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8 Ways to Save Money on Utilities

8 Ways to Save Money on Utilities

When it comes to major purchases made throughout the year, utilities are usually an afterthought. You can remember buying a new TV or reflooring your basement, but you really don’t think of how much you spend on a daily basis on electricity, water, and heat. And it all adds up.

However, there are many ways to save money on utilities over the course of your lifetime. First and foremost, you must stop thinking of utilities as a passive expense. By remaining conscious of every time you use specific utilities, you’ll know how and when you can cut back and end up saving in the long run.

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Go solar

More and more people are starting to see the benefits of switching to solar power. Although the installation can be a little pricey, you’ll end up recouping your losses through cheap monthly payments within a relatively short period of time. You can also take measures to ensure your home is prepared for solar installation, cutting down on maintenance and other fees related to installation. With solar energy, not only will you be saving money for yourself, but you’ll also be doing your part to help the environment.

Install an irrigation meter

Many people don’t know that when you use water from your faucet, you’re being charged not just for the use of the water, but for its disposal as well. While it makes sense that water that ends up going down the drain needs to be filtered once again, not all of the water you use goes down the drain. If you have a pool, or you use a lot of water in your garden or yard, you shouldn’t be charged a “maintenance fee” of sorts until the water actually goes back into circulation. An irrigation meter will document the discrepancy between water used and water drained so the water company charges you accordingly. If you use a large amount of water for anything other than washing yourself, your dishes, and your clothes, you might be throwing a ton of money down the drain.

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Steady your water heater temperature

Your hot water heater doesn’t need to be set any higher than 120°F. First of all, water warmer than that will almost certainly scald your skin. Second of all, there really isn’t much use for water that’s below the boiling point but still too hot to touch. Lastly, setting your water heater higher than 120°F causes it to work overtime, meaning it will likely end up dying out sooner than later. Keeping your hot water heater regulated can save you around $50 a year, plus lessen your risk of needing to repair or replace it.

Use reusable HVAC filters

It’s tempting to go with cheap filters for your heating and cooling units, thinking they’ll save you money and work just as well for the time being. But, despite being 2-4x more expensive than their single-use equivalent, permanent filters will save you money in the long run for a variety of reasons. Most obviously, they won’t have to replaced year after year. They’re easily cleanable, and are meant to withstand long periods of use. As long as you keep up with their maintenance, reusable filters ensure your HVAC system is not strained to the max. Like your water heater, if you don’t strain your HVAC system, you’ll decrease the chances of having to pay for maintenance or replacement later on down the road.

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Seal your home

You wouldn’t leave your door open all winter, would you? Everyone knows this would result in massive heating bills. But you might not realize the cracks in your walls and windows are doing just as much damage as an open door would do. Check your windows and door frames for cracks that will let cold air in, and fill them up with caulk or expanding foam as best you can. Do the same for any walls that meet the outside, especially where pipes come in and out of the house. You won’t realize the difference it makes to your comfort, and your wallet, until you do it.

Use Energy Star products

From lightbulbs to TVs and larger appliances, Energy Star products are designed to save you money while saving the environment from excess usage of resources. Under EPA guidelines, Energy Star products must not cost customers more than a conventional product would. Although they may be more expensive up front, Energy Star products are guaranteed by the EPA to save you money over a 5-year period.

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Use a thermostat

As mentioned before, utilities are too often considered an afterthought. Heating or cooling your home is perhaps the most effective illustration of this concept. When it’s cold out, you’ll turn on the heat to warm you up. But you likely won’t recognize when you’ve had the heat on for too long, and will end up allowing excess energy to be expelled to maintain the high temperature. Using a programmable thermostat allows you to forget all about your heater or air conditioning and let it do what it needs to do, when it needs to be done. Better yet, if you are able to set your thermostat on a timer, you can be absolutely certain you never go over a specific amount of time or energy, and your bill will stay relatively steady all year.

Do routine sweeps

Do a quick run through of your house (after reading this, of course). I can almost guarantee you have some electronics turned on that aren’t currently in use. Maybe a faucet is dripping. Or maybe you have the heat on but left a small window open in a bedroom. Be more conscious of these little things, as they pile up over the months and years and equate to hundreds, perhaps thousands, of dollars wasted that could have gone elsewhere.

Featured photo credit: Pat Glennon / 63/365 v2.0 / Flickr via farm4.staticflickr.com

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Last Updated on January 2, 2019

How Personal Finance Software Helps You Get More Out of Your Money

How Personal Finance Software Helps You Get More Out of Your Money

Do you know what mental health experts point to as the biggest cause of stress in the United States today? If you said “money,” then ding, ding, we have a winner!

Three out of four adults today report feeling stressed out about money at least part of the time. People are either worried about not having enough money or whether they’re putting the money they do have to use in the best possible way.

Your money is either in charge of you or you’re in charge of it, there’s no middle ground. Using some type of personal finance software can help alleviate some of that money stress and better allow you to manage your money effectively. Without it, you may just be setting yourself up for constant financial worry. Life is already tough enough and there’s no need to make it more difficult by simply hoping your money issues will all work out in your favor. Hint: they won’t.

This guide will help you to understand how personal finance software can better assist with both accomplishing long term financial goals and managing day-to-day aspects of life.

Whether it’s tracking the savings plan for your child’s college fund or making sure you won’t be in the red with the month’s grocery budget, personal finance software keeps all this information in one convenient place.

What Exactly is Personal Finance Software?

Think of it like the dashboard in your car. You have a speedometer to tell you how fast you’re going, an odometer to tell you how far you’ve traveled, and then other gauges to tell you things like how much gas is in the tank and your engine temperature. Personal finance software is essentially the same thing for your money.

When you install this software on your computer, tablet, or smartphone, it helps to track your money — how much is going in, how much is going out, and its growth. Most personal finance software programs will display your budget, spending, investments, bills, savings accounts, and even retirement plans, levels of debt, and credit score.

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How It Leads to Financial Improvement

It shouldn’t come as a surprise, but people who regularly monitor their finances end up wealthier than those who don’t. When you were a kid, keeping track of all of your money in a porcelain piggy bank was pretty easy. As we get older, though, our money becomes spread out across things like car payments, mortgages, retirement funds, taxes, and other investments and debts. All of these things make keeping track of our money a lot more complicated.

Some types of personal finance software can help make things a little less complicated, setting you up to meet financial goals and taking away some of the stress associated with money.

Even if you already have a Certified Financial Planner (CFP) some type of personal finance software can be of great benefit. Whereas CFPs focus on the big picture of your money, they don’t handle the day-to-day aspects that determine your overall financial health.

It’s also not nearly as complicated as you might think and can take out a lot of the tedium that comes with doing everything on an Excel spreadsheet or with a pad and pencil.

Types of Personal Finance Software

When it comes to personal finance software, it generally fits into two categories: tax preparation and money management.

Tax preparation software such as Turbo Tax and H&R Block’s software can help with everything from filing income taxes to IRS rules and regulations and even estate plans. Plus, there’s the benefit of filing online and getting your refund check a lot faster than if you were to mail off your forms after waiting in line at the post office.

For the purpose of this article, however, will be focusing more on the personal finance software that aids with money management.

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Money management personal finance software will help you to see the health of your cash flow, pay down debt, forecast for expenses and savings, track investments, pay bills, and do a host of other things that 30 years ago would have practically required a team of accountants.

When to Use Personal Finance Software

So far we’ve gone over what exactly personal finance software is and how it can be a benefit to your money. The next logical step in this whole equation is determining when it should be used and how is the best way to go about getting started using it.

Below are four of the most common and practical ways to use personal finance software. If all or any of these apply to you and your money, then downloading some type of personal finance software is going to be a smart move.

1. You Have Multiple Accounts

There’s a good chance that when it comes to your money, it’s in more than one place. Sure, you probably have a checking account, but you may also have a savings account, money market account, and retirement accounts such as an IRA or 401k.

If you’re like the average American, you probably have two to three credit cards as well. Fifty percent of Americans also don’t have loyalty to just one bank and spread their money across multiple banks.

Rather than spending hours typing in every detail of every account you have into a spreadsheet, many programs allow you to easily import your account information. This will help to eliminate any mistakes and give you a bird’s eye view of everything at once.

2. You Want to Automate Some or All of Your Payments

Please don’t say that you’re still writing out paper checks and dropping each bill in the mailbox. While it’s noble that you’re doing your part to keep postal workers employed, we’re 18 years into the 21st century and you can literally pay every bill online now.

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There’s no need to log into every account you have and type in your routing number either.

With personal finance software you can schedule automatic payments and transfers between all of your imported accounts. Automatic transfers will help to make sure you have the necessary funds in the right account to ensure all bills are paid on the appropriate date. Late fees are annoying and do nothing but cost you money. It’s time that you said goodbye to them once and for all.

3. You Need to Streamline Your Budget

Perhaps the best feature of personal finance software is that it allows you track everything going in and out of your virtual wallet.

Nearly every brand of personal finance software out there has easy-to-read graphs and charts that allow you track every cent you spend or earn, should you choose. You might be pretty amazed when you see just how much you spent on eating out last month or if you splurged a little more than you should have on Christmas gifts last year.

Every successful business on the planet has a budget and using personal finance software can help you trim the fat on your spending in ways that affect your everyday life.

4. You Have Specific Goals to Meet

Maybe it’s paying off debt or saving for up something like a European vacation. Whatever your financial goal is, whether it’s long-term or short-term, personal finance software programs are one of the savviest ways to go about reaching those goals.

You can do everything from set spending alerts to notify you when you’re over budget to automating what percentage of your paycheck goes to things like retirement investments. The personal finance software that you choose should show you exactly how close you are to hitting those goals at any given time.

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How to Get Started

From AceMoney to Mint and Quicken, there ’s no shortage of personal finance software apps out there. Many of these programs are free to download and will allow you to pay bills, invest, monitor your net worth and credit profile, and even get a loan with the swipe of a finger.

Other programs may only offer you limited services and will require a one-time fee or subscription to unlock all that they offer. These fees can often vary from as little as two dollars to 50 bucks a month.

It’s best to start off with the free version and then gauge whether you’re able to accomplish everything you’d like or if it’s worth exploring one of the paid options. Often times the subscription programs come with assistance from financial planning and investment experts — so that can be a real benefit.

When deciding which personal finance software program to use, it’s also important to look at how many accounts you wish to monitor. Certain programs limit the number of accounts you can add. Be sure that if you have checking, credit card, and investment accounts to monitor, that you choose a service that can monitor them all.

Finally, when looking around for the right personal finance software that meets your needs, make sure that you’re comfortable with the program’s interface. It shouldn’t be expected that you recognize every single feature instantly, but if the features don’t seem readable and manageable to you, then you’re not as likely to use it and get the full benefits.

Final Thoughts

Personal finance software can go a long way in helping you to take control of your money and meeting your financial goals. It’s important to note, however, that some focus more on budgeting and expense tracking while others prioritize investing portfolios and income taxes. Explore several different programs and read reviews to find the one that’s right for you.

In this day and age, managing one’s personal finances in a secure manner that allows the user to have a real-time visual representation of their money is easier than ever before. With the numerous applications that are out there — both free and subscription-based — there’s no reason that every person can’t take control of their money and ensure they’re making smart money moves.

Featured photo credit: rawpixel via unsplash.com

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