Top Money-Saving Environmental Tips

Most people think that living an eco-friendly life is boring and somewhat expensive. But the truth of the matter is that being green is cheap and saves the environment. Reducing your consumption, reusing items and recycling helps keep unnecessary waste out of the landfills. So what are some of the eco-friendly money-saving tips to consider? Here is a look.

Using cloth napkins and durable silverware

It is hard to resist the temptation of not having anything to wash after meals, which is why some people will opt for disposable items. Abandoning disposable napkins and going for cloth napkins will help you save plenty of cash and keep the environment clean. Cloth napkins are more durable and can be washed after use and be used over and over again. The same goes for utensils—saying no to disposable plastic forks, spoons, and knives not only reduces the money you spend on them, but reduces your waste and also your contribution to the pollution involved in the manufacturing process.

The planet and your pocket will be at risk when you increase the pile of garbage left after a meal. It is common sense: the less you throw away, the less you spend. Especially for people who are on a budget, cutting paper towels, napkins, and utensils off the grocery list can save a lot by the end of the year.

Make use of a pressure cooker

You can actually save a lot of time, money and energy if you make use of a pressure cooker. One thing that makes this a must-have is the fact that they are versatile and they can cook almost anything. They use less energy and take up to 70% less time to cook a meal. Imagine the things you can do with that extra time!

Install a low flow showerhead

We spend a lot of water when we hit the shower for a few minutes. If you have a bigger household, it’s even worse. But installing a low flow showerhead is an easy way to save 25 to 60% of the water we normally use in the shower. This is the best way to preserve water and also save on the water bill.

Use energy saving bulbs

Energy-saving bulbs are normally expensive upfront compared to ordinary bulbs. However, they use a quarter of the energy that ordinary bulbs use. But part of environmental sustainability is about investing. The initial expense will pay itself over time. Plus, you’ll have fewer lightbulb changes to make!

Insulate your home

Not only do uninsulated homes just lose heat and cool air but also waste money and energy. The upfront cost may be hefty but the long-term savings can make a significant impact on personal finances. When you reduce energy expenditure you will, most definitely, reduce the bill. It is important to consider insulating the attic and basement first to be effective in your personal finance quest.

Install solar panels

Most governments now offer tax credits to home owners who wish to install solar panels to supplement their energy expenditure. This is to encourage people to go green and save the environment. There are also companies that are willing to take the risk most homeowners dread to pay the initial cost. You stand a chance of saving at least 10% of your electricity bill.

Don’t pay for what you throw away

Did you know that product packaging makes up more than 30% of waste stream in the developed world? According to the EPA, even more of that waste comes from actual food being thrown away. By buying only the food that you will consume, and making sure that you opt for environment-friendly packed items, you can both reduce waste and reduce the amount of money that you waste.

Grow Your Own Food

Though gardening can require a bit of work and upfront investment, making your own garden and growing your own food allows you to save money and also know what you are eating. Without the harmful chemicals and GMOs used by many large companies and manufacturers, your own garden can provide a fresh, homegrown alternative for you and others in your community.

Reuse and resell old furniture and appliances

Your furniture is one of the things in the entire house that will last longer. However, sometimes they get damaged or outlive their original purpose. When this happens, you don’t have to throw it away. You can repaint, reuse, and repurpose. Give your splintering, chipping chair a good sanding and a new look. Turn your old coffee table into a storage ottoman. Make a play kitchen for your kids with that old TV stand. Reusing and repurposing reduces environmental pollution and is financially smart.

Then again, you may be having some things in the house that you just don’t want anymore. One of the most monetarily effective tips is to resell. If you are environmentally conscious, then you will realize that reselling them not only earns extra money but also keeps the environment cleaner.

Be Green and Save Green

You don’t have to make a lot of money or spend a lot of money to live a life that is sustainable for both your finances and the world you live in. A few lifestyle changes can go a long way and make a significant impact on your life and the lives of those around you.

The Difference a Decent Down Payment Makes: Buying Over Renting to Save

Real estate headlines constantly point to the outrageous prices that homes go for in London today, often to the exclusion of every other part of the country. In London, home prices tend to be so expensive, renting works out to be cheaper.

According to research recently published by The Metro newspaper, it can cost £1,000 more a month to buy than to rent in the big city. Bristol, Cambridge, Reading, York, Southhampton and Aberdeen are similarly expensive. Many hopeful home buyers looking at these headlines naturally assume that it’s the way the equation works over the rest of the country. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

You do yourself a great disservice believing that it’s always a better deal to rent rather than to buy. Depending on where you are in the country, you stand to save anywhere from £30 a month (in Sheffield) to £100 a month (in Birmingham) or £150 a month (in Glasgow), compared to renting.

How do those savings come about?

Affordable mortgage interest levels have made buying cheaper than renting over much of the country. The nationwide rise in rent levels has contributed to making buying the competitive choice. The study reported in The Metro looked at typical rents and sale prices for small, two-bedroom homes in several cities across the country. When a family buying a home is able to put together a 10% deposit (or down payment), and buys with a 25-year mortgage at a 4.5% interest rate (the current competitive rate charged), it usually turns out to be far cheaper than renting. On average, outside of the very expensive half-dozen cities, the typical family stands to save about £60 a month.

Then, there’s the equity

Buying a home can make financial sense in multiple ways. To begin, the interest component of the mortgage payment that you make each month is a tax-deductible expense. Given that nearly your entire installment each month goes to paying off the interest on the mortgage rather than the principal, it’s almost as if your mortgage payments are free over the first few years.

There’s also the fact that home prices rise at a 2% rate each year in Britain, on average. Your equity in your home rises dramatically, even as your mortgage payment remains steady. Certainly, home prices could fall, as many home owners found out during the housing collapse of 2007 and 2008. Barring such economic tumult that may occur once in a generation, though, you’re likely to end up with a generous profit if you even keep your home for no more than a decade before selling.

Your job is to focus on the deposit

For the average £250,000 home, a 10% deposit would work out to £25,000. Many make do with a 5% deposit. It’s a sizable sum that you need to put by either way, and it can take a few years to get ready. It can take considerable financial discipline to make it happen.

The larger the deposit, the more easily you qualify for the mortgage, and the lower your monthly payments and interest rate. You will have a greater level of equity in your home should you need to tap it for an emergency one day, as well (look online at KingAndChasemore.co.uk).

Things may change if mortgages become more freely available

Buying is cheaper now because there are so few people who are able to afford the deposit that it takes, and qualify for a mortgage. Should lenders become willing to lower their lending standards, though, there will likely be far more homebuyers qualifying. Mortgage lenders will then see no need to lower their interest rates to attract custom. They will have no problem raising their mortgage rates, right away turning homebuying more expensive than renting. The way things stand for the foreseeable future, ownership is measurably cheaper than renting. While property prices may be on the high side today, it’s still a great time to buy.

Homeownership comes with multiple benefits. Other than the fact that it helps you invest your resources rather than turn it into dead money (as unproductive rent is often called), ownership offers a sense of freedom, stability and financial discipline. To young families attempting to establish themselves, these are immense advantages.

Mable Wolfe has vast experience in residential real estate. Now semi-retired she enjoys spending a couple of hours each morning tapping out a real estate based article which can go up online to help others whether a graduate new to the business, or an individual looking to sell their home fast.

3 Important Actions To Take Before Trading Online

When it comes to trading online, there are many different brokers and websites that specialize in helping people to trade stocks, commodities, or even currencies. This even goes above and beyond the ability of many individuals to manage their own 401(k) or Roth IRA accounts from the comfort of their own computer or home office. Technology has allowed for some amazing advances, however even with all of these opportunities it is important to take 3 major actions before you start even your very first trade online.

3 Trading Online Steps

Action #1: Do Your Homework/Research

One of the first steps you need to take is to slow down and make sure you do some serious research before committing to any specific company for trading online. The terms of an IRA account from one company to another are not the same. The cut certain Forex brokers take off each trade is not the same. While some of these differences can seem extremely small, sometimes being just a dollar or two, or a single percent, over the course of 30 or 40 years of investing that can lead to massive differences in the final amount.

The entire responsibility of using the best providers for your online trading fall squarely on your shoulders and it is always worth taking a next or week or few weeks to do your research to make absolutely sure you are only doing business with the absolute best of the best.

Action #2: Find Broker Software You Like

Online trading can be tricky even in the best of circumstances. Whether you are looking at trading stocks, speculating on commodities, or trading on the ever volatile Forex market, having the best broker software is critical to success. No matter which of these markets you’re dabbling in you want to make sure you are using an online program that is accurate, extremely fast (preferably real time), and very easy for you to read a lot of information in a single glance.

While every single person is going to have their own preference, the most important thing here is that your information is accurate and up to date and that you are absolutely comfortable with being able to use that software. If you can find a broker software that you are comfortable with, and that will definitely give you better results.

Action #3: Understand How Markets Are Different

When you are looking at trading online you also need to make sure you don’t make the mistake of thinking all markets are the same. Stock markets are the most stable by far and are driven much more by information and fundamental reports as opposed to technical chart patterns. Commodity trading requires much more knowledge of how speculation and technical chart analysis works in order to consistently profit.

The Forex market, where currency pairs are traded, is by far and away the most volatile and risky of all of the markets and should only be traded by professionals or after you have spent a great deal of time taking advantage of practice software to make sure you have it down.

In Conclusion

There’s no question that trading online has its own risks, but the opportunities are amazing and by following the 3 basic actions in this article you will be truly ready to go.

Financial Goals 2013

Typically, I have a few days at the end of the year to get my next years goals together, and this year, I got a bit of our late start because we were visting relatives in Western New York.  That took a while to get caught up from, and because I got married last year, I also had to see what H thought that we should do with our finances.  While she has good ideas, she does have a bit of an aversion to writing them down on paper.  It took me a while to convince her that we should write them down on paper instead of just both of us having the goals in our heads (that were remarkably similar, mind you) and nothing written down.  Its kind of like driving where you know there’s a road but you cant really see it – you can detour easily.

Last year was just so-so in terms of financial goals, and this go-round im excited to have an accountability partner with me to help keep me on track.  As I’ve been realizing, my finances havent really gotten that much better over the past 2 years.  Thankfully, they didnt get worse either.  Due to the way things shook out last year, this year I’ve included specific steps to get to our defined goals.  Something that we will need to do every week/month/quarter to make sure that we are on track and not scrambling at the end of the year to get over the hurdle.

  • Our first goal is to create an emergency fund.  You may think that we are crazy for not having one already, but we had a bunch of savings for other things that we could have used had there been an emergency.  We hope to get this up to 2 months living expenses by the end of the year.  To do this, we are going to set up a new savings account (possibly with a different bank from our current savings bank, ING Direct) and contribute to it monthly.  Unfortunately, I havent determined the amount that we need per month quite yet – there’s a lot of noise in the data because of the constat trips to lowes for house stuff.
  • Our second goal is to pay off the truck.  I had hoped to have this done by the end of 2012, but there was just too much other stuff going on with the house to get this done.  The end of the year will mark year 3 of the loan, which is still pretty good, but lots of it was because of the hail damage sustained last summer.  Once this is paid off, we can also lower the insurance on it, as I no longer need to be covered for things like hail storms, as my truck cant possibly get any worse.  To accomplish this goal, we are going to be making double truck payments every month until the note is paid off.
  • Our third goal is to increase deposits to our various savings accounts by $250 overall per month.  We have a few different accounts for house stuff, appliances and vacations, and each account is currently getting a certain amount of money per month.  This year, we are planning on increasing the amount of each of these accounts, to total $250 a month between each of them.  To do this, we will simply change our automatic deposit amounts on our savings accounts, and let the goal-o-matic machine work its magic.
  • Our forth goal is to have more than $1,000 of cash left over at the end of every month.  Right now, our numbers show that we are spending between 35-45% of what we earn on basics (food, mortgage, utilities, etc) and leaving the rest as free cash flow.  For much of 2012, that spare cash flow was soaked up by house repairs (and still is, to some extent).  We have wound down many of the house projects with the exception of the bathroom, so we are hoping to free up quite a bit of cash as we head into Q1 & Q2 of 2013.  The projects will probably start again to some degree in the summer, but hopefully wont be anything like they were last summer.  To do this, we are going to watch our spending and make sure we hit a certain number of no spend days per week.
Doing this throughout 2013 should set us up pretty well for the future, whatever that may bring.  Now that I have a teammate, I’m also hoping for far better success than I had in 2011 and 2012 – I’m hoping to get back to where I was in 2009-2010.

Those are our goals for the year 2013.  What do you think?  What goals have you created for the new year, and how do you plan on sticking to them this year?

2013 Health Goals

Last year, my health goals were the ones that fared the best out of all my other goals.  I was able to keep a consistent training routine from January to mid april, often going to the gym in the morning and running in the afternoon and one day on the weekends, usually amounting to around 10 workouts per week.  Once we moved into our new house though, my plan really fell by the wayside – there was just too much to do at the house, and I didnt carve out time to go to the gym.  Lots of this is obviously my fault, so enough with the excuses.  I was able to get back into the routine in fits and starts once we got back from our honeymoon, but nothing really ever stuck the way that it did early in the year.

After reflecting on the year, I realized that this was probably because I had no goal to aspire to.  I’m well aware that being healthy now and later in life will save me all this money, allow me to spend more time with loved ones in the future and get around better.  Unfortunately, those things (like retirement) are a very long way out, and it’s difficult to set aside time to work on them or deal with them.  I’ve realized that with all my goals, it’s best to have a timeframe to stick to, and for exercise for me it means some sort of race or challenge.  This year, I’ve got a few races planned (though not many at the end of the year) to make sure that I stick to my training plans.

I’ll be running the Wyoming Ultramarathon in late may (it’s a 50k), and in mid june, I’ll be traveling to vermont to race in the spartan death race.  After I heard about the death race 4 years ago, I really wanted to give it a try, and this year I’ve decided to stop screwing around and waiting and just go for it.  There’s about a 15-20% completition rate for the race every year, so odds are I’m not going to finish, but I hope to be in shape enough by the time the race rolls around to be happy with my performance.

Like my financial goals, I’ve broken the main goal (the death race) down into smaller things that I need to do every day, every week and every month to get ready for it.   Here’s the list:

  1. Carry my pack to work every day.  Early last week, I filled a backpack with a bunch of heavy objects and have been carrying it around when I walk to and from work.  Right now, the pack weighs about 25 lbs, and I’m hoping to increase the weight to 40-50 pounds gradually.  There’s nothing really in the pack but heavy stuff, so this should be relatively easy.
  2. Take the stairs at work every day.  Once again, another daily goal.  I work on the 4th floor, and the walk with the pack gets a tad tiring when I’m all the way up at the top, but it’s getting easier every day to walk up the stairs.  Hopefully soon I can be running up the stairs with my pack!
  3. Follow my gym routine.  I’ve developed a specific plan for each day of the week with what exercises that I will do.  I think this will work better than last year because last year I did what I wanted and ended up really neglecting my deltoids/hamstrings workout because I thought it was an annoyance.  This year, I’ve got a workout for each day, and all I have to do is roll out of bed and head to the gym.
  4. Run 3x per week.  At the moment, my 50k training program has not kicked in (it will at the end of the month) but right now I’m trying to run about 10 miles per week (with my pack) to prep for both races.  I have a schedule for my 50k training, and I havent decided if I’m going to run all those runs with the pack or not yet though.
  5. Change Diet.  After about a week of this program, I have noticed one thing: I’m starving all the time.  I’m eating more for breakfast than normal, eating a snack before dinner and more food at lunch and dinner, and I’m still hungry.  I dont know what the deal is, but I’m pretty sure that something’s got to give with my diet.  I have never really tried to change my food intake in my life, so there is going to be a lot of learning going on here before I figure out what exactly I’ll be doing.  I’ve looked into a few programs, but I think I need to eat 5 meals per day instead of the normal 3, with reduced portions.  I’ll let you know what I figure out though.

This may seem like a lot of goals, but unfortunately it will only get me through mid year.  I’ll probably take the end of june and some of july off from running (but still go to the gym) and re-assess at the beginning of Q3 how I’d like to finish out the year.  There is a winter death race, but I’m not sure if I’ll want to do that or not.  There are always other races that I can do that are much shorter and require less training, but I’d have to look into more of those as time goes on.  Right now though, I’m set until mid june and will re-assess later.

Readers: What are your health goals for this year?  How specific are they, and do you have a plan to complete them?  

The Newest Status Symbol

This is guest post from my dad.  In an old post, he described his thoughts on the business of relationships.

When you get to looking back on things in your life that seem important one day and have very little lasting impact on your quality of life, the biggest one has to be the status symbol.  Advertisers, bankers, friends and others convince you that these things are something you have to have and your life will not be as good as everybody else’s without them.  I can recall many things that were at one time considered status symblols if you had them.  Vacation homes, expensive cars (Mercedes or BMW), trendy Christmas toys and clothing brands that are too many to remember have come and gone over the years.  I think even the most frugal and level headed among us will admit to falling victim to a status symbol for the value of it. Most are no longer considered to have much status as the $100 pair of jeans has been replaced by the $185 pair of jeans.  The price of attaining status has continued to go up over the years.  I think the air Jordan craze started it all in clothing.  Nobody wanted their kid in Converse all stars anymore, and no kid wanted to be wearing Converse all stars when Air Jordan’s’ came out (Jeffs note: unless you were/are an L-7 weenie)!  I think I have finally noticed a new status symbol creeping into people’s financial discussions- Paying off a mortgage!

Lasting Impact

This latest status symbol has been seen sneaking into the main steam now is one with more value and more lasting impact than your worn out BMW that now costs an arm & a leg to fix.  I believe that symbol of having a paid off mortgage on your home has come to the forefront since the aftermath of the financial crisis left people gasping for their financial lives.  The current state of the financial meltdown has upended many people’s financial life and lifestyle.  Using your house as a piggy bank and emptying out the equity that you build up propped up many unsustainable life styles. Those chickens came home to roost and now I hear people talking about having there mortgage paid off and how much better they feel.  Although the U.S. tax system makes it seem like you should always have a home mortgage (I subscribed to the theory for a long time) to get the tax write offs, I recently decided that having a paid off mortgage would allow me to pay whatever I owed as my fair share of the national tax burden.  The old fashion 30 year note is now so low that making double principle payments is within many average income peoples reach.  A 15 year loan makes the most sense for those just starting out as they will save a load of interest over the life of the loan and get it paid for just when kids’ college bills may be kicking in.  Interest rates are so low now you could easily get into a 15 year note.  My first home loan was 19% and the owner bought it down to 16%.

Jeff’s note: I agree with this.  Many people have seen family members, friends or neighbors lose their home, and I think it has rattled a lot of cages.  Once you pay off your mortgage, no one can take your home from you – it’s yours (Unless you fail to pay taxes, but we wont get into that).

Less Stress (and Cash Needed) Later in Life and Retirement

Having a paid off mortgage would make many people’s lives and retirement a much simpler and less stressful process.  I cannot imagine having a mortgage to pay going into retirement.  I think that is why they say you should have 70-80% of your pre-retirement income when you retire.  Not having a mortgage will enable you to get by on much less.  The pride that I have seen in people with a paid off mortgage note is unmistakable.  This has been a much more difficult goal to attain, but worth the long term commitment.  Having a paid off mortgage demonstrates an ability to plan and make sacrifices over the long term to attain a truly worthwhile goal. Having accomplished this, it will enable a person to make many more choices in their life and be much more financially secure. Owning your home (not living in a bank owned home) has now taken up its rightful place in the American consciousness again.  For true financial security, you should strive to pay off your home.  You will be able to sleep better at night because of it.  Time is your ally in this endeavor and getting in a hurry will almost always lead to dire consequences.

Readers: Do you have a paid off mortgage?  If not, are you working on paying it early, or are you focused on other debts?  Those of you with a mortgage, how would it feel to not have to pay that  amount every month, but instead keep it?

Financial Goals 2012

Since it’s the first week of 2012, I figured that I’d share my goals for 2012 with all of you.  I don’t list every goal in every category, but I do put the ones that I feel relate to the things we talk about on the blog.

At the beginning of every year for about the last 6 years I’ve set some goals for myself.  Over the years I’ve found that breaking them down into categories is the best way for me to go.  I typically break my goals into top level categories, such as finances and health.  From those categories, I get down into the nitty gritty – perhaps creating a goal in the “finance” category of “saving X dollars for Y purchase by Z Date”.  Picking the higher level categories allows for me to decide if that category is something that’s really worth focusing on for the year, and picking goals for that category allow me to advance my progress in that category.  My goals started with just a few categories and have now branched out to about 6 categories.

I find it very difficult to write my finance goals list for this year.  Last year it was simple-pay off one student loan and try to pay off the truck.  While I didn’t pay off my truck, I made good progress and I didn’t go into more debt, so I was fairly happy with my results.  This year though, my financial goals won’t just be “mine.”  I’m getting married in July so I can’t have my own financial goals anymore (not that this is a bad thing).  So, it’s something that I’ve been trying to deal with over the final month of the year.  Luckily, H and I have similar financial habits (now that I’ve changed mine, for the most part) and we both enjoy the same things: travel, friends, food, family, etc.  Liking the same things will make it easier to prioritize and make it easier to create goals.  Like me, she’s very debt averse, so that will factor into all of our decisions.  Unlike me, she’s really interested in buying a house.  I’m not against it, I’m just still trying to figure out exactly what I’d like in a house so that I can better communicate that to her and try to get us on the same page.  A potential house purchase is something we have been talking about for some time, and we are starting to get closer and closer to what we want in a future home.  As it’s looking now, me figuring out what I want isn’t going to happen right away, so we may just set a large savings goal for a house downpayment (in addition to what we’ve been saving for the past 15 or so months) for the end of the year, to be used sometime in the future.  I told her a long time ago that I wasn’t willing to sign a 30 year note (15 years for this guy), told her why, then showed her the numbers – she seemed to be OK with that, so that’s something else out of the way.

Unfortunately, all of this leaves me in a lurch for 2012.  Whether or not I complete my goals is no longer a matter of how low I can get my expenses, how high I can get my income, and simply paying off debts.  Now I have to think about what’s best for both H and I, given our goals for the future and taking into account both of our situations.  I can’t just say “pay off truck in 2012” I have to see if that’s the best use of our available cash, and how H feels about doing that.  I’m not getting married until July though, so I think I’ll set some first part of the year goals and then revisit sometime after we get married and get situated and used to married life.

The first goal that I’ll have is to not add any new debt from now until the wedding.  This shouldn’t be that hard, but it could be a bit difficult, so I just want to put it out there.  I’ve got a lot of things to prepare for in terms of wedding clothing, gifts, etc.  I’d love to be able to cash flow all of the things that I need to buy (which I will post about later).  I think this will also keep me from going overboard on weddings (much easier than you’d think).

My next goal is to pay down half of the truck loan.  I initially thought about trying to pay off the remaining ~9,000 by the wedding date so that when I got married, the only debt that I would bring is my final student loan.  Though I don’t think I’ll be able to make that, i’d really like to lower the amount on this loan quite a bit before I get married.  I think I can do this by keeping my wedding expenses to a minimum and getting creative in other areas, such as going out and travel.  If I can cut these things down, this goal should be no problem.

The final goal is to create joint financial goals with H after we get married.  Obviously, once this is done we can continue to move forward as a couple with our joint goals, and work to complete them together.  Right now, I’ve got a bit of an idea about what will shake out of that conversation and be transferred onto paper.  Once that happens, I’ll probably update you all on the new set of financial goals, and our methods to get there.  .

Readers:  What are your health goals for the coming year?  Do you have health goals, or are you simply trying to maintain what you’ve got?  Are you goals focused on weight-loss or something different?