no sense of urgency. For us, if there is not a sense of urgency we will procrastinate like crazy.
It has been stated that less than three percent of the population have written goals. I can not stress the importance of this enough. If you do not write your goals down, they will sometimes slip into the realm of dreams, which are nothing more than nice thoughts. Study after study has shown that people who write their goals down are 10 times more likely to achieve them. Would you plan a journey to somewhere you have never been without a map? Just take off in the general direction and hope for the best? As absurd as this sounds, it is how most walk through the journey of life. Writing your goals relieves your mind from trying to keep up with them. It also can make you more focused on achieving them. We like to carry ours with us so that we can review them anytime we like.
I would also like to say that setting goals does not only apply to career and finances. Try to include all areas of your life. What would you like achieve as an employee? Father? Friend? Neighbor? Church member? Spouse? Citizen? When you are faced with tough decisions, knowing what you want to secure in these “roles” can help with making some of those decisions. Will this action bring you closer to any of the goals you would like to obtain?
We were kind of forced to get things in order rather quickly after our catastrophe.
Having goals has drastically improved our productivity, along with giving us a little peace of mind.
What method do you use to set goals? How do you measure your progress?

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?

Ways to Improve Car Fuel Efficiency

February 10, 2008

For most of us, our cars are our second biggest investment and expense. It is important to properly manage these investments to get the maximum return on our money. This is an area that I have honestly struggled with several times. Lacking the time or energy was really no excuse for not maintaining my vehicles properly, but they have been the culprit several times. For those who have their vehicle serviced, this may sound crazy, but I enjoy doing the work and knowing that the job was done right. There is not a service station that I know that will let the oil drain for an hour or longer to get all the sediment out. Now, I will get off my soap box and get to the post. Here are some of the ways that I have found that make a drastic difference in the miles per gallon in our vehicles.

  1. Have the oil changed every 3000 miles. This is the big one. Not only will old oil cause your engine to work harder, it can actually damage the piston walls if it gets too dirty. Having clean oil lets your engine run smoothly, thus providing more power (and more miles) for the same amount of gas.
  2. Tire pressure. This is probably the easiest problem to correct, yet often the most overlooked. It is estimated that every 1 lb. of psi that your tires are low cost you up to 0.4% in fuel economy. This can add up to 3% of fuel cost. For the rest of this post I am going to use our figure of $80 per week. Total annual loss: $124.80.
  3. Keep your car in tune. This may mean getting new plugs and wires, having your car timed, or changing an oxygen sensor. These items can average up to 4% of fuel cost. Total annual loss: $166.40.
  4. Replace the air filter. An important part of combustion is getting the proper amount of air. The air filter serves the function of keeping impurities out of your engine. If you place a pillow over your face and try to breath, you will get the idea of how a clogged filter will effect your gas mileage. Just as you have to work harder to get the right amount of air, so does your engine. A dirty air filter can cost you up to 10% of fuel cost! Total annual loss: $416.00.

Just these four simple items if not maintained properly have the potential to cost me an extra $707.20 per year (@ $3/gal). The tune up is something that I have to take to the service station, but after paying for the parts and labor (as well as all the material needed for my “shade tree” work that I perform) I will still save up to $450.00 a year. The air pressure is something that I try to check weekly, and although they are few and far between, there are still some service stations that offer free air to customers. The oil change I try to complete every 3000 miles, or every three months (whichever comes first). The tune up is something that just depends on your vehicle, driving conditions, and so forth. The air filter will also be effected by your locale, but we average one every six months.

I found it difficult to keep up with all this for three vehicles for the longest time. The best way that I have found is to keep a small ($0.33) notebook in each vehicle and list what service was performed, the date the service was performed, mileage, and the cost of the service. For time-specific services I enter the required information into Google calendar and set a reminder.

What ways have you found to improve your gas mileage?