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5 Ways to Make Ends Meet After the Holiday Season

 

 

A 2015 study by LendingTree found that one out of every four Americans struggles to pay off holiday shopping debt. Suffice to say, a lot of us are a bit shocked by how much we spent over the holidays. But the damage doesn’t have to be crippling. Here are some tips to help you take back control of your finances.

 

Cut Down Credit Debt

Get your finances in order paying off high interest credit card balances as soon as you can. This should be your top priority. To keep from increasing debt, consider a credit card hiatus for a month or so.

 

Reduce Spending

Cut back on your expenses wherever possible so you can pay down debt. That means eliminating unnecessary spending on non-vital purchases and services. Some suggestions include searching for low-cost entertainment options such as free concerts, local sporting events or library events. Cooking more meals instead of dining out will also help you save money. 

 

Revise Your Budget

A budget is a really good idea to help you clean up the consequences of overspending over the holidays and get back on track. Subtract monthly expenses from your monthly income to find out what you have left over, then set goals, such as reducing that post-holiday debt.

 

Earn Some Extra Cash

Consider selling household items you no longer need on sites like eBay or Craigslist to make a little extra money. You can also have a good old-fashioned yard sale. You can earn additional cash by requesting overtime, babysitting, tutoring or taking a temporary part-time second job as well.

 

Budget Ahead for the 2017 Holidays

After spending way too much you probably think you won’t ever do it again. But chances are you could get caught up in the holidays all over again. A smart move would be to try and get ahead of the game by budgeting for end of the year festivities after paying back the money you spent in 2016. Spread out the costs throughout the next 12 months if possible, plan gift ideas early and watch for sales all year round.

 

 

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5 Easy Ways to Winterize Your Home on a Budget

 

The U.S. Department of Energy says you can save as much as 1% on your energy bill for every degree you lower your home's temperature during the winter. Here are 5 ways to keep the cold at bay and the heat in on a budget:

 

 

Dodge the Draft

Air leaks and drafts can increase your heating costs, so make sure your windows and doors are sealed. An easy remedy is to adopt a draft snake by rolling up a towel or filling up a pouch of fabric with sand or kitty litter. Draft guards can also be purchased. Try taping bubble wrap on your windows. It’s an inexpensive way to keep cold air out but still allow light to come through. If you really want to keep heat in, pack fiberglass insulation around basement doors and windows in rooms that aren’t used often. Consider investing in a set of energy efficient windows if your current ones are old. They qualify for a federal tax credit covering 10 percent of cost (not including installation costs), up to $200 for windows and skylights. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, drafts can waste 5 to 30 percent of your energy use, so preventing them can go a long way toward saving you heat and money.

 

 

Caulk Gaps

Small gaps in windows and doors, or cracks in your walls can let cool air in, increasing your energy bill. Check to see if your doors and windows have deteriorated over time, paying special attention to places where two different building materials meet, such as corners. If you find some allowing outside air in, you can fill them with caulk. Make sure to caulk the outside and inside. Pull off moldings to fill gaps in the insulation.

 

 

Use Ceiling Fans

Ceiling fans are typically thought of as cooling devices for summer, but they can help out in the winter too. Clockwise rotation produces warmer air so make sure your ceiling fans move in that direction. The fan will push hot air along the ceiling towards the floor. Using ceiling fans in winter will cut your heating costs by 10%, according to The Daily Green.

 

 

Lower Your Thermostat

You can save a lot of energy by setting or programming your thermostat lower when you don’t need heat. Try turning it down to 50 or 55 degrees when you go to bed or when you go to work. For every degree you lower the thermostat during heating season, you'll save between 1 and 3 percent of your heating bill.

 

 

Lower Water Heater Temperature

Conventional water heaters are typically set at 140 degrees Fahrenheit, but most households only need a setting of 120 degrees. Lowering the temperature will reduce your water heating costs by 6 to 10 percent. Keep your water heater functioning at pack performance by flushing out particles and sediment through the drain valve. Over time that material can collect in the bottom of your water heater, hindering efficiency. If you are in the market for a new water heater, take advantage of the federal tax credit, which pays 30 percent of cost with no upper limit.

 

 

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5 Money Resolutions to Make in 2017

 

The new year brings you a fresh opportunity to get your finances under control and better secure your future. To realize those goals requires commitment, planning and a willingness to follow through. Here are five financial resolutions you should consider in 2017.

 

Make a Budget and Stick to It

Make yourself a budget. Start with a simple list of your incomes and expenses. You can hand-write your budget or download a free budgeting tool like Mint.com to organize everything. Adhering to a budget over the course of the year will be the hardest part. Take a few days to gather the information you need, such as your salary information and household expenses to make the most accurate budget you can. You don’t have to rush it. Over time you will continue to refine your budget as your life and your means change. Make sure to keep your budget in an easily accessible place so you are reminded of the financial goals you’ve set and your commitment to them.

 

Create a Rainy Day Fund

Most experts recommend you save at least three to six months income, and put it aside to cover any unexpected expenses that might occur during the year. This will give you a cushion in case you lose your job or another event impacts your ability to make money.

 

Save for Retirement

Set aside money for your retirement by contributing to an IRA, 401k, 403b, or even a savings account. Putting at least 10% of your income into retirement accounts is recommended, but if you have to start smaller that’s okay. It’s a good idea to start planning for retirement as early as possible no matter how much you can put in. You can gradually increase your contributions over time as you make more money or get more comfortable budgeting.

 

Understand Your Investments

Start your new year by taking stock of your investments. Many people do not take the time to figure out what investments they have or how to handle them.  Educate yourself about investments and learn about where your money is. From there you can create an investment strategy that will meet your goals. Consider hiring an accountant to help you to understand and diversify your investments.

 

Pay Down Your Debt

This is the big one. If you owe money, try to pay it off sooner rather than later. Prioritize payments in order of highest to lowest interest rates. Credit card debt will likely have the highest interest rate and should be tackled first. You can also try eliminating small debts to help you build a little confidence. Crossing a debt off the list is a good way to motivate you to pay off other outstanding balances. Small victories can lead to much larger ones.

 
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6 Tips for Winterizing Your Car

 

Chances are when winter rolls around preparing your vehicle won’t high on your priority list. However, cold weather and icy roads can make for hazardous conditions and put a tremendous strain on many parts of your vehicle. You need to make sure your car can handle slippery road conditions and that it stays in excellent mechanical condition to avoid breakdowns when the temperatures drop. Here are 6 tips for preparing your car to tackle the winter season.

 

Optimize Fluid Levels for Winter

The best way to make sure your car is winterized your car is to regularly check your fluid levels.

 

Oil – You always need to make sure your oil levels are sufficient, but if you live in a place where temperatures drop below freezing regularly, you may want to consider switching to a thinner oil. Make sure to consult your vehicle owner’s manual or ask your mechanic about the best way to prevent oil from freezing.

 

Wiper fluid – Regular wiper fluid won’t do in freezing temperatures. Make sure to switch to a freeze-resistant wiper fluid to keep your windshield clear.

 

Coolant – It’s vital that you have the correct antifreeze/water mixture in your radiator to prevent your engine from both freezing in cold weather and overheating in summer. It also helps to cut back on corrosion. A 50:50 ratio is considered a normal mixture level that will keep fluids from freezing at temperatures as low as -34 degrees Fahrenheit. Consult your owner's manual to double-check the right mixture needed for your vehicle. Pre-mixed bottles of antifreeze and water can be purchased at local gas stations or automotive stores. 

 

Check Your Tires

Make sure your tires are equipped to handle wet or icy roads that can cause accidents in winter. If winter storms and other adverse weather conditions occur in your area consider replacing all four regular tires with snow tires to improve braking, traction and control.

 

If you choose to continue using regular tires be sure to check their air pressure regularly with a gauge. Deflated tires decrease traction and increase sliding on ice. You can visit your local gas station to fill your ties to the correct level. Your owner's manual should list the suggested pounds per square inch (psi).

 

Inspect Your Battery

Car battery capacity is reduced by the cold weather and by age. They last for about three to five years, so keep track of how long a battery has been in your vehicle so you can replace it when the time comes. It’s important to check your battery and its working parts periodically to ensure it’s running properly. Make sure the battery terminals aren’t loose and check over your battery cables for cracks or breaks. A white, powdery substance around the clamps, means that there is corrosion from battery acid. It should be cleaned off with baking soda, water and a toothbrush.  If your battery fluid level is below the bottom of the cap, refill with distilled water. Many batteries have a built-in hydrometer eye that tells you the voltage remaining in the battery. A handheld hydrometer can be used the check the voltage level as well.

 

Hoses and Belts

Winter temperatures can weaken belts and hoses under your hood. They are typically inspected when you bring your car to a mechanic for a tune-up (usually every 30,000 miles), but additional checks can’t hurt. If a belt or hose snaps while you’re driving your safety could be at risk.

 

Maintain Your Heater and Defroster Units

Foggy windshields in winter can cause serious vision impairments while driving, so it’s important to make sure your defroster unit is functioning properly. Heat is also a necessity when driving in cold temperatures. If you experience a fogging issue, have your car checked for air leaks around the doors and windows.

 

Put an Emergency Kit in Your Trunk

Be prepared for a worst-case driving scenario in winter – your car breaking down. Should an accident occur on the road you should have a safety kit that includes road flares, flashlight, jack, lug wrench, blanket, shovel, hat and gloves, ice scraper and brush, shovel, container of coolant, snacks, kitty litter (if your tires get stuck in snow) and a first aid kit.

 

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6 Tips to Avoid Overspending this Holiday Season

 

 

The holiday season is upon us! Tis a time for giving and joy! But it’s also a time to open your wallet. It’s very easy to get carried away with your holiday spending and quickly find yourself in the hole. But shopping for the holidays doesn’t have to break the bank. To keep your spending under control this year try making a plan. Here are some tips on how to holiday shop on a budget.

 

Create a Budget

If you don’t want to break the bank this holiday season, it’s important to set a realistic spending limit. A budget is a great way to help you do that. Make sure you make your budget specific by breaking it down into spending categories. Then set spending goals for each and track the amount you buy to make sure you don’t overspend. Budget categories should include:

 

  • Gifts
  • Postage and shipping costs
  • Christmas cards
  • Charitable donations
  • Holiday meals
  • Entertaining
  • Decorations
  • Gift wrap
  • Travel expenses
  • Holiday clothing

 

There are a variety of online sites like queenoffree.com offer free budget forms to get you started.

 

Make a Gift List

A good way to stick to a budget is to make a list of the people you want to give gifts to. Start with those you most want to shop for most and work backward. Immediate family will usually top your list first, followed by close friends, relatives and co-workers. Once you have a list of gift recipients, add the possible gifts for each person and keep track of costs. Remember, you don’t have to spend the same amount on everyone. It’s okay to set different spending limits based on priority.

 

Look for Deals

Many stores offer deals on your list items during the holidays. Spend some time looking for the best prices or for possible discounts or coupon codes. Popular online stores like Amazon.com, for example, offer daily bargains if you look for them. The Amazon Discount Finder tool can help you save quite a bit of money.

 

Cut Out Extra Expenses

Don’t spend money on expensive wrapping paper, bows, ribbons or other embellishments. These items may not seem costly, but the amount will add up quickly. Adding a bell to your gift-wrapped boxes may look impressive, but it will just end up in the garbage. Keep your giftwrapping simple and save yourself a few dollars. 

 

Resist Impulse Buys

Try and avoid the temptation to buy extra items for people on your gift list or, more importantly, for yourself. Many people get swept up in the holiday spirit, especially when everything is discounted. Stick to your list so you don’t end up in debt.

 

Get a Head Start on Next Year

The weeks after the holidays are a great time to stock up on wrapping paper, decorations and other items because retailers are looking to sell off their holiday stock, Usually at huge discount prices. You can get a jumpstart on the 2017 holiday season by taking advantage of these sales.

 

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