Tricks to Lower Your Heating Bill

As temperatures get lower and lower, most people see their heating bills rise. Fortunately, there are some tricks that you can do to save on heating.  To start, get a programmable thermostat. You can save 2% off your bill for every degree that you keep your thermostat below 72 degrees. Program the thermostat to be lower when you are away and when you are asleep. Keeping your thermostat at 68 degrees or lower while home will also save you money. Stay warm by bundling up with socks, sweaters and blankets. Make the most of free heat by opening your curtains to let sunshine in.  Use your ceiling fan to help push the warm air down by running it in a clockwise direction (when you are looking up at it) on a low speed. Have your house inspected to ensure your house is properly insulated including around the doors and windows. Finally, contact your electric company. Many states have programs to help low income families pay heating bills.

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Selecting the Right Charity

With all the hurricanes, flooding, and earthquakes happening around the world right now, you may be wanting to help by donating money. But before you donate your hard-earned cash, you should make sure that you are donating to a legitimate organization that provides the most help to victims. Below are a few websites that a donor can use to research an organization before donating money.

  • The IRS website provides a list of charitable organizations where your donation is tax deductible. Just be sure that the organization is eligible to receive tax deductible donations and isn’t just tax exempt (meaning the organization doesn’t pay taxes).
  • The Better Business Bureau monitors charitable organizations by rating their governance, effectiveness, finances, and solicitation practices.
  • The Guidestar website claims to be “the world’s largest source of information on nonprofit organizations.” You can search their website to compare nonprofits by looking at revenue and expense data for the year, balance sheet data, 990 forms and annual reports.

You may also want to consider donating items like clothes or food instead of money. No matter how you decide to help those in need, be careful not to fall victim to a scam. Research the organization before donating.

 

-Kathryn M.

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Are Your Online Shopping Sites Secure?

Shopping online is convenient and can be a huge time saver but if you enter your payment and personal information on an insecure site, you are putting yourself at risk for identity theft. Before entering any personal or payment information on any site, you should always make sure that it is secure. Sites that are secure and protect customers’ information will not have pop-up ads or send unsolicited emails. You should always look for positive customer reviews and check with the Better Business Bureau for a rating. A secure site will also have a physical address and post a refund policy.

You should be able to pay with a credit card and see a padlock or unbroken key symbol signifying that the site is enabled and encrypted.  Finally, the payment page should start with “https” and not “http”. The “s” means that there is a secure, encrypted connection between your device and the site. If you are ever unsure or something does not feel right about a site, don’t make the purchase! Trust your instincts and keep your personal information safe.

 

-Kathryn M.

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Saving Money on Back to School Purchases

Getting ready for a new school year is exciting but also can be very expensive especially if you have more than one child in school. Here are some tips on how to save money when preparing for the new year.

  • Wait to buy school supplies until late August or early September. This can save you lots of money because stores are trying to get rid of merchandise. It is a good idea to buy the essentials before the year begins and wait a few weeks to buy the rest.
  • Only buy what is on the teacher’s list. It may be tempting to buy cute extras but sticking to the list will help you stay within your budget.
  • Repurpose items from last year’s school supplies and your home office. Don’t buy a new backpack or binder unless the old one is truly worn out. Search your home office for unused items that your child could use. You can help your child personalize the item by adding photo collages or stickers.
  • Shop sales and buy in bulk when possible. It may be more convenient to buy everything at one place but you could save money by shopping sales at different stores. Also, buying pencils and pens in bulk can save you money by not having to buy those items multiple times throughout the year.
  • Check mailers and websites for different stores such as Target, Walmart, Office Depot, and Staples to see which items are on sale at each place and plan out where to go for each item you need.

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Money-Saving Apps

For those who have difficulty saving money, there are many apps that can help you set aside small amounts of money to put into savings (without you really noticing). Once those small amounts of money start to add up, you will start to get excited about saving even more money! A few of the most popular savings apps are:

  • Qapital helps you to set aside small amounts of money to meet your savings goals. This app is currently only available to iPhone users with a bank account at Bank of America, Chase, Citi, Wells Fargo, US Bank.
  • Digit analyzes your spending and income and automatically sets aside a few dollars every few days to build your Digit savings account.
  • Acorns rounds up your purchases to the next dollar and invests the extra change.
  • Stash helps you invest easily by setting up regular deposits and offers tutorials and lets you decide how aggressively you want to invest.

-Kathryn M.

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Credit Card Perks You May Not Know About

It may be worth the time to go to your credit card company’s website and peruse all the benefits your credit card may have.  Here are just a few:

  • Extended warranties on purchases
  • Return protection
  • Car rental insurance
  • Lost luggage protection
  • Roadside assistance
  • Hotel room burglary insurance
  • Trip cancellation coverage

 

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Saving for College

If you believe your child will attend college, it is a good idea to start saving now to help pay for skyrocketing tuition costs. Although opening a savings account in your child’s name is probably the least complicated way to start saving, it can have some drawbacks. A student with a large savings account in his/her name can miss out on financial aid and grants since financial aid is based on income and assets. Additionally, a savings account does not have any tax benefits.

There are, however, a variety of options that have tax benefits and do not greatly impact a child’s ability to receive financial aid. Two of the most popular plans are 529 college plans and Education Savings Accounts. With both plans, the account does not have tax penalties, qualified withdrawals are tax-free, and they have little impact on financial aid. There are limits on how much and for how long you can contribute to the plan as well as restrictions on how the money can be used. Other options for long-term savings are: U.S. Treasury Bonds and custodial accounts. Both have some tax advantages but there are restrictions on how the money can be used and they can impact financial aid. With any savings vehicle, it helps to start saving as early as possible.

-Kathryn M.

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