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.
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.
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.
As anyone who has ever sold a house will tell you, you must prioritize curb appeal. Before a potential buyer even considers looking inside your house, they notice the outside first. Does it attract the right kind of attention? Does it take away from the feel you're going for? If you plan to sell sometime soon, you must think about these things. Here are some landscaping options to increase your home's curb appeal, so you can get the best price on your home.
Extensive Plants and Greenery
A barren front yard won't get you the price you want on your home. So, invest in at least a little bit of greenery to keep the surrounding area from looking too dead. Shrubs and bushes tie the house to the lawn that precedes it, and flower beds bring a pop of color to an otherwise drab structure. You can also strategically plant some trees to improve the overall feel of your home's exterior.
As we mentioned, your lawn is one of the most prominent features of your home's exterior. A patchy, dried-up lawn will quickly drive your home's price way down. Some of the best landscaping options for your home's curb appeal involve improving your lawn for the next inhabitant. Overall fertilization, ground aeration, underbrush removal, proper mowing—all of these lawn care tasks contribute to a greener and more lively area that invites people to see your house, rather than stay away from it.
There's nothing like a broken and disheveled pathway to make someone think twice about buying a property. Just as you want the entryway in your house to be welcoming, so too should the pathway leading up to the house be inviting. The pathway from the street to your front door provides plenty of real estate to get creative with. You don't have to settle for a boring concrete pathway. Consider something more eye catching, like a cobblestone path or intermittent brick patterns, as a way to better welcome potential buyers.
Usable Outdoor Furniture
Landscaping doesn't just involve the ground you walk on; also included are the items you use as extras to the overall look. Outdoor furniture is one such extra that you don't necessarily need but can look quite attractive if done correctly. Staging is important with outdoor furniture. Old, broken-down pieces will only look like more work to the potential buyer. A few comfortable chairs, a bench, or a table with an umbrella really go a long way to improving your outdoor aesthetics.
A good tip for deciding on curb appeal items is to decide what you personally would want to see as a part of a welcoming home's exterior. You don't need to go overboard, but a little bit of forethought could net you quite a lot of extra cash in the sale.
Many people strive to support their community by donating their time or their money. When you find a meaningful cause, you might be quick to cut a donation check. Though it's admirable to be quick to act charitably, you should be wary of several common mistakes made when giving to charity. Being mindful of these mistakes and learning tips for making informed charitable choices can help you make the most out of your generous check.
Acting Quickly Out of Emotion
Mission statements are meant to be compelling. If you're an emotionally driven individual, it's natural to pull out your wallet at the sight of a sad puppy on TV or when informed about food insecurity over the phone. Unfortunately, not all charities are as effective or official as they may seem.
Take your passion for helping others one step further by making sure your chosen charity is legit. Speaking with a representative, reviewing their website and social media accounts, and looking at testaments online can give you a better idea of whether the organization is worth your donation.
Forgetting to Keep Record of the Donation
Don't forget that you can reap some financial perks from giving back! With the proper documentation of your donation, you can acquire a better tax deductible.
If you donate more than $12,400 as a single filer or $24,800 as one of two joint filers, you're eligible to deduct that amount from your taxes. So, when a charity asks if you'd like a receipt of donation, always answer yes.
Donating Unusable Materials
Most charities can utilize a monetary donation—it's the physical donations that usually cause some issues. Providing a local nonprofit with irrelevant materials or gifting them with unusable products are surprisingly common mistakes made when giving to charity.
Always check your intended charity's website for a list of things they do and do not accept. The majority of places will provide a guideline to donating or offer contact information to clarify any questions.
Strictly Giving at Year's End
As more and more people get into the holiday spirit at the end of the year, nonprofit organizations see an influx of donations. While it's great to spread holiday cheer via a monetary donation, it's important to keep that spirit going year-round.
With regular donations, charities can more effectively allocate their annual budget. Setting up an automatic monthly donation with the charity of your choosing can maximize your impact. You can account for a monthly donation by foregoing a costly coffee every once in a while.
Knowing how much you should spend on home maintenance each year is hard to figure out and may be preventing you from buying your first home. The types of costs you'll incur depend on the house you buy and its location. The one certainty is that you should start saving now. Read on to figure out how much to start setting aside based on the home you own.
The Age of Your House
Consider several factors when budgeting for home repairs. If you've purchased a new home, your house likely won't require as much maintenance for a few years. Homes built 20 or more years ago are likely to require more maintenance, including replacing and keeping your windows clean. Further, depending on your home's location, weather can cause additional strain over time, so you may need to budget for more repairs.
The One-Percent Rule
An easy way to budget for home repairs is to follow the one-percent rule. Set aside one percent of your home's purchase price each year to cover maintenance costs. For instance, if you paid $200,000 for your home, you would set aside $2,000 each year. This plan is not foolproof. If you bought your home for a good deal during a buyer's market, your home could require more repairs than you've budgeted for.
The Square-Foot Rule
Easy to calculate, you can also budget for home maintenance by saving one dollar for every square foot of your home. This pricing method is more consistent than pricing it by how much you paid because the rate relies on the objective size of your home. Unfortunately, it does not consider inflation for the area where you live, so make sure you also budget for increased taxes and labor costs if you live in or near a city.
The Mix and Match Method
Since there is no infallible rule for how much you should spend on home maintenance, you can combine both methods to get an idea for a budget. Average your results from the square-foot rule and the one-percent rule to arrive at a budget that works for you. You should also increase your savings by 10 percent for each risk factor that affects your home, such as weather and age.
Holding on to savings is easier in theory than practice. Once you know how much you should spend on home maintenance, you'll know what to aim for and be more prepared for an emergency. If you are having trouble securing funds for home repairs, consider taking out a home equity loan, borrowing money from friends or family, or applying for funds through a home repair program through your local government for low-income individuals.