How to Save Money on Your Utility Bills

Do you cringe each month when you get your utility bills? When you see a super high bill, do you wonder what happened? We’ve all been there, and high bills for gas, electricity and cable can certainly put a dent in your bank account.

But all is not lost. If you want to keep your utility bills low, here are some habits you can change.

1. Use it or lose it

It’s easy to keep lights on after you’ve left a room or keep a heater cranked even if you’re not cold. In fact, keeping the water on might be second nature for you.

But, if you want to save money on your utilities, you may want to instead adopt a use it or lose it strategy. In other words, if you’re not using it, lose it. Turn it off.

Besides simply getting into the habit of turning everything off, it also helps to practice mindfulness when it comes to your consumption of energy and other resources. Ask yourself, “Am I using this right now? Does this need to be on?” If the answer is no, take some time to turn off certain appliances. This may help you feel better as well as save money on your electric, water and heating bills.

2. Buy energy efficient products

If you have to buy a new appliance like a fridge, washer or dryer, make sure you buy an energy efficient model. This will help cut down on your electricity costs and you may also be eligible for rebates. If you don’t need a new appliance, you can also save money simply by swapping out your incandescent light bulbs for energy-efficient options. According to Energy.gov, if you replace your five most used light fixtures with ENERGY STAR models, you can save up to $75 per year.

3. Keep your thermostat temperature low

Having just the right temperature in your home is important. But let’s face it, you’re probably at work and gone for at least eight hours a day. You certainly don’t need to be blasting the heat or air-conditioning when you’re not home.

To help you save money, consider keeping your thermostat set seven to 10 degrees lower than you normally do. While you may decide to manually change the temperature to suit your comfort level when you’re home, this will help you from wasting energy in the long-run. In fact, by doing this one simple thing, you can potentially save 10 percent of your heating and cooling costs each year, according to Energy.gov.

4. Unplug

If you’re not using a certain appliance, consider unplugging it to help reduce your electrical costs, according to Energy.gov. Just think about it: when you’re not using your TV, coffee maker, and phone charger, they are probably still plugged into the wall socket. Give your appliances a break and unplug. Your wallet will also thank you.

5. Plug up leaks

It’s common for windows and doors to have air leaks. Hot or cool air coming in or out through these holes and gaps can result in higher energy costs without you even realizing it. To fix this, try caulking your doors and windows to create seals and prevent air from getting in or out of your windows and doors. Check out this how-to-guide to get started. According to Energy.gov, this simple change can result in a savings of $83 to $166 per year.

6. Get advanced power strips

While it’s a good idea to unplug your electronics when they’re idle or not in use, sometimes you’re in a rush or you may forget. The solution? Advanced power strips (APS). These can help lower energy costs by reducing the electricity that is used when your devices are not being used.

7. Negotiate your bills

You might think that your utility bills are set in stone but this isn’t always the case.

Companies like Billcutterz or Trim can help you negotiate better rates on services like cable, wireless, and cell phone. In essence, Trim and Billcutterz can contact your providers for you and do all the dirty work. These cost-saving services are free and make money if they actually score you some savings or refer you to a partner. Of course, you can always pick up the phone and call your service providers yourself. You may be able to negotiate a lower price on your own.

Bottom line

Your utility bills can spike at any time and it can be frustrating. Luckily, you can refer to these 7 tips to effectively lower your utility bills. This, in turn, will help you free up money to save for your financial goals.

 

Better with Cheddar: Here’s How Much It Cost to Adopt My Cat

It’s been over a year since my spouse and I met our cat. Making the decision to bring Cheddar home was easy. From the first moment we held his trembling body in our arms, we knew we were going to adopt him from the Humane Society. Figuring out how much the process would cost was another story.

Even though the adoption wasn’t spontaneous, it also wasn’t exactly planned. We met Cheddar at 7 p.m. on a Wednesday. By 7:30 p.m., we had signed the paperwork and paid the adoption fee. Over the course of the next hour, we spent nearly $200 on supplies for his imminent arrival. Here’s exactly how much it cost to add our furry friend to the family.

1. Adoption fee: $25

Most pet adoption fees range from $50 to $100, with kittens typically costing more than adult cats. Cheddar was an adult and had been in the shelter for a few months, so his adoption fee was reduced. But, young, old or in-between, the price of adopting a pet is drastically lower than getting one from a pet store or breeder. The purchase price for a purebred kitten? Upwards of $700. (Just one of the many reasons to adopt.)

2. Food & fundamentals: $110

After paying for our cat, we made a quick run to PetSmart. In order to take Cheddar home, we needed a carrier. And we needed one that night, so we didn’t have a lot of time to compare prices. Despite the time constraint, we looked at reviews online and made a decision we felt good about: $45 for a cat carrier with 5-star reviews.

Next, we bought a food bowl and water bowl for $15 and a small bag of dry cat food for $10. For the litter box, we bought a generic plastic box for $8 and a scooping kit that hooks to the side of the box for $10. We also splurged on a $7 mat for underneath the box to keep the area clean. After that, we bought the litter itself, which rang in at $15 for a big box.

Tip: Plan ahead! The exact same items we bought at the pet store would have cost us nearly $40 less if we had ordered them online or bought them in bulk at Costco or Sam’s Club. If you know you’re in the market to adopt a pet, buy the basics before heading to the shelter.

4. Toys: $55

We weren’t quite sure what toys Cheddar would enjoy, so we bought him balls to chase, ribbons to catch and scratching pads to scratch. In total, we spent $25 on toys and an additional $10 on catnip and treats. We also splurged on a cozy cat bed for $20.

Even though these items aren’t “essential,” we felt they were important to Cheddar’s long-term happiness and mental health as he made the transition into our home.

5. Vet visits: $30

Another financial perk of adopting from a shelter instead of buying from a breeder: The animals are neutered and vaccinated prior to adoption or as part of the package. Because those procedures can range from $100 to $200, the savings are significant.

But, even with Cheddar neutered and vaccinated, he still needed a vet exam to ensure he didn’t have any medical problems or chronic illnesses that hadn’t be caught by the shelter’s veterinarian. Fortunately, local veterinary clinics encourage adoption and often offer adopted pets an initial exam for free. We took advantage of an offer and saved $50 on Cheddar’s initial exam. However, the vet did recommend a $30 test for Cheddar to ensure he didn’t have worms or other parasites. We went ahead with the test and Cheddar earned a clean bill of health.

Tip: Don’t be afraid to ask the shelter about industry partnerships or special deals with local veterinary clinics. Beyond that, a quick search online should yield a list of veterinary offices who offer free exams for first-time visitors.

6. Microchips & safety: $35

A microchip is an electronic identification system implanted underneath the animal’s skin. If your pet is ever lost and then found by a third-party, shelters and veterinarians access the microchip via a scanner to learn the owner’s contact information. The cost to get the chip implanted ranges from $40 to $50. Cheddar was already microchipped, but we needed to add our information to the chip. The cost? $20.

We also bought Cheddar a collar and tag with our phone number for $15. Cheddar is an indoor cat, but if he ever accidentally escapes, we want to make sure he gets returned home safely.

Total cost of adoption: $255

In total, it cost us $255 upfront to adopt our cat. It’s a small price to pay for Cheddar’s constant companionship and hilarious antics, but it’s also not the only price we will have over the course of his life.

According to the Humane Society of Huron Valley, the costs for an indoor cat ranges from $340 to $900 per year. In other words, owners can expect to spend anywhere from $5,100 to $13,500 over the course of fifteen years.

Common pet expenses include food, medical care, grooming and, yes, pet insurance. Policygenius can help you find pet insurance for your furbaby here.


This article originally appeared on PolicyGenius.
Image: Martin Poole

 

How to Change Banks When Moving Out of State

No matter if you’re leaving town to buy a new home across the country or relocating around the corner, moving is never fun.

First off, there are tons of things you have to do. You have to find a new home, pack up all of your possessions, move them to your new location, clean your old home, clean your new home, unpack, organize, and more. This doesn’t even include all of the other logistics that can go along with moving, like setting up new accounts for utilities, switching Internet providers, and changing your address on pretty much everything.

This list can be even longer if you’re moving to a new state. And, one of the most important things to add to this to-do list is to change banks.

Before you get stressed out thinking about changing banks while in the midst of a move, we’re here to offer a helping hand. Take a look at the following steps to change banks.

Open a New Account

One of the very first things you must do is open a new account. Unfortunately, this might take a little leg work to find a bank with the best features for your lifestyle. For example, you may want a bank account with no fees. You may also want to pay bills online via a sweet mobile app.

With these goals in mind, you may prefer an online only account, like Chime. Or, perhaps you’ll want to open an account at a bank with brick and mortar locations in your new state. The benefit of opening an account with an online bank is you’ll never need to worry about changing banks again if you move out of state.

After deciding which kind of bank you prefer, you will need to provide identification, such as your social security number and a government-issued I.D. In addition, you will need a small amount of money to deposit into your new account. The minimum amount required can differ from bank to bank. In some cases, there is no minimum deposit required at all, such as the case with Chime.

Get a Debit Card

A debit card can be a convenient way to access the money in your new checking account, plus it’s also a good way to grow your savings.

Some bank accounts, like Chime, offer programs that round up your debit card purchases and deposit those round up amounts into your savings. This spare change can add up over time to make a big difference.

Keep in mind: getting a debit card for your new account may take some time, so make sure you factor in a week or two until your new card arrives.

Set up Automatic Withdrawals

As soon as you have enough funds in your new account, you should set up automatic withdrawals to come out of your new account – instead of your old one. For example, you can set up automatic withdrawals to pay new creditors, such as your landlord, your mortgage company, your homeowner’s or automobile insurance, or your utilities. You can also schedule automatic payments to pay your credit cards bills, Internet provider, and any other monthly bills you need to pay.

Schedule Automatic Deposits

Automatic deposits are another area you must address as you change banks when moving out of state. Talk to your new bank and employer about setting up direct deposits of your paychecks to the new account.

You should also set up automatic transfers into your new savings account too. Automating your savings can help you save money with each paycheck and reach your goals faster.

Monitor All Accounts

For starters, make sure you don’t immediately close your old bank account when you move. The reason for this is that there may still be outstanding checks, transfers, or other transactions that have not been completed yet.

Instead, monitor all of your accounts – the new and the old – until all of your pending transactions have cleared your old account.

Close Old Accounts

Once all of your transactions have cleared your old bank account, you are ready to close it.

Next up: contact your old bank and let the customer service representative know you are closing your account and intend to deposit the money into your new bank account located out of state. You can then ask for a cashier’s check for the remaining balance.

Ease the Stress of Changing Banks

Moving to a new state is a difficult process, but changing banks doesn’t have to be. Hopefully these tips will help ease the stress of moving out of state by making the process of changing banks a little smoother.

Have you ever moved out of state? How did you handle changing banks?

 

How Much Money Do You Need to Insure a Tiny House?

Moving from a larger property into your very own tiny home can be a relief — and even a dream come true. You’re downsizing your stuff and simplifying your life, after all. Meanwhile, you are (probably) lowering your expenses, too.

But, even if you’re ready to settle into your smaller home, there’s one factor to consider before you actually move into your tiny home — you have to buy insurance.

But, what type of homeowners insurance should you buy? And how much will it cost? We spoke to tiny home insurer Darrell Grenz of InsureMyTinyHome in Portland, Oregon to find out. Here’s what he said.

How much does it cost?

If a tiny home is 1/10 the cost of a traditional home, the insurance should be 1/10 the cost as well, right?

Well, not exactly.

For starters, it’s important to note there is no cut and dry formula that dictates how much you’ll pay for tiny home coverage. Grenz said his firm and others take on the risk on an individual basis and use more than one factor to determine costs.

“There are a lot of variables that go into it, depending on where you live,” Grenz said.

At the end of the day, “the average cost of tiny home insurance is probably $600 per year,” Grenz noted, adding that pricing can still be all over the place.

What type of tiny home insurance should you buy?

Part of the reason for fluctuating costs is the fact that tiny homes are built — and used — differently. Also, you can buy several different types of coverage for your tiny home, depending on use.

If your tiny home is on wheels and you plan to move it, you’ll need an insurance policy to cover your tiny home plus a trip endorsement or separate policy when you move it, Grenz noted.

Other than that, you can buy several different types of policies to cover your tiny home. For example, you can buy an RV policy, a manufactured home policy or a custom homeowner’s policy — all of which may be perfect for your tiny home.

But you may need a different type of policy if you rent out your tiny home as an Airbnb versus if you live in it full-time as well, Grenz noted.

Overall, he says the best way to find out the best coverage for your needs is to speak with an agent who specializes in this coverage so they can give you advice based on your unique needs.

How to get tiny home insurance without overspending

If you’re hoping to save on your policy, there are several ways to make this happen. But first, it helps to understand the factors that can impact price. Grenz says four main factors usually dictate how much you’ll pay for tiny home insurance: where your home is at, whether it’s stationary, who built it and how you use it.

If your goal is saving money, it can be really smart to think through these issues as you plan out the design and intended use of your tiny home.

For example, saving is easier if you don’t plan to move your tiny home from place to place.

“If you don’t need the transit coverage, you have more options,” Grenz said. “Insuring a tiny home that doesn’t move is a lot cheaper since there’s a lot less risk involved.”

Because buying a tiny home usually means downsizing, keeping your possessions at a minimum will also help you save. Of course, it all depends on who insures you and the type of coverage limits they offer.

You can also shop around with different insurers to find the best rate, but Grenz pointed out that it’s essential to “make sure you buy tiny home insurance from a reputable firm.” You don’t want to go with an insurance agency that doesn’t truly offer the right coverage for tiny homeowners.

“Be proactive and make sure you’re buying from an agent or firm that knows how to cover tiny homes,” he said.

Don’t put this off

As a last piece of advice, Grenz suggests planning ahead for this expense, if possible. Not only can planning ahead give you the best shot at finding a good deal, but it can help you avoid scrambling to get covered as you’re moving into your tiny home.

“People come to us last minute and we can’t always get them covered overnight,” Grenz said.

By planning ahead, choosing a tiny home insurer wisely and making sure you have the right type of coverage for your needs, you can ensure your new tiny home life will go off without a hitch.

 

Money Manners: How to Split the Rent With Your Roommates

Getting ready to move in with a roommate or two for the first time? If so, you probably have all kinds of questions on your mind.

You may be thinking about how to divvy up household chores or who gets which bedroom. But, you might also want to turn your attention to how you plan to split the rent. After all, sharing the rent and other bills is one of the best benefits of living with roommates as this can save you loads of money.

So, before you move into your new abode, take the time to figure out how you’ll split bills with your roommates. Along with that, make sure you sign a roommate agreement with your housemates as this will help you all avoid problems down the line.

To make things easier for you, take a look at our suggestions for living with roomies.

Create a Plan

Among the many perks of living with roommates, you can live in neighborhood or home that you may not be able to afford on your own.

But, before you decide to move in with roommates, come up with a plan ahead of time about how you will share the rent and other household costs. This may help you avoid future disagreements about who should be paying for what if money gets tight.

Because discussing money can be stressful, make this conversation more relaxed by sitting down with your future housemates over pizza or snacks to talk about rent and other shared bills. During this time, you can jointly decide how to divide up bills and any expenses that won’t be shared. It’s also a good idea to designate one person to take notes and write down all that was agreed upon. This helps avoid confusion down the line.

View Rentals Together

If possible, view rentals together so everyone gets a say. Discuss the advantages and disadvantages of each property so that you and your roommates can decide together on the best place to live.

If you can’t all go together to look at rental properties, try to go separately. Once everyone has seen all of the options, you can get together to compare notes and make a final decision.

Arriving at How Much Rent Each Will Pay

There is more than one way to figure out how much rent each of you will pay. As with many things, some calculations are simpler and others are more complicated. Here are three ways you might decide to split the rent.

Divide Evenly by Number of People

Perhaps the easiest way to figure out who pays what is to simply divide the total rent paid by the number of people living there. This doesn’t require figuring out specific room sizes and often works well if the bedrooms are about the same size.

By Bedroom Size

Oftentimes bedrooms will be different sizes – some bigger, some smaller. If some rooms are significantly bigger than others – perhaps offering larger closets or private bathrooms – it’s important to decide who will get which bedroom. And, this often means some roomies pay more than others. A simple way to factor in the rent here is to take the square footage of each bedroom and divide by the total square footage of the rental.

This figure represents what percentage of the total space each person occupies. Once you have this number, you can multiply it by the total rent payment to arrive at a rent amount for each person.

Figure in Extras

Something else to think about that was briefly touched on above is how to figure in any extras. For example, what if one person’s room has a larger closet or an en-suite bathroom? Or, what if one of the rooms open to an apartment complex pool or has a private balcony?

This might require putting a price on each “extra”. Once you have added these assigned extra costs into your basic rent figures, you will have a more accurate breakdown of the amount that each roommate should pay.

Create a Roommate Agreement

Now that you’ve found a place and decided how you’ll split the rent, it’s time to draw up a roommate agreement. This is a good place to include which room each roommate is assigned and how much the rent will be for each person. Also, you can use this agreement to detail how you will deal with the situation if someone decides to move out. Lastly, be sure to designate when rent will be collected from all to be paid to your landlord.

Once you have a roommate contract, make sure everyone signs it before the lease is finalized. Having an agreement like this in writing will help prevent arguments later. It can also ensure that nobody tries to renege on what was jointly decided upon.

Tips to Split Rent in a Stress-free Way

You may have heard your friends complain about this awkward situation: one person pays the rent yet has to repeatedly ask for money from the others. It does make sense for one person to be the collector as, after all, sending in multiple rent checks to your landlord gets confusing and the building manager may only accept one check or payment.

To avoid this issue, it’s best for one person to collect rent from their roommates sooner rather than later. And, to help ease the awkwardness of this situation, you have a few other options. You could designate a certain day of the month when rent checks are due to the roommate footing the bill. You might even pick a location for checks, such as a basket on the living room coffee table or a clip magnet on the fridge. Or, better yet, you can use an online tool like Venmo or a bank account like Chime. Chime members have the option to pay friends instantly on through the Chime mobile banking app or website.

Other Considerations

Once you all move in, it’s a wise idea to meet regularly to discuss anything that needs to be addressed in your shared home. Getting together on a regular basis for a roommate pow-wow also gives you all a chance to work through disagreements that may arise from time to time.

Keep in mind that moving in with other people can be stressful. But, if you mind your money manners and use the above tips, you may find that you can save money and enjoy your new roommates – at the same time.

 

Energy Saving Tips That Will Also Save You Money

Saving money on your energy bill is an often-overlooked way to cut your spending. In fact, reducing just 20% of your monthly energy costs can make a big difference in your budget – especially considering the average monthly electricity bill in the United States is close to $120.

Luckily, there are tons of ways to reduce your energy use. Read on for our top tips and you’re bound to find something that works for you.

Replace your incandescent light bulbs with energy-efficient options.

This one’s a no-brainer. Incandescent light bulbs waste a ton of electricity, and it’s hard to justify keeping them when there are so many affordable, high-quality alternatives. Undoubtedly, you’ll find the perfect set of energy-efficient light bulbs to fit your needs. You can choose from LED, CFL, or Halogen bulbs in a range of colors, temperatures, lumens, and price points. They might be more costly than your standard incandescent bulbs, but they’ll pay for themselves many times over via savings on your electricity bills.

Use surge protectors so you don’t drain energy from your device chargers.

If your phone charger is plugged in, it’s using electricity – even when it’s not charging your phone. To avoid wasting energy, plug your phone, laptop, and other device chargers into a surge protector that can be switched off when not in use. When you’re not charging anymore, unplug all of your devices with the flick of a switch. And, keep this in mind: Those energy-sucking appliances will also drain your bank account!

Fire up the grill.

Would you rather spend your summer evenings grilling outside or sweating over a hot stove? Seems like an easy answer to me. By grilling outdoors, you not only get to enjoy some fresh air, but you’ll also avoid trapping heat indoors. Better yet, you’ll save major bucks on cooling costs.

Make use of your ceiling fan.

A ceiling fan can make a room feel several degrees cooler, especially when used in conjunction with your air conditioner. Just remember Ceiling fans cool people, not rooms. For this reason, make sure to turn your fans off when you leave the rooms.

Flip the switch.

As it turns out, many ceiling fans can either send air down (for a cooling effect) or up (for a warming effect). If you want to feel cooler, make sure your ceiling fan blades are turning counterclockwise as this will send cooling air down to you. Once you do this, you can turn down your thermostat, open your windows, and enjoy the fresh air. Of course, you can also enjoy the energy savings!

Dust everything.

When we say dust everything, we mean it. This includes air vents, light bulbs, ceiling fan blades, baseboards, electronics, and office equipment. Why? They all use more energy when they’re covered in dust. Pro tip: open your doors and windows while you dust to make sure it’s gone for good (or at least a little while longer).

Vacuum your dryer vents and refrigerator coils.

Much like the rest of your electronics, your dryer and refrigerator run more efficiently when they’re dust-free. To this end, dusting might not be enough to clear your dryer vents and refrigerator coils completely, so make sure to use a vacuum hose attachment to thoroughly clean these appliances. This will help ensure that your refrigerator and dryer operate smoothly.

Reduce the temperature settings on your water heater.  

Did you know that you might be wasting energy because the thermostat on your water heater is set too high? That’s right: The higher the temperature setting, the more energy it takes to heat the water. To save energy, adjust the thermostat on your water heater below 140℉ (any higher, and you’ll just be mixing cold water back into it anyway).

Automate your thermostat. 

Set the temperature a few degrees lower at night and when nobody is home. While you can do this without a programmable thermostat, let’s face it: it’s hard to remember to do this consistently every day. By switching to a set-it-and-forget-it model, you’ll save on energy costs effortlessly.

Move your lamps, TVs, and other potential heat sources away from your thermostat.

While you’re inevitably rearranging all the living room furniture, consider moving heat sources like lamps and TVs away from your thermostat. Why? If they are too close, this can trick your thermostat into thinking it’s a few degrees warmer than it actually is. And this keeps your air conditioner on longer – wasting both power and money. To this end, when you’re having company over, turn down the thermostat before your guests arrive. Their collective body heat will also increase the room temperature.

Go solar. 

If you haven’t already gone solar, you might want to consider it. Switching to solar power can save you anywhere from $7,000 to $30,000 over the course of 20 years depending on where you live. Not only are you locking in low electricity rates for the life of your solar panels, but you’re also supporting a local, sustainable form of clean energy.

Follow These Tips to Save Money and the Environment

As you can see, making your home more energy-efficient can save you a ton of money on your energy bills. The best part? Many of these energy-saving tips won’t cost you a cent. It’s a win-win: you’re saving money while saving the environment at the same time.

 

7 Ways to Save Money When Moving Out of State

On the list of the most stress-inducing life events, moving is often at the top. And if you’re moving across state lines, it can be even worse.

Thankfully, there are ways to reduce the cost of moving cross-country, even if you can’t minimize the hassle. Here are 8 simple ways to save money when moving out of state.

1. Drive Your Own Truck

Hiring movers to drive your stuff across the country can cost several thousand dollars. At the same time, handling everything yourself just isn’t worth the headache. You can split the difference by hiring movers to pack up the truck and then drive it cross-country yourself. Or, if you’re motivated and want to save the most cash, pack up yourself and also drive your stuff to your new location.

A quote from moving.com showed that a move from New York City to Los Angeles costs between $6,120 and $8,676 with professional movers. However, renting a truck from Penske costs between $2,606 and $3,447, depending on the size of the truck.

Here’s another pro tip: remember to rent the truck in advance. The closer you are to your moving date, the more you’ll pay for a moving truck. You should also try to reserve a truck on a weekday and avoid holidays. Moving companies often jack up prices on weekends as well as on popular holiday moving dates like Memorial Day and Labor Day. Even if you aren’t exactly sure when you’ll move, book a date as soon as you find out you’re relocating. You can always change the exact date or type of vehicle later if your plans change.

2. Throw a Packing Party

If you’re truly committed to saving money on your move, you can take the above tip a step further. Instead of hiring movers to pack the truck or doing it all yourself, consider inviting friends over for a going away/packing up party. It won’t cost more than a few pizzas and some beverages, and you can drive away full of positive vibes and happy memories.

3. Get Free Boxes

Warehouse clubs, liquor stores, and other retailers are known for having boxes laying around the back room that are free for the taking – if you ask. You can also search for boxes on Craigslist. Many people are happy to give their moving boxes to someone else for free. If you have friends who work retail, ask if they have access to boxes.

4. Declutter

The less you have, the cheaper it is to move. Consider every item you own and ask if you really want to take it with you. Do you need to keep the boxed DVD set of “Charmed” or can you toss it? You can sell any large or valuable items online and put the proceeds toward the move.

Another pro tip: If you donate your items and itemize your taxes, you can claim the contribution as a tax deduction.

5. Switch Banks

It’s time to close your old bank account. When you move to a new state, you might find your bank no longer has local branches or ATMs. Out-of-network ATM fees typically cost about $3 each time you use a cash machine. This can add up quickly if you use cash on a regular basis. But, if you switch to an online bank like Chime, you won’t have to worry about finding a location or ATM near you. Better yet, ATM fees for Chime members are free – all the time.

6. Keep All Receipts

The IRS permits you to deduct moving expenses if you relocate for work. If this is the case for you, keep any receipts related to your move so you can deduct them when tax time rolls around. Keep in mind that you can only deduct expenses such as gas, rental truck, and hotel.

7. Ship Your Belongings By Train

If your moving plans follow a train route, you may have a unique option available. Many people have success shipping their belongings by train and then flying to their destination. Amtrak allows you to ship up to 500 pounds total, with each package weighing no more than 50 pounds. You’ll need to call to get a specific estimate, but it’s about $67 per pound for the first 100 pounds and then 70 cents per pound after that.

 

How to Turn a Gym Membership Into Affordable Childcare

To pay or not to pay? That is the question – at least when it comes a gym membership. In fact, many personal finance experts scoff at the idea of purchasing fitness club memberships. Others think it’s a good idea as long as it doesn’t cost too much and you actually use it.

I pay $200 a month for a family gym membership and, despite what you may think, it’s worth every penny to me. Here’s why a gym membership may be a wise investment for you too.

Affordable Childcare

Many gyms offer child supervision while parents work out. If this is one reason that attracts you to a particular gym, just make sure you understand pre-registration policies and extra fees tacked on to use the childcare services.

Luckily, after a little bit of trial and error, I found a childcare arrangement at my current gym that makes the monthly membership fee incredibly valuable. For starters, the childcare takes place in three massive rooms loaded with toys. Competent caregivers color with my kids, let them play on a giant indoor bouncy house and give them plenty of attention. The gym also provides diapers and wipes free of charge and the childcare providers actually helped me potty train my twins. For a working mom, this was key.

Even if you love the daycare at your gym, it’s important to make sure the numbers make sense. Let’s take a closer look.

100 Hours of Childcare for $200

I am allowed to bring my children to the gym for up to 2.5 hours at a time. I can even take them out of the childcare area and put them back in again on the same day for another 2.5 hours. So, technically, every day the gym could watch my kids for five hours. Even if I took my kids just during the week for five hours a day, this means I’d get at least 100 hours of childcare every month for my $200 membership fee.

After I drop my kids off, I can even sit in the gym’s cafe and order a smoothie. Or, I can drink the free coffee they provide and take out my laptop and work – using the free WiFi. Then, if I actually want to work out, as people tend to do at gyms, there are dozens of fitness classes. I can also relax in the hot tub or sauna.

Before you think I’m a terrible parent for bringing my kids to the gym so often, I say au contraire. I work full-time and by arranging to take my kids to the gym with me, I actually get to see them throughout the day. Not only that, but I don’t feel guilty because I know how much fun they have jumping in the bouncy house.

Don’t Write off The Luxuries

Many people still think expensive gym memberships are frivolous purchases. However, when it comes to your personal finances, it’s important to think outside the box and put things in perspective. Yes, $200 a month may seem high. But, that money may not seem excessive if you workout regularly in a fabulous gym, take advantage of free daycare and even use the facilities to work on your computer.

Because there are always trade-offs in life, next time you’re deciding whether to sign up for a gym, try thinking beyond the typical health vs. wealth debate. Remember: There are other cost factors to consider, not to mention the mental benefits of having some time to yourself.

This is just one of the many ways I actually save money in my day-to-day life. When I combine this with my love of automatic savings, eating at home, and tracking my purchases, I’m actually well on my way to financial success – fancy gym and all.

 

How Going Solar Can Actually Save You Money

You’ve likely heard the hype surrounding Tesla’s Solar Roof. Indeed, this was big news in the solar world. In 2016, Tesla acquired SolarCity, the country’s largest provider of solar energy services. Tesla CEO Elon Musk has since announced that it will soon unveil its new technologically advanced and aesthetically superior solar roofs.

This announcement reflects rising consumer interest in solar energy as more Americans seek environmentally-friendly energy alternatives while also lowering their power bills. This Earth Day, we’re celebrating solar energy and its ability to save you money while saving the environment. Read on to learn how solar technology can save you money.

Why is solar now so popular?

The technology used in today’s solar panels has been around for more than 50 years. So, why is solar just taking off now? The answer boils down to a lower price-tag, higher savings, and greater efficiency.

In the past, potential solar homeowners were faced with the high cost of installing panels. Today, however, solar panels are more efficient and affordable. In fact, the average price of solar energy nationwide has dropped 67% in the last five years. Compare that to the rising cost of electricity, and solar providers can readily advertise potential savings of up to 20% on energy bills.

It looks like there’s no end in sight for the expanding solar industry, which grew by 97% in 2016 and is on track to triple from powering 8.3 million homes last year to 22 million homes by 2021.

Is solar the right option for you?

If you want to see how solar can benefit you financially, it’s a good idea to do a bit of research. Luckily, this is easy. Online tools like Google’s Project Sunroof are using increasingly sophisticated technology to calculate the potential savings you can expect from going solar. Project Sunroof uses Google Maps, Google Earth, 3D modeling, and machine learning technology to estimate the amount of sunlight your roof gets throughout the year. Google’s proprietary algorithm then crunches the numbers for you to determine how much you could save over the next 20 years by switching to solar energy.

Project Sunroof also looks up typical electricity rates and solar energy prices for your region, as well as available solar rebates and incentives provided by your state. Rebates and incentives can vary widely by state, but they have the potential to save consumers thousands. Find out how your state rewards you for going solar using the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency.

The best of both worlds

Choosing to go solar doesn’t mean you have to commit to going “off the grid”. Many solar-powered homes can remain connected to the electricity grid. This means you can tap into regular power sources if your solar panels or roof don’t produce enough energy. Likewise, if you live in some regions of the country, you can even get paid for the solar energy you don’t use. Here’s how it works: If you produce more energy than you use, the excess energy is fed back into the electric grid. The local utility company then pays for the energy via energy credits to your account. This arrangement is called “net metering” and provides yet another avenue for you to save on your energy bills.

The bright side: solar savings 

Today’s solar panels have a lifespan of about 20 years, which means homeowners can lock in lower energy rates for decades. To top it off, solar leases, solar loans, and power purchase agreements are providing additional financing options beyond purchasing your solar system outright. Owning your solar panels can cost you $15,000 to $30,000 before rebates and incentives, but leases and loans can allow you to go solar for as little as $0 down. Solar savings calculators make it easy to learn about financing options available in your area by aggregating quotes from local installers.

That said, not everyone is in a position to install a home solar system. You might rent your home, live in an area with low solar energy potential, or simply not be ready to make the switch. This doesn’t mean you’re doomed to miss out on solar savings for life. Researchers are continually developing new solar technologies and improving existing ones, which means you can always go solar when the time is right for you.

 

Why Minimalism Is More Expensive Than You Think

When most people think of minimalism, they envision getting rid of clutter and even downsizing their homes. Tiny house movement anyone?

It makes sense that owning less can help your bottom line, but can minimalism backfire on you? In other words, can minimalism turn out to be an expensive endeavor? Brenda Spandrio, a professional organizer and decluttering expert based in California, says the answer is “yes.” In fact, embracing the minimalism trend can lead you into hot water if you’re not careful.

Want to learn more about what it may actually take to create a minimalist lifestyle and declutter your life? Read on to find out.

You May Spend Money to Get Rid of Your Stuff

The idea of having less stuff sounds great. However, you’ll need to invest time and energy into decluttering your surroundings. And, you may need to invest money too.

“When people are looking for a solution to their clutter problems or are jumping into minimalism for the sake of it, they end up spending more money by purchasing items or services to help them,” says Spandrio. “Many people with some amount of clutter tend to hire people to help them, especially if they get overwhelmed,” she says.

Depending on where you live, professional organizers can charge anywhere from $30 to $80 an hour. Some, like Spandrio, tend to charge per session, which can reach $300 per session. These professionals guide you through your items and help you decide whether they should stay or go.

This means that the more clutter you have, the more time it will take for your personal organizer to clear out your space. One of Spandrio’s clients, a successful stockbroker, had so much clutter in his home office that it turned into 200 hours of work for her. I’ll let you do the math on that one.

Mentally Draining = Right Back to Where You Started

If you still want to hire a professional organizer but can’t stomach paying that much money, there is another option. You could hire someone to come in and clear out – without your help. You give the organizer a list of things that must stay and the rest is fair game. You go out, have coffee (or an equally delicious beverage) and come back and your house is magically sparse and minimalist. The professional organizer clears out any and all items that are deemed excessive and unnecessary. Cool right?

Not really, especially if you’re not emotionally prepared for this type of purge. In fact, you may go through a grieving process over your things – even more so if you’ve attached sentimental value to these items.

“The reality is that these types of organizers, while helpful, also tend to be really harsh and ruthless with their approach,” Spandrio warns. “If you’re not mentally prepared for it all, you could be right back to where you started.”

In fact, you could be so stressed out that someone got rid of all your stuff that you buy more things to cover up the hurt. Or, you may spend time and money trying to recover the items that you just got rid of.

DIY Disaster

Even if you decide to embrace the process of getting rid of things yourself, you’ll first have to mentally prepare yourself. Even then, sneaky emotions will crop up.

For example. I thought I had my head wrapped around getting rid of my entire Pez dispenser collection until I actually started selling them off. I was so angry for weeks and the mental energy it took could have been spent on more productive things.

In Spandrio’s experience, most people can only tolerate the emotional drain of sorting through stuff for up to two hours. If you’re the type who can’t handle this at all, you may end up spending more money on things just to make yourself feel better.

Why Do You Want to Be a Minimalist?

Ultimately, if you want to embrace a minimalist lifestyle, you’ll need to have a clear reason why you have clutter to begin with and why you want to get rid of it.

“People really need to ask themselves: Why is there clutter? If you don’t have a good reason you’ll be right back to where you started. You have to be really conscious of what you’re trying to achieve with minimalism,” says Spandrio.

For example, Spandrio’s stockbroker client wanted to get rid of clutter because he was adamant about not leaving his stuff to his wife to deal with if he should pass away. Plus, the new simpler lifestyle he gained was worth the expense.

Perhaps you should ask yourself: Are you changing who you are by getting rid of your things or are you working towards a better version of yourself? What other reasons do you have for minimizing?