By Tom Twardzik

You've probably resolved at least once in your life to commit to a budget and reduce expenses in your home. But the changes that spring to mind—cancelling TV packages, lowering the heat and A/C, etc.—sound uncomfortable and difficult. However, it's surprisingly easy to make small, simple changes in your home and routine that add up to major annual savings.


Utilities

Heating, cooling, electric and water are some of the major costs of owning a home but these important functions can offer savings through small changes without sacrificing comfort. Lower the thermostat in the winter and raise it in the summer—holding it nearer to 68º and 78º will make a big difference in how much energy your home requires. Ceiling fans will boost your A/C immensely (while you're in the room) and weatherstripping around doors and windows will keep the heat in. Speaking of A/C, make sure you perform regular maintenance on air conditioning units inside and outside the house to keep them efficient and avoid larger repairs. Using Energy Star appliances—washers and dryers, dishwashers, refrigerators and others, in addition to A/C units—will help you save money in the background, too. Maintain the furnace, too: clean or replace its filter and perform any repairs immediately.

Bathroom and kitchen

In the bathroom, cut a minute off of your shower time and if that seems too easy, try shortening by two or three minutes. Switch to a low-flow showerhead to save a few extra dollars. An awesome toilet tip that's worth almost $50/year: fill a medium-sized water bottle with water and put it in your toilet tank to trick the toilet into using less water per flush. Switch to generic cleaning supplies to save money every time you're at the store.

You should insulate your hot water heater with a blanket or fit it with a timer to reduce its energy consumption. Washing clothes in cold water and air-drying them avoids hot water altogether and also cuts down on electricity usage.

In the kitchen, install a water filter on your sink (unless you live in an area with clean tap water) to banish plastic bottles from your grocery list and garbage can. Another surprising way to lower energy costs in the kitchen is to cook in the microwave or toaster rather than the oven. It also avoids producing unwanted heat in the summer.


Around the house

Further reduce your electric bill by moving lamps, TVs and other heat-generating objects away from thermostats, especially A/C thermostats. The heat their operation will make your air conditioners think it's hotter than it really is in your home. And, believe it or not, those phone chargers (and other things) are leaking electricity when they're not being used. Save yourself the trouble of unplugging them by strategically placing a power strip and flipping them all off with one switch.

Depending on your home and situation, it might be wise to invest in a programmable thermostat or, even, a "smart" one. Then, set it to "away" mode and feel even better about leaving home to work or explore. And, of course, switch to CFL or LED bulbs. LEDs are better for lights that you turn off and on frequently, as this can shorten the lifespan of standard CFLs.

Now might be the time to revaluate your cable package. With so many networks offering their own streaming options, your cable subscription might not be the best value anymore. Your desperate cable provider might also be willing to negotiate before you leave them entirely. For basic cable channels, buy an indoor digital antenna and enjoy up to twenty free, HD channels. By selecting only the premium services you actually watch, you might find some savings. If you're sick of Netflix's rising prices, try your super-free public library's DVD section.

Cooking

Smart grocery shopping is where you could find some of the biggest savings. Focus on value foods—ingredients with the most nutritional value for the best price—such as brown rice, canned beans, eggs, kale, lentils, sweet potatoes, frozen vegetables, apples and bananas. Shops sale items on the weekly circular and compare local stores for the best price in a given week.

Finally, make your own coffee. And when you do treat yourself to Starbucks, order wisely. This might be one of your biggest sources of savings, depending on your habits.

Tom Twardzik is a writer covering personal finance, productivity and investing for Paypath. He also contributes pop culture reviews for Popdust and travel writing for The Journiest. Read more on his website and follow him on Twitter.

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I thought I had a pretty good handle on my finances out of school. I worked several jobs while attending university and had little to no problem managing my income. However, once I graduated, I realized how much more complicated personal accounting could really be.

There were so many variables I needed to keep track of. Biweekly bills, monthly charges, and general necessities amounted to a heap of confusing numbers that were often impossible to decipher. The funniest part was that I was actually trying to do this by hand (I don't know what I was trying to prove to myself, either).

After messing up for the 17th time, I decided to give Microsoft Excel a shot. I used Excel a bit in school and I knew all the big-wig finance people used it, so what could I possibly have to lose? The answer is about six hours of my precious time. Excel isn't much of an improvement over handwriting and it's still dependent on the user to manually input all of the information. It's like doing everything by hand with the slightest help, meaning that it still required a tremendous amount of time and concentration. Well that was all for nothing, I guess.

It's sort of funny. I was certain that I could manage my personal finances with ease, when it's practically a full-time job. I was already stressed out enough with my first job and I knew I didn't have enough time to give my finances the attention it deserved.

That's why I decided to try out a budgeting app. My best friend told me that he uses an app called Truebill to manage his finances. "What does it even mean to manage your finances?" I asked him. He told me that Truebill was the personal financial assistant I wished I could have. It could aggregate all of my account information into one place and give me specific insights and actions.

I loved the idea of having full control over my finances, especially during a time of financial uncertainty, and I realized that Truebill would be the easiest way to accomplish this. The user interface is incredibly simple and intuitive, so it doesn't even feel like a finance app! Truebill offers a multitude of features, with their most popular being the ability to cancel subscriptions with the press of a button.

Okay, I had no idea how many subscriptions I was still subscribed to. In fact, I wasn't even using a quarter of the subscription services I was signed up for. Subscription boxes, streaming services, my old gym, and even an old subscription to my favorite magazine--it was all there and I was livid. How could I let myself waste all of this money and how did I never catch this? Thank goodness for Truebill.

Truebill also offers bill negotiations. There is a 40% fee based on how much you save and Truebill even claims that there is an 85% chance that they'll be able to lower your bill once a negotiation is requested. Why wouldn't I take them up on this? There was zero risk and I would only have to pay once my bill was lowered (which means that I would be saving money regardless).

More standard features of Truebill include the ability to generate a credit report on-demand and even request a pay advance. I only used the pay advance feature once when I wanted to buy a gift for my mom, but didn't have enough cash in hand and Truebill automatically reimbursed itself when I got my next paycheck.

The credit report is another fantastic feature and practically taught me what good credit meant. Truebill's credit report basically shows you which financial decisions have the most significant impact on your credit score and ways that you can improve your credit month-over-month. I've never had such control over my credit and it feels good.

I'll be the first to admit that I was extremely naive coming out of school. I figured that as long as I was attentive, I could manage my finances with ease. We manage money to some extent throughout our entire lives, but once you're thrown out on your own, it's a completely different story. With Truebill, I've finally been able to take control over my finances and stay on top of all of my responsibilities.

Update: Our friends at Truebill are extending a special offer to our readers! Follow this link to sign-up for Truebill.

My buddies and I always try to make it out to a game, but we never really care which one we end up at. Obviously we have our favorite sports and teams, but it was rarely about what game we went to or who we saw playing. It was about watching the game live.

In the early months of lockdown, all we had was Korean baseball, and trust me, we loved it. The only issue was, none of us had any idea what the commentators were saying. Even then, a few of my friends weren't huge fans of baseball. They were into sports like football and basketball, ones that moved at a quicker pace with less down-time in between plays.

We decided to see if there were any other events going down and came across horse racing. Yes, horse racing. It was perfect--short, fast-paced, and most importantly, an opportunity for betting.

I had never really considered watching a horse race any time other than the Belmont Stakes, but the prospects of the sport seemed exhilarating. Even better, with horse racing we knew we could still recreate the atmosphere of a race track. Salty snacks? Check. Stale beer? Check. A simple and easy way to bet? Check.

One quick Google search later, we came across TVG, powered by FanDuel. It's an online betting platform that takes you right to the heart of the action. We were a little apprehensive about using a mobile app to place our bets, but TVG's ability to bet on live horse races from all over the world was too good to pass up.

Here are 5 reasons why we are obsessed with horse racing thanks to TVG:

1. Betting has never been easier

Use your phone or computer to watch and bet on live horse races in real-time. TVG offers a bunch of features to make betting even simpler--live odds and handicapping tips leverage recent learnings to help you make your best bet. Not to mention, TVG's exclusive race content and wagering guide offers an under-the-hood look into the strategy behind horse race betting.

2. The biggest selection of horse races out there

If you're looking to drop a little dough on a horse race, chances are your best option is your local race track. But watching the same few horses races over and over again isn't the most exciting thing. With TVG you have access to over 150 tracks worldwide with races happening consistently throughout the day.

3. Get a generous sign-up offer when you place your first bet

Once you register your account, you will be eligible for a $200 risk-free bet. All you have to do is place your first bet and you're covered. If you happen to lose, TVG will insure you for up to $200 as a sort of wagering credit. I may have been a little trigger happy when placing my first bet, so having this insurance was a great perk. There are also a bunch of promotional offers available year-round.

4. Making deposits and cashing out at the touch of button

With a ton of payment options such as PayPal, BetCash, debit/credit, wire transfers, and other third-party services, making a deposit is a breeze. But what about the payout? Depending on your deposit method, your withdrawal will be available in a few days. No more waiting in-line to collect your winnings!

5. Watching live races with your friends while betting is exhilarating

Even when we were watching Korean baseball, Zoom calls with my friends were a little dull.

With TVG, we haven't had this sort of fun in months! Every weekend we'll turn on a race and throw our bets in. After a few races, and quite a few drinks, we'll tally up our winnings to see who won the most! Sometimes it's not even about making money, but just having a good time.

TVG is the perfect way to add a little excitement to an otherwise mundane afternoon. It introduced me to the world of horse racing, a sport I never would have considered otherwise.

The races just keep ramping up and thanks to TVG, I can always get in on the fun.

UPDATE: The biggest derby in horse racing is THIS WEEKEND. Get in on the action with your $200 risk-free bet!

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