A smart home — with lights you could turn on and off with a button, remote locks, music piped into every room — used to be out of the average homeowner's reach.
"When you used to think about these systems, it was very much high-end," Mark Spates, a senior product manager for Nest and Google Home told the New York Times. "It was a luxury."
Not so anymore. Prices have come down, DIY installation is indeed doable, and if you're thinking of resale value, homebuyers expect it.
According to Coldwell Banker's smart-home survey, most potential homebuyers want some smart home technology. Seventy-seven percent want smart thermostats, 75 percent want smart smoke detectors, and 63 percent want smart locks.
All you need is a weekend and a couple hundred dollars to bring your humble abode into the 21st century — and it won't cost a mint.
Wouldn't it be so much easier to be able to turn your lights on and off when you're away on vacation, rather than crossing your fingers and hoping for best? Or what about coming home late at night alone. With a touch of a button, you could walk into a house that's warm and welcoming.
There are two ways to add this functionality: with smart bulbs or smart dimmers. Smart bulbs like Philips Hue (from about $70 for a starter kit) and LIFX (from about $20 a bulb) are the easiest to install — just screw them into an existing socket — and offer dimming and optional color changes. Smart dimmers are a little more complicated and will require some simple eletrical work. Lutron Caséta (about $100 for a starter kit) and Leviton Decora Smart (from $45 a switch) replace existing wall dimmers and switches.
Both smart bulbs and smart dimmers can be scheduled to turn lights on and off automatically, and they both have lighting-level presets. With a touch of a button, you'll can hit the sweet spot for cocktail hour or a sewing project.
It seems like something the Jetsen's would have used. If used correctly, with remote control over wifi and smart scheduling, a smart thermostat can save you hundreds of dollars.
The Honeywell Lyric T5 smart thermostat ($130) is Consumer Report's pick that features an easy-to-use manual control and plenty of smart features like voice control and what's called "geofencing" — a feature that allows the thermostat to automatically adjust the temperature as you leave and return home.
Remember when multiroom audio that spilled fluidly from the kitchen to the living room out onto the pool deck seemed like the height of glamour? You don't need to win Powerball to live this sonic version of the high life.
Sonos makes speakers (from $149 each) that can be plugged in to any electrical outlet. With wifi and an app, Sonos speakers can play the same music across all rooms or different music in different rooms, with independent volume controls for each.
"We use Sonos a lot, even at the super high-end," Michael K. Chen, an architect in New York, told the New York Times. "Anywhere you have power, you can have music, and I think that's great. Suddenly, there's no need for complex additional equipment to properly zone your apartment or house into different areas. It's just set up to do that well."
Smart Smoke Detector
If only I had the ability to lower my smoke detector's sensitivity when I'm roasting a chicken or when the broiler's on. With a smart smoke detector, I can silence an alarm with a tap rather than waving a tea towel like a white flag. Consumer Reports recommends the Nest Protect smoke and carbon monoxide detector ($100). It will send a text alert to your phone when it detects smoke or when the batter is running low — which will keep it from making that oh-so-annoying beeping sound when you're trying to get some much needed shut eye.
Your house will feel more like Fort Knox and less like a low-hanging fruit to the lazy burglar when you install smart locks. They're also a godsend for the forgetful type. Did I lock the front door? Now there's no need to double back on your journey or say a prayer. Just tap your phone and you're good.
Consumer Reports recommends the August Smart Lock Pro + Connect ($250) There's the auto-lock and unlock function when you leave and return home that you'd expect, but it can also make electronic keys for your weekend guests and housecleaner.
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When you take out a loan for a car, charge something to your credit card, or get a personal line of credit, there is going to be an interest rate that applies to your loan.
A lot of different factors go into what you will be charged, including your own personal credit score. But even those with flawless credit still see a minimum charge that they can't get around. That all goes back to the Federal Funds Rate.
One thing consumers rarely realize is that all of our banks are lending money to each other every night. Banks are legally required to maintain a certain percentage of their deposits in non-interest-bearing accounts at the Federal Reserve to ensure they have enough money to cover any withdrawals that may unexpectedly come up. However, deposits can fluctuate and it's very common for some banks to exceed the requirement on certain days while some fall short. In cases like this, banks actually lend each other money to ensure they meet the minimum balance. It's a bit hard to imagine these multibillion-dollar financial institutions needing to borrow money to tide them over for a bit, but it happens every single night at the Federal Reserve. It's also a nice deal for those with balances above the reserve balance requirement to earn a bit of money with cash that would normally just be sitting there.
The Federal Reserve
The exact interest rate the banks will charge each other is a matter of negotiation between them, but the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) (the arm of the Federal Reserve that sets monetary policy) meets eight times a year to set a target rate. They evaluate a multitude of economic indicators including unemployment, inflation, and consumer confidence to decide the best rate to keep the country in business. The weighted average of all interest rates across these interbank loans is the effective federal funds rate.
This rate has a huge impact on the economy overall as well as your personal finances. The federal funds rate is essentially the cheapest money available to a bank and that feeds into all of the other loans they make. Banks will add a slight upcharge to the rate set by the Fed to determine what is the lowest interest that they will announce for their most creditworthy customers, also known as the prime rate. If you have a variable interest rate loan (very common with credit cards and some student loans), it's likely that the interest rate you pay is a set percentage on top of that prime rate that your lender is paying. That's why in times of low interest rates (it was set at 0% during the Great Recession), a lot of borrowers should go for fixed interest rate loans that won't increase. However, if the federal funds rate was relatively high (it went up to 20% in the early 1980's), a variable interest rate loan may be a better decision as you would be charged less interest should the rate drop without the need to refinance.
The federal funds rate also has a major impact on your investment portfolio. The stock market reacts very strongly to any changes in interest rates from the Federal Reserve, as a lower rate makes it cheaper for companies to borrow and reinvest while a higher rate may restrict capital and slow short-term growth. If you have a significant portion of your investments in equities, a small change in the federal funds rate can have a large impact on your net worth.
Whether you're leaving a job involuntarily, departing for something new, or just want to prepare for the unknown, it is smart to understand all your options regarding your 401k.
Frugal gifting often gets a bad reputation. However, this shopping method does not make you cheap — it makes you practical. Frugal gifts often avoid waste and overspending and can be just as meaningful (if not more so) as any other present.
With the National Retail Federation predicting each consumer this holiday season to spend upwards of $1,000 on holiday gifts amidst an economic recession —this year might be the perfect time to reconsider your spending budget. We've formulated the ultimate list of frugal gift-giving ideas to get you started.