Yes, it’s that season again: a time of popsicles, sprinklers, baseball … and heat. Before this summer really starts to sizzle, know how to keep the bills – and the temperature – down.
Go AC Easy
Own an air conditioner? Tune it up before turning it on. Make sure the filter is clean too. If it’s old and inefficient, shop for a new one before the mid-summer rush to avoid paying premium prices. Decrease demands on its output by running such large appliances as the dishwasher, washing machine, and dryer in the evening. And never crank it up beyond the temperature you want – it won’t work any faster, but it will use more energy.
Capture the Cool
To keep all that lovely cool air inside, caulk and insulate windows and doors to lessen air gaps. Keep sunlight out of the house by closing shades, blinds and curtains, and shut doors and vents to unoccupied rooms.
Start a Fan Club
When it’s warmer inside than out, place freestanding fans at open windows. Also, consider installing ceiling fans. These pretty propellers use far less power than air conditioners and can save you up to 40 percent on your energy bill. Fans use about as much energy as a 100-watt light bulb and can instantly make a room feel cooler by four degrees or more.
Set Your Limits
To skim a minimum of ten percent from your energy bill, set the thermostat to as warm as is comfortable, and ten degrees higher at night than during the day. Make it easy by investing in a programmable thermostat. You can set it to rise and fall during the day and evenings, and at times when you are normally in and out.
Be Energy Efficient
Be diligent about turning off lights and other appliances when they are not in use. Refrigerators are among the top home energy users; if you have a spare one, think about unplugging it during summer months. And looking for a reason to eat ice cream for dinner? Ovens are a major contributor to heat build-up.
During the hottest times of the day, go to the mall, supermarket, restaurant, café, library, or a movie. Free air conditioning is the ultimate in cool.
Don’t let skyrocketing energy costs get you hot under the collar this summer. Apply at least a couple of these tips and you’ll beat the heat – on the cheap!
Source: BALANCE Financial Fitness
Expecting an income tax refund this year? Use it wisely!
1. Pay down high interest lines of credit. With average annual interest rates for credit cards hovering around fifteen percent, paying off consumer debt before going on a shopping spree makes good sense.
2. Fund Your Retirement Account. Millions of working Americans have no money invested for their retirement. If you are one of them, seriously consider using your refund to make a contribution to an IRA.
3. Invest it. Many people get thousands back at the end of the year. If you invest one lump sum of $1,500 in the stock market, with a 10 percent return (the long-term market average), you could have $30,173.73 in 30 years!
4. Open an emergency account. How much money do you have set aside for emergencies? If the answer is “none,” open a savings account today. Three to six months’ worth of essential living expenses tucked away is a great goal.
5. Pay for repairs. Maintaining expensive possessions now will result in dollars saved tomorrow. Use the money to repair that leaky roof before it develops into a bigger problem; replace those dangerous bald tires with new, safe ones.
6. Start a personal endowment. Consider applying the money to your emotional, physical, intellectual, or career growth. Whether you use it for a gym membership or a cooking class, you’ll soon reap the reward of this investment.
7. Make an extra mortgage payment. Why? Doubling up on one mortgage payment now can save you months of mortgage payments later.
8. Donate to a charity. Giving back to the community is a wonderful way of supporting a cause that you are passionate about. Even better – in many cases at least a portion of your donation is tax-deductible.
9. Open a 529 College Savings Plan. A four-year college education can cost upwards of $100,000. Save for your child’s college career with a 529 plan. It works much like a Roth IRA, and withdrawals are completely tax-free when used for higher education purposes.
10. Plan a vacation. If you are in a healthy financial position, and can afford a bit of luxury, do something you’ve been dreaming of! Money is to be enjoyed as well as earned, saved, and invested. Go ahead. Book that cruise.
Certainly there are many savvy ways to spend a tax refund, but keep in mind that it’s usually best to come out even. If you’ve been getting money back each year, consider changing your withholding exemptions so less tax is withheld from each paycheck. While a refund may feel like a gift from Uncle Sam, it’s not – it’s money that you have overpaid on your income taxes.
Source: BALANCE Financial Fitness
If you want to make a major purchase, like a car, a house, or even a college education, you’re going to have to budget pretty carefully. You’ll have an easier time meeting your goal by a set date if you create a savings plan. Here are some tips to help you get started.
Identify the cost of your purchase
This might sound obvious, but it’s important: figure out exactly how much your purchase will cost. You may have to settle for a ballpark figure, especially if you’re buying something like a house that doesn’t have a fixed price. However, you won’t know how much you need to spend until you research the market and see what other houses are selling for. If you’re buying a car or a new computer, you can shop around for sales and compare prices online. Regardless of what you’re buying, it’s always better to overestimate the amount of money you’ll need, rather than underestimate or “be approximate”. Worse case scenario, you’ll have extra money leftover!
Prioritize your purchases
That big purchase might be important, but in the meantime, you still need to pay for life essentials like rent and groceries. Take a look at all your account statements see if you can identify frivolous purchases. Those $5 lattes might need to go, at least temporarily. Even if you’re already a thrifty person by nature, you can probably save a little extra by making some lifestyle changes. If you have the option to walk somewhere instead of drive, for example, why not do it? Your heart and your wallet will thank you.
Make a monthly savings plan
How much can you reasonably put toward the total cost of your purchase each month? You won’t know until you make a monthly savings plan. You might find it helpful to experiment with different scenarios before you actually take the money out of your paycheck each month. A savings calculator lets you type in different payment amounts and find out how long it will take to save a certain amount at that pace.
Automate your savings
Sometimes it’s difficult to save without help. Make it easy on yourself by automating your savings in some form. You might be able to have part of your paycheck deducted into your savings account, for example. If you think you might be tempted to dip into your savings account, you might want to consider stashing some of your money in a certificate of deposit (CD). This option is best for people who are financially stable and can commit to having a few thousand dollars locked away for a year or two. In return for your trouble, your money will earn a higher interest rate than a regular savings account.
No one’s expecting you to be perfect. Even if you stick to your plan, life has a way of throwing unexpected expenses in our path. Revisit your budget each month and see if it’s still working for you. You may have to adjust it from time to time, and that’s totally fine. Revisiting your budget is also a great way to see if you can put extra money into your savings account. If so, you’ll reach your goal sooner, and we think you’ll feel pretty good about yourself, too.
Laura Edgar is a senior writer for NerdWallet.com, a consumer finance comparison website dedicated to helping you save money and spend wisely.
As a youngster, I never really thought about saving for my retirement. All I ever thought about was the fastest and best way I could spend any money that I had. I’m sure I’m not alone in that sentiment either. Like I used to, you may be thinking it’s not that big of a deal to save for retirement and say “I can always start when you get older.” The truth is, however, the sooner you can start, the better off you will be in the long run.
It’s hard to argue against the facts, too. CNNMoney says that if you start investing $3,000 a year for ten years when you are 25 years old (without investing a dime after ten years), your $30,000 investment will have grown to more than $472,000 by the time you are 65. In contrast, if you start saving $3,000 a year for 30 years at age 35, that money will have only grown to $367,000 – a difference of over $100,000.
So start saving now. I promise it will be one of the best things you have ever done for yourself! If you’re not sure how to start saving or you may be having trouble with debt, don’t be afraid to ask us questions or talk to an expert. We would be glad to help you get on the right path financially!
Check ya later!
I’m sure you have all heard the phrase, “Expect the unexpected.” In financial terms, this means to prepare for any emergencies and the best way to do that is by creating an emergency fund. Emergency funds are important because they are available to help keep you out of financial hardships such as the loss of a job, unexpected medical costs, or car or home repairs. An ideal emergency fund should consist of three to six months of worth of living expenses. Begin by creating a separate savings account specifically for your emergency funds. If you’re already struggling financially, start small with your contributions toward your emergency fund, but make them regularly. Once you get in the habit of saving, it will become second nature. To find out more savings tips or to get started with a savings account from Georgia’s Own, click here.
Retirement: a word that sounds far far away, like the Star Wars Galaxy or Super Bowl LXVI. However, like the end of the year, it’s approaching faster than most care to imagine, and it’s never too soon to develop smart saving habits. Failure to do so can result in joining the 37% of American workers who have not saved for retirement, the 27% of retirees who have not paid off their mortgages, or the 14% of 64 year-olds who face retirement with negative net worth.
There are a number of savings tools available that are superior alternatives to stuffing cash under a mattress. The most basic of these is the savings account, which allows a credit union member to earn interest on the balance in the account. A savings account is different from a checking account in that it is more difficult to withdraw money, but savings accounts typically have higher interest rates that can help increase your balance. However, funds in a savings account are conditionally accessible, causing them to be deemed a “liquid,” or cash, asset.
A certificate of deposit (CD) is similar to a savings account, but earns a greater interest rate in exchange for a large, fixed balance. So while a CD generates more money than a savings account, its funds cannot be accessed without penalty, therefore it is not a “liquid” asset. So before opening a CD, it is important to make sure that there is no foreseeable need to access the money deposited before the maturation date, or the date when the bank agrees the funds can be either removed from or increased in the account.
A money market account (MMA) is almost a cross between a CD and a savings account, in that it yields a higher interest rate in exchange for a large minimum balance (like a CD), but is still relatively accessible, as it has no minimum maturation date (like a savings account). Again, in order to reap the full benefits of an MMA, it is critical to maintain the minimum balance, so make sure there is no potential for a withdrawal prior to creating the account.
Having discussed the “interest” rates of these various accounts, it is important to note the two kinds of interest rate: fixed and compounding. A fixed interest rate, say 5%, of $1000, will generate $50 in interest. Conversely, a compounding interest rate will generate 5% of the original account balance plus what the interest rate generates. The frequency at which the interest rate compounds varies depending on the terms of the account. For example, if you were to put $1000 into an account that compounds quarterly (four times a year) at 5% interest, you would earn $50 in the first three months, $52.50 (5% of $1050) over the next three months, or $57.62 (5% of $1152.50) after the subsequent quarter, etc. Frequently compounding interest rates are a great way to turn a large principle into a large profit for retirement or other long-term financial goals.
While interest rates can be extremely helpful in the aforementioned means of saving money, they can be substantially more harmful when it comes to borrowing money. The most common form of potentially risky borrowing is credit cards. Credit cards offer high credit limits with low minimum payments, which can tempt someone to spend more than they should. Combined with high interest rates, this is a recipe for accruing large amounts of debt. For example, if a customer charged a $1000 computer to a credit card and paid the monthly minimum of $30.00, but suffered a 18% interest rate on the remaining balance, it would take that customer nearly four years (47 months) to payoff the debt, and the total amount paid to the credit card company would be $1396.00, nearly 40% more than the computer’s initial worth. And that’s assuming no additional charges over those four years!
This isn’t to say credit cards should never be utilized. Building a good credit rating is a major aspect of achieving financial prosperity. Many of the best auto and mortgage rates are only available to consumers with top tier credit scores (740+). An easy way to begin building respectable credit is to charge a small amount of spending money or a cheap, fixed commodity (i.e. gasoline) and pay off the balance at the end of each month. The more on-time payments made, the higher the credit score.
Another easy way to stay out of debt and increase savings is to create a written budget. The most important (and generally the easiest) step of budgeting is to determine income. In addition to wages or salary, this could include holiday/family gifts and tax returns. The trickier and more tedious part of the process is determining expenses. A quick distinction when calculating costs is needs versus wants. Within needs is another important determining factor: fixed versus variable expenses. Fixed can include things like rent, car payments, and insurance policies. Variable expenses are generally expenses that, through fiscal practices, can be kept to a minimum: food (eating in), utilities (efficient energy/water use), clothing (sales, infrequent shopping). Other costs you need to account for include car repairs, medical bills, additional insurance policies (renter’s, dental, health), etc.
Once the various “needs” have been accounted for, you can use any leftover funds to divide between “wants” and additional savings. It is recommended that at least 10-15% of monthly income should be designated as savings, however; in case of that “emergency need” cost, it is also suggested that you have three to six months’ salary already be saved up, so if such an amount is not already set aside, perhaps more than 15% of the monthly income should go towards savings. Whatever is leftover can then be put towards monthly “want” costs: cable, entertainment, road trips, etc.
If smart saving habits, responsible borrowing practices, and precise monthly budgeting can be established early, the chances of ending up a college graduate with insurmountable debt, a parent unable to afford adequate childcare, or a senior citizen looking at retirement with insufficient funds is greatly diminished. With these and other sound fiscal approaches, you’ll be watching Super Bowl LXVI in style.
So I wanted to let everyone know some exciting news from Georgia’s Own. GOCU and i[x] are proud to announce your newest benefit of membership: BALANCE Financial Fitness Program.
BALANCE is a free and confidential money management tool to help you stay on the path to financial freedom. Whether you’re interested in developing an easy spending and savings plan, getting out of debt, taking a look at your credit report, or buying a home, i[x] and BALANCE can help. They have chapters for you to look over and even provide a quiz to allow you to test your knowledge of the subject.
BALANCE also has counselors available throughout the day to answer any questions you might have. To use the program, visit BALANCEpro.net or call 888-456-2227 to begin taking advantage of this FREE resource!
In case you weren’t aware, this week is National Youth Week. Once again, we are encouraging youths to save money by participating in the National Youth Savings Challenge where ten young savers will be selected nationwide to each win $100.
In addition, Georgia’s Own will also be giving ten Georgia’s Own Credit Union youths the chance to win $100.* If you or your child is under the age of 18, make a deposit to your account (or open a new one) during the month of April and you’re eligible to win.
*No purchase necessary. Promotion period: The contest begins at 12:01a.m. on April 1, 2011 and ends at 11:59 p.m. on April 30, 2011. By submitting any entry, you agree to be bound by the Official Rules. Contact the Credit Union at 404.874.1166, or write us at Georgia’s Own Credit Union, Attn: Marketing–Youth Challenge, P.O. Box 105205, Atlanta, GA 30348 to obtain a copy of the Official Rules for this promotion. Entry in this promotion or acceptance of any prize constitutes acceptance of the Official Rules. Georgia’s Own cannot be held responsible for any action or damages arising from use of any prize.
We are in the midst of the holiday season and with the holidays come the parties and gifts. I know how tough it can be buying a present for every party while also getting something special for all of the loved ones in your life. I decided to think of a few alternatives for this “giving” season. This year instead of buying a gift for every single person in your life, spend a little time to create your own. A photo album is an easy way to put all of your awesome memories into one place and is a very meaningful gift. Another cool and fun idea is to donate your time to a local organization. Get a group of friends or family members together and volunteer around your area. Organizations and non-profits are always in need of volunteers and what better way to get into the spirit of giving than by giving your time AND helping others? Plus it’s free!!!!
If you know of any organizations where people can volunteer or know of other great gift ideas, please leave them in the comments below.
I’m 24 years old and a family and retirement seem light years away from being relevant. Planning for my financial future is something that sometimes, I don’t even take seriously because it seems so distant. I always find myself saying, “I should start a 401K” or “I ought to put more money into savings.” And a lot of times, the buck stops there. I let myself off the hook a little by realizing what I should do. But it’s time to put those shoulds and woulds to action.
Here’s the challenge for you and for myself: let’s ban “should,” “ought to,” and any other word that puts off what we know would be the smart thing to do financially. Avoid the words alltogether and replace them with “I’m working on” or “I’m going to” so that action becomes the focus of the statement instead of a good thought.
Little things I thought of that would make a big difference:
1. Commit to saving 10% of each paycheck-take it right off the top.
2. Pay MORE than the minimum payment.
3. Open a CD or Savings Certificate and let the money work for you for 6 months.
4. If you’ve got a loan, divide the monthly payment by 12 months and tack that on to each payment you make; that way at the end of one year, you will have made 13 monthly payments instead of 12. Over 6 years, you’ll be 6 months ahead on your payment.
Post your money saving tips below.