Whether you're shelling out for rent or paying off a hefty mortgage, the cost of living doesn't come cheap. And that's not even factoring in all the other monthly bills you're covering just to keep the lights on and the heat humming.
The average American household spends about $2,200 a year on energy bills alone. Meanwhile, the cost of running water spiked by 41 percent in recent years, resulting in annual bills as high as $600 or more. Even if you cut off your cable TV (which can run you between $120-$240 a month), and choose the absolute slowest, most excruciating WiFi plan, you can't exactly live without light, heat or running water.
One cost-cutting solution is to invest a fortune in solar panels; another is to live off the grid. And then, there's the third option: buying a few low-cost household products that will significantly cut down your utilities and other household bills. It's true—there is a slew of everyday items that are simple to use and built with your budget in mind. Here are seven must-haves if you want to start saving ASAP.
Draft Stopper ($9.99, Bed, Bath and Beyond)
Behold, the $10 solution to the sky-high cost of warming your house in the winter. Seal off cold air that seeps in from door-cracks and windowsills with this simple sand-filled wedge, and discover how much cozier your home can be without ever turning up the thermostat.
Water Filtration System ($19.99, Home Depot)
A water filtration system filters fresh, clean water into your home, reducing the need for bottled water (good for the environment, good for your grocery budget.) It also cuts down on sediment and rust, extending the life of your pipes—and cutting down on pricey plumbing emergencies.
Energy-Saving Power Strip ($22.97, Amazon)
Surge protectors are essential if you have more than two electrical appliances in your home, and, hey, we know you do. We also assume you don't unplug your lamps and laptops every time they're not in use. That's where those hidden fees add up unless you have one of these power strips specifically designed to reduce standby idle energy use. Spend around $20, save a fortune in the long run.
Energy-Efficient Bulbs ($15.48, Lowes)
If you have to make one change to reduce your energy bill, switch out your light-bulbs. Energy star-approved bulbs use up to 80 percent less energy than regular bulbs. According to the US Department of Energy, swapping out your conventional bulbs for LEDs, CFLs or Halogen Incandescents can save you upwards of $75 on your annual energy bill. Plus, these babies last longer—which means you spend less time and money replacing them.
Water-Efficient Showerhead ($11, Amazon)
If you want to cut down on your water usage, consider switching to a more efficient showerhead, which reduces water usage by up to five gallons a minute without skimping on the water pressure. So go ahead and take nice, long guilt-free shower without sweating about your next bill. Look for a showerhead with the EPA-approved Water Sense label, and you might even qualify for rebates and vouchers in your area.
Air Purifying Plant ($19, The Sill)
If you want to reduce the number of allergens, pet dander, and germs that float through your home daily, you could spend anywhere from $200 to $600 on a clunky air purifier that also runs up your electricity bill. Or, better yet, you could spend significantly less on a gorgeous houseplant. "I am a fan of attempting to get an indoor clean air boost with various NASA-studied plants that have been found to potentially scrub and purify indoor air of common pollutants," Dr. Clifford Bassett, founder and medical director of Allergy and Asthma Care of New York, tells Today.com. ZZ plants, Peace Lily and English Ivy are all durable, year-round plants that naturally cleanse your home of toxins the old-fashioned way and cost a fraction of the man-made versions.
Space Heater ($20.10, Home Depot)
The more square footage you have, the costlier it is to heat your home. But you don't need to crank up the thermostat and heat every room in the house if you're only hunkering down in one area. In fact, you could save a bundle by throwing down a twenty for a portable space heater. Bring it with you from room to room and warm up without running up your heating bill on empty rooms in your home.
The next time you're feeling like your household bills are out of control, consider making a few small changes and investing in everyday items that will save you bundles in the long run.
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Maybe you've had a high stress occupation before, like social work or stock trading, and fell victim to the high burnout rate of these kinds of jobs.
Or maybe you're just starting your career, and looking for something that won't take over your life but will still provide you with a good living. Whatever reason you have for looking for a high paying, low-stress job, you've come to the right place. We've compiled a list of the top 5 jobs that promise a solid paycheck without taking too much out of you.
Nanotechnology engineering technician
Requirements: Associates or Bachelors degree
While the equipment you would be operating in this job is pretty advanced, your day to day work would be more or less running machines...for an excellent paycheck. You would operate these machines to produce, test, or modify materials, devices, or systems of molecular or macromolecular composition, but once you learn the systems, it's a pretty low stress job.
Requirements: Bachelors degree
Actuaries work for insurance companies to create systems to analyze risk. If you're good at math and statistics this might be a great job for you, as the stakes are low, the pay is high, and the hours are reasonable.
Speech language pathologist
Requirements: Usually Masters degree
This is a growing profession that allows for lots of interpersonal connection, without the high stakes of occupations like psychiatry. Speech language pathologists help to treat and diagnose various types of speech and swallowing disorders, usually maintain classic 9-5 hours, and report relatively high job satisfaction.
Transportation vehicle, equipment, and systems inspector
Requirements: High school degree
If higher education isn't in the cards for you, this is a great option. This job entails inspecting various commercial vehicles to ensure they meet safety standards, a relatively easy undertaking with a little practice.
Requirements: Vocational school
Business Insider lists this occupation as one of the least stressful high paying job options, describing it as requiring you to, "Construct, assemble, maintain, and repair stationary steam boilers and boiler house auxiliaries."
Requirements: doctor of dental surgery degree and master's degree in orthodontics
Salary: $200,000 or more
This notoriously high paying job comes with all the perks of being a doctor, without any of the high stakes and intense stress. While it requires some up front investment in higher education, it's a quickly growing job that allows for lots of human interaction and team dynamics that appeal to a lot of people.
Solar Photovoltaic Installer
Requirements: High school degree
Median salary: $39,490
Has solar panels become more and more prevalent, more and more people need to install them. This profession is currently in high demand, and promises to be a reliable 9 to 5 without burdensome stress.
Requirements: Associate degree
Web designers code and create websites. This very specific skill is always in high demand, and promises to be a low stress way to flex your creative muscles for great money.
Life doesn't have to be as stressful as many of us tend to make it, and with these job options, you'll be able to lead a relaxed life with a healthy work-life balance.
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What do you do when financial hardship hits and you can't make your monthly mortgage payments? This is a question on many homeowner's minds as nearly 17.8 million Americans are reportedly unemployed during the coronavirus pandemic.
When homeowners face financial hardship, such as the loss of a job, they often look to obtain a forbearance agreement from their lender. A forbearance happens when your lender grants you a temporary pause or reduction in monthly payments on your mortgage. Forbearance is not the same as payment forgiveness, in that you still have to pay the entire amount back by an agreed-upon time.
Mortgage lending institutions differ on their mortgage relief policies and qualifications; however, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act were signed into law in late March of this year to protect government-backed mortgages.
Federally backed mortgages include:
- Fannie Mae
- Freddie Mac
- The Federal Housing Administration (FHA)
- The US Department of Veteran Affairs (VA)
- The US Department of Agriculture (USDA)
Under the CARES Act, homeowners with a federally backed loan who either directly or indirectly suffer financial hardship due to coronavirus automatically qualify for mortgage forbearance.
Even if your mortgage is not secured by one of these agencies, you still can call and see if you qualify, as many lenders will still offer the option in order to avoid foreclosures.
Under the CARES act, homeowners can claim mortgage forbearance due to financial hardship from COVID-19 for up to 12 months without requiring any documentation or verification. During the forbearance period, mortgage lenders cannot charge late fees or penalties.
Additionally, as long as your mortgage is current at the time you claim forbearance, the lender is required to keep reporting your mortgage as paid current throughout the entire period.
At the end of the forbearance, the CARES act protects consumers from having to make a lump sum payment. Instead, you will be given a repayment plan from your provider. Since repayment options vary, it's important you ask your provider about all of your repayment options.
Possible Repayment Options:
You may be eligible for a loan modification at the end of your forbearance. With modification, the mortgage terms are changed in order to add payments that were missed during the forbearance onto the end of the loan, extending the term.
Another option that may work for some is a reduced payment option. This allows you to keep paying monthly payments at a reduced amount. The amount missed is usually added back into the monthly payments at the end of the forbearance.
Regular payment: $1000 per month
Reduced payment: $500 per month
Payment after forbearance period: $1500 (until caught up)
Balloon payments, or lump sum payments at the end of the forbearance, are prohibited under the CARES Act. However, mortgage lenders may require homeowners who are not protected under the CARES Act to make a balloon payment at the end, so again it is best to check first with your provider.
Mortgage forbearance should only be considered in true financial hardship. In other words, just because of the pandemic, you should not take a forbearance on your mortgage if you can still afford your payments. Likewise, if you are able to start making payments before the forbearance period is up, it's best to do so as soon as possible.
The Next Steps:
Before you get in touch with your mortgage servicer, save time by gathering as much documentation about the mortgage as you can. Also, be ready to list your income and monthly expenses. Due to an influx in calls, financial institutions are experiencing extremely long wait times right now, and having your information at the ready will help.
Have questions ready to ask. Here are some questions you should be asking:
- What fees are associated with the forbearance?
- What are all the repayment options available to you at the end of the forbearance?
- Will you be charged interest during the forbearance period?
If your forbearance is approved, make sure to keep all documentation pertaining to it. Make sure to cancel any automatic payments to the mortgage during the forbearance period, and keep tabs on your credit report to make sure your lender doesn't report the loan as unpaid.
For more information on forbearance, contact your lender and discuss your options. If you need more assistance with understanding your options, you can contact a local agent for the housing counseling agency, or call their hotline at 1-800-569-4287.
Don't you just love stories about people giving back?
While there's a lot of greed out there, some of the richest people on Earth realize how lucky they are and decide to share the wealth.
Just look at Jeff Bezos of Amazon and his decision to donate $100 million to food banks. It's a lot more than you and I (and several large families put together) will ever give to charity… Because it's more than we'll earn in our entire lifetimes.
It's more than you could fit in the trunk of your car in stacks of $100 bills! If you put it all in a basic savings account, you and me and those several families could all easily live off the interest alone!
Actually, when you think about it like that, it's kind of more money than any one person could ever need or even spend on anything normal...
Sure, if you want to travel the world in a luxury blimp, eating meals out of the skulls of dead celebrities, you could spend it all pretty easily. But if you're just trying to have a happy, comfortable life, $100 million isn't much better than an $80,000 salary.
Fixing the World's Problems
So why doesn't any of these mega-billionaires like Jeff Bezos, Michael Bloomberg, Elon Musk, or any one of the Walmart Waltons just give away their riches and go down in history as the person who ended world hunger? At an estimated cost of $20 billion a year, each of them could afford to end homelessness in America for between two and eight years.
They could even keep a few car trunks stuffed with hundreds so they could continue living like kings and hunting olympic athletes for sport. And imagine how much all those people could improve their lives if they had stable places to live and sleep.
It must not be that simple... Because if private greed was the only thing standing in the way of transformational change, governments could have collected all that wealth with some steep taxes and made the world a better place. There has to be some reasonable explanation for why these people don't just give it all away…
In this series we are looking at a number of prominent myths around philanthropy, including the notions that billionaires' "wealth" is substantially different than money, and that they are important patrons of the arts.
Previously we debunked the ideas that charity is better than "government handouts" and that it's even possible for billionaires to be generous, but today we'll look at the question of whether their private charitable foundations are powerful forces for good.
Myth: Those foundations do a lot of good though
The Myth: They might not be as good as well-funded government programs, but in the absence of the political will to raise taxes and establish those kinds of programs, the private charitable foundations of billionaires do a lot of good and are a great option for helping people in need.
Why It's Wrong: There's no doubt that some of those foundations have truly helped people in significant, life-changing ways. But, generally speaking, the stated charitable missions of these organizations are secondary to their function as tax havens.
Adam Ruins Everything - Why Billionaire Philanthropy is Not So Selfless | truTV www.youtube.com
In the past these organizations were a useful way for anyone lucky enough to be leaving assets in excess of ~$600,000 to their loved ones to avoid the estate tax. These days the estate tax has been gutted to the benefit of no one who has ever earned anything, and the amount has been pushed above $11,000,000. But there are plenty of people who still want that loophole or enjoy the prestige that private charitable foundations provide them.
Often private LLCs directly controlled by the billionaire funders, these foundations allow for income not only to evade income tax, while earning the donor a tax deduction on top of that. Of course in order to qualify for these benefits, the organization must meet the requirements of a non-profit, but the standards aren't exactly strict.
What Billionaires Want
Not only can the organization focus only on the issues that matter most to a person with ungodly amounts of money (a cure for all the papercuts they get from flipping through their stacks?), they only need to spend 5% of their investment assets annually. And they could choose to spend that amount on administrative costs and salary for the friends/lackeys they've chosen to run them.
You basically have to be as blatantly self-serving and corrupt as Donald Trump—spending other people's money to buy a portrait of himself—to come under any real scrutiny, and even then it's only if you're running for president...
On top of that, these foundations are free to grow their assets through investments—even in for-profit industries that work in diametric opposition to the foundations' stated goals. Consider the fact that—until Bill Gates was publicly shamed into divesting—the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation was heavily invested in fossil fuel companies.
Apart from their horrifying impact on climate change, these companies are among the worst offenders on Earth in terms of polluting fresh water resources. If only there was a charitable foundation that was focused on preserving and cleaning water supplies in developing countries. Like, for instance, the WASH program…of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
Worse still, many so-called charitable donations end up going to think tanks, university branches, and political advocacy groups that fund and promote research and policy initiatives that support the interests of the wealthy.
The effect is to amplify ideas that ultra-wealthy already believe and what they want to be true. If you were a researcher who had reason to believe that increasing the top marginal tax rate to 90% could solve all of our nation's most pressing problems, you would struggle to get your research funded. But if you managed to complete it and get it published, there would immediately be 10 well funded studies seeking to disprove it.
The Bill Gates Approach to "Fixing" Education
Look again at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Not only does it give a lot of money to so-called good causes that primarily serve the wealthy, but even when the foundation is focused on trying to do actual good they often end up hurting more than they help.
Among its primary focuses has been revamping America's public school systems, which has involved billions of dollars being spent on various initiatives to change the way teachers are trained, the way children are taught, and the way schools themselves are organized—all with an emphasis on data collection and standardized testing.
Among the complaints against how the Foundation operates is the fact that its model of reform and success involves little input from educators and that Bill Gates himself essentially steers the ship with little resistance from within the organization. And the results have been...less than stellar.
Obviously the goal of improving the education system for everyone is admirable, but the allure of Gates' money and his supposed genius has tempted state and local governments to match his initiatives with a lot of money of their own.
And time after time those initiatives have been abandoned as soon as they don't yield the results Gates was looking for—leaving schools and municipalities on the hook for cleaning up the mess without that financial backing.
From Common Core to smaller schools to creepy data mining, Gates' ideas have faltered or crumbled when they meet with the real world, and they've ended up costing the communities they "serve" a lot more than they've ever cost him. At this point you could argue that the biggest accomplishment the foundation has achieved is rehabilitating Bill Gates' predatory reputation.
But he is way too rich to be ashamed of his failures. So Bill Gates just keeps going and pushes his narrow-minded views on education even harder. These days he's helping New York Governor Andrew Cuomo with the idea that we don't even need classrooms…
Stricter Standards for "Charity"
So while claims that Bill Gates is using vaccines to spread the mark of the beast and practice eugenics are a bit wild, the work of these private charities definitely deserve more scrutiny.
Basically, even when these private foundations aren't glorified tax shelters, they're still awful. As well-intentioned as some billionaires might be, they are too powerful, too used to getting their way, and too detached from real life to actually be much use in helping people.
In other words, we need to make the standards for these foundations far stricter—to make sure they're doing some actual good in exchange for their tax evasion—and once we've done that, we need to tax the hell out of all the billionaires' money so they remember what it's like to be human.
And if you're thinking that we can't do that—because all that wealth is tied up in investments—we'll have to cover that myth in the next installment.