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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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.