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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Over the past month, both Haiti and Afghanistan have been pummeled by tragic disasters that left devastation in their wake.

In Haiti, a 7.2 magnitude earthquake erupted, leading over to 2,189 deaths and counting. A few hours later, in Afghanistan, Kabul fell to the Taliban just after U.S. troops had pulled out after 20 years of war.

In many ways, these disasters are both chillingly connected to US interference. The United States invaded Haiti in 1915, ostensibly promising to restore order after a presidential assassination but really intending to preserve the route to the Panama Canal and to defend US creditors, among other reasons.

But the US forces soon realized that they were not able to control the country alone, and so formed an army of Haitian enlistees, powered by US air power and intended to quell Haitian insurrection against US controls. Then, in 1934, the US pulled out on its own, disappointed with how slow progress was going. Haiti's institutions were never really able to rebuild themselves, leaving them immensely vulnerable to natural disasters.

Something similar happened in Afghanistan, where the US sent troops and supported an insurgent Afghan army – only to pull out, abandoning the country they left in ruins, with many Afghans supporting the Taliban.

In both cases, defense contractors benefited by far the most from the conflict, making billions in profits while civilians faced fallout and devastation. While the conflicts and circumstances are extremely different and while the US is obviously not solely to blame for either crisis, it's hard not to see the US-based roots of these disasters.

Today, in Haiti and Afghanistan, civilians are facing unimaginable tragedy.

Here are charities offering support in Afghanistan:

1. The International Rescue Committee is looking to raise $10 million to deliver aid directly to Afghanistan

2. CARE is matching donations for an Afghanistan relief fund. They are providing food, shelter, and water to families in need; a donation of $89.50 covers 1 family's emergency needs for a month.

3. Women for Women International is matching donations up to 500,000 for Afghan women, who will be facing unimaginable horrors under Taliban control.


4. AfghanAid offers support for people living in remote regions of Afghanistan.

5. VitalVoices supports female leaders and changemakers and survivors of gender-based violence around the world.

Here are charities offering support in Haiti:

1. Partners in Health has been working with Haiti for a long time, and they work with the Department of Health rather than around them, which is extremely important in a charity.

2. Health Equity International helps run Saint Boniface Hospital, a hospital in Haiti close to the earthquake's epicenter.

3. SOIL is an organization based Haiti, "a local organization with a track record of supporting after natural disasters." They are distributing hygiene kits and provisions on the ground to hospitals and to victims of the earthquake.

4. Hope for Haiti has been working in emergency response in Haiti for three decades, and their team is comprised of people who live and work in Haiti. They focus on supporting children and people in need across Haiti.

via Tiffany & Co.

When the new Tiffany's campaign was unveiled, reactions were mixed.

Tiffany's, the iconic jewelry brand which does not (despite what some might be misled to believe) in fact serve breakfast, featured Jay Z, Beyoncé, and a rare Basquiat painting in their recent campaign.

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Road trips can be a lot of fun — but they can also drain your wallet quickly if you aren't careful.

From high gas costs and park admission fares to lodging and the price of eating out every night, the expenses can add up quickly. But at the same time, it's very possible to do road trips cheaply and efficiently. Without the headache of worrying about how much money you're leaking, you can enjoy the open road a whole lot more. Here's how to save money on a road trip.

1. Prepare Your Budget, Route, and Packing List in Advance

If you want to save money on a road trip, be sure you're ready to go. Try to count up all your expenses before you hit the road and create a budget. It's also a good idea to plan your route in advance so you don't end up taking unnecessary, gas-guzzling detours. And finally, be sure to pack in advance so you don't find yourself having to buy tons of things you forgot along the way.

2. Book Cheap Accommodations — Or Try Camping

All those motel rooms can add up surprisingly quick, but camping is often cheap or free, and it's a great way to get intimate with the place you're visiting. You can check the Bureau of Land Management's website for free campsites. Freecampsite.com also provides great information on If you don't have a tent or don't want to camp every night, try booking cheap Airbnbs or booking hotels in advance, making sure to compare prices.

Camping camping road tripConde Nast Traveler

If you're planning on sleeping in your car, a few tips: WalMart allows all-night parking, as do many 24-hour gyms. (Buying a membership to Planet Fitness or something like it also gives you a great place to stop, shower, and recharge while on the road).

3. Bring Food From Home

Don't go on a road trip expecting to subsist on fast food alone. You'll wind up feeling like shit, and it'll drain your pocketbook stunningly quickly. Instead, be sure to bring food from home. Consider buying a gas stove and a coffee pot for easy on-the-go meals, and make sure you bring substantial snacks to satiate midday or late night cravings so you can avoid getting those late night Mickey D's expeditions.

Try bringing your own cooler, filling it with easy stuff for breakfast and lunch — some bread and peanut butter and jelly will go a long way. Bring your own utensils, plates, and napkins, and avoid buying bottled water by packing some big water jugs and a reusable water bottle. Alternatively, try staying at hotels or Airbnbs with kitchens so you can cook there.

4. Avoid Tolls

Apps like Google Maps and Waze point out toll locations, so be sure to avoid those to save those pennies. (If it takes you too far off route, you might have to bite the bullet and drive across that expensive bridge).

You can also save on parking fees by using sites like Parkopedia.

Road Trip Road TripThe Orange Backpack


5. Save on Gas

Gas can get pricy incredibly fast, so be sure that you're stopping at cheap gas stations. Free apps like GasBuddy help you find the most affordable gas prices in the area. Also, try going the speed limit on the highways — anything faster will burn through your tank. Be sure that you don't wait till you arrive at touristy locations or big cities to fill up.

6. Get a National Park Pass

All those parks can get really expensive really fast. If you're planning on visiting three or more parks, it's a great idea to get an America the Beautiful National Parks Pass. For $80 you can get into every National Park for one year.