Affordable Sustainability 7 of 12-How to Use Appliances Efficiently

Did you know that appliances account for approximately 13% of your home’s energy use? Your larger kitchen appliances, combined with your smaller entertainment machines, means your home can have upward of 10 appliances running at any given moment. The good news is, you don’t have to completely pull the plug to save on your energy costs. Here’s how to use your appliances more efficiently to reduce your energy use and do one for the environment.

Choose energy-efficient appliances

When purchasing new appliances, choose models with high energy efficiency ratings. Look for the ENERGY STAR label, which indicates that the appliance meets strict energy efficiency standards. Energy-efficient appliances consume less electricity while providing the same functionality as standard models. The initial cost may be higher, but the money you save in the long run will make it an investment that ultimately pays for itself. 

Follow the user manuals

User manuals provide valuable information about the optimal usage and maintenance of appliances. Take the time to read the manuals thoroughly, as they offer specific instructions on how to maximize efficiency and extend the lifespan of each appliance. Familiarize yourself with recommended settings, maintenance procedures and safety guidelines to ensure you’re using the appliances as efficiently as possible.

Use appliances smartly

Take full advantage of any automatic settings on your appliances to use them more efficiently. For example, you can set your HVAC system to adjust its temperature when no one’s home or everyone in the household is asleep. Many newer appliances come with Wi-Fi connectivity, which further increases the controllability of the appliance. It’s a lot easier to swipe a phone screen to shut off the light you mistakenly left burning in the basement than to actually haul yourself out of bed and downstairs to turn it off. 

Saving on energy around the house

Follow these tips to use appliances more efficiently around the house:


  • Choose “sleep” over “screen save” to use less energy when away from your computer.
  • Set up your computer to go into standby mode after 10 or 15 minutes of non-use and to hibernate, or sleep, after a bit longer. This will significantly decrease your computer’s energy use.
  • Trim down and downsize. Consider switching from a desktop PC to a laptop, as these use 10% of the electricity.
  • Turn off your monitor when it’s not in use.
  • Think three times before you print. Use print preview to reduce the number of copies you need to run. 


  • Match up your pots to your burner size. Using a small pot on a large burner is a waste of energy and adds extra heat to your kitchen. 
  • Keep the oven door closed. The oven loses up to 50°F each time you open the door.
  • Choose the right-shaped pans. Pans with straight sides and flat bottoms reduce cooking time and heat loss. 
  • Cook with aluminum pans for even heat conduction.
  • Keep range-top burners clean for better reflection of heat and saved energy.


  • Keep your thermostats at the recommended settings: 37°F for refrigerators and -6°F for freezers.
  • Position your refrigerator away from a heat source to reduce energy use. 
  • For optimal performance that uses less energy, keep your freezer full and wrap all foods well. Avoid putting hot foods directly into your refrigerator or freezer.
  • Clean the condenser coils of refrigerators and freezers regularly to improve cooling efficiency.


  • Only run full loads.
  • Avoid pre-rinsing dirty dishes unless absolutely necessary. 
  • During warmer times of the year, run the dishwasher in the early morning or evenings, when it’s cooler out, for decreased energy usage. 


  • Wash with cold water as much as possible. Approximately 90% of the energy used by washing machines goes toward heating the water. 
  • Keep the lint filter clean for quicker dry times. 
  • Make sure your dryer is vented properly. 

Air conditioner

  • Cook less when it’s hot out. Consider using smaller appliances instead of your oven to keep the house cool, or take it outdoors and grill your dinner. 
  • Plant bushes or small trees outside your home near windows that let in lots of sunshine.
  • Set your thermostat to adjust automatically. 
  • Clean or replace your filters regularly to maintain proper airflow. 

Our household appliances keep our food cold, cook and bake our meals, allow us to get work done, clean our clothes, keep us cool and so much more. Use these tips to use your appliances more efficiently and save on energy usage and total costs. 

The Importance of Saving for a Rainy Day

When life is comfortable and things are going well, it’s hard to think about experiencing harder times. But failing to plan for stormier days can have a devastating impact on your financial health. Life is full of surprises, and some of them can be expensive. Whether it’s a medical emergency, job loss, car repairs or any other unforeseen event, having a financial safety net can provide a sense of security and stability. Let’s take a look at why it’s so important to save for rainy days.

Stay out of debt

Did you know that approximately half of Americans do not have more than $400 saved for emergencies? And yet, emergencies do not discriminate –they can, and do, happen to those who are unprepared just as much as to those who are prepared. When life throws an expensive surprise your way, and you don’t have the funds to cover it, you may fall into debt just to get by. You may choose to swipe the plastic, borrow more than you can afford or fall behind on your monthly payments in order to cover the cost of the emergency. 

Unfortunately, this can lead to months, or even years, in debt, as consumer debt tends to have high interest rates and can be difficult to repay. On the flip side, if you had a well-padded emergency fund prepared, you would have the cash you needed to fall back on in case of an emergency. This would help you stay out of the debt cycle and keep you financially fit, no matter what life throws your way.

Be prepared for sudden unemployment

When you live paycheck-to-paycheck, you depend on your job for financial survival. However, unless you are a Justice serving on the Supreme Court, no job is guaranteed to last forever. Your workplace may decide to downsize, close its doors or even to replace you with a bot. Or, you may find yourself unable to work due to personal circumstances. Having an emergency fund in place when you’re gainfully employed can help you stay afloat should you suddenly find yourself unemployed. 

Flexibility and freedom

Saving for a rainy day brings an element of flexibility and freedom to your life. It enables you to pursue new opportunities, take more risks and make major life changes without the constant fear of financial instability. Whether it’s starting a business, furthering your education or taking a sabbatical from work, having this fund will provide the necessary support to explore these possibilities. 

Peace of mind

Financial stress can take a toll on your physical and mental wellbeing. Constantly worrying about money can lead to anxiety, depression, strained relationships and more. Knowing you have an emergency fund built up and on the ready for a rainy day can offer a sense of security and peace of mind. 

Achieve long-term financial goals

Saving for a rainy day is not just about preparing for emergencies; it is also a stepping stone toward achieving long-term financial goals. Whether it’s buying a house, starting a family or planning for retirement, having savings will help you stay on track.

Avoid economic downturns related to market fluctuations

The economy is subject to fluctuations, and financial markets can be volatile. During economic downturns or recessions, people will often face reduced job opportunities, pay cuts or decreased business revenue. However, an emergency fund can make a challenging economic climate easier to navigate. People who’ve saved up money for emergencies will be less reliant on credit cards and loans during these times, thus reducing their vulnerability to economic uncertainties.

If you don’t have a well-padded emergency fund, start building one today! Most experts recommend having three to six months’ worth of living expenses in your emergency fund. Review your monthly expenses to reach this number, and then make a plan for building up your fund until it’s complete. You may want to prioritize your emergency fund over other investments until it’s set up. 

When the sun is shining, it’s hard to believe the rain will come, but no one’s life is all sunshine, all the time. Saving for a rainy day is a crucial part of financial wellness. Start saving today for a more secure and financially fit life. 

TikTok Inspo: What kind of emergency will have you running for your emergency fund? Tell us about it in the comments. 

Three Common Money Mistakes People Make

Everyone wants to manage their money responsibly, but many people often make mistakes in ways they handle money – without even realizing it. They may have fallen into a bad habit they can’t shake off, or they may be misinformed or less educated in a certain area. The good news is, harmful behaviors can always be unlearned. Let’s take a look at three common money mistakes and how to fix them. 

Mistake #1: Ignoring one’s financial situation

It is quite common for people to go about their everyday lives without giving much thought to their financial situation. They may not know how much money they have in their checking and saving accounts, be blissfully ignorant of their outstanding debt and/or have no awareness about the quality of their credit score. 

Unfortunately, when it comes to money, ignorance is NOT bliss. Ignoring money can lead to serious consequences, like insurmountable debt, missed payments and minimal or no savings for future needs. By turning a blind eye to one’s financial health, they risk falling into a cycle of financial instability and stress. 

The fix: To avoid this mistake, assess your income, expenses and savings on a regular basis. Creating a budget can help you get a handle on your financial inflows and outflows, which will enable you to make informed decisions about your spending habits. By confronting your financial situation head-on, you can identify areas where you can cut back, save more and, best of all, achieve and maintain financial wellness.

Mistake #2: Not having a clear money vision 

The second common money mistake is a lack of a financial plan or goals. Without an established money vision, it can be challenging to make smart money choices. You may find that you slip into negative financial habits when there are no goals to keep you in line. These poor habits include (but are not limited to) spending impulsively, accumulating unnecessary debt or failing to save for your future. 

The fix: It’s crucial to establish short-term and long-term financial goals. Whether it’s saving for a down payment on a house, starting a business or planning for retirement, having a clear vision will guide all your financial decisions and ensure they’re choices you can live with for years to come. To make it easier, break down your goals into actionable steps, such as setting aside a specified amount of money for savings each month or investing in assets that align with your long-term plans. A vision will provide you with motivation, purpose and a sense of control over your financial future.

Mistake #3: Not discussing money

The third common money mistake is failing to talk about money within various kinds of relationships. This can be a relationship between parents and children, business partners or, most commonly, between life partners. Money is a sensitive topic, and many people believe they can avoid arguing over money by simply not talking about it. Unfortunately, though, this rarely works. Instead, not talking about money can lead to misunderstandings, conflict and financial instability within the relationship.

The fix: Have open and honest discussions about money with your partner. This includes talking about shared financial goals, spending habits and even potential conflicts surrounding money. By establishing open lines of communication, you can work together to create a joint financial plan that aligns with both partners’ values and aspirations. Regular conversations about money can also help to build trust, ensure financial transparency and avoid surprises or hidden financial burdens down the road.

Money mistakes are common, but with some knowledge and proactive steps, you can easily avoid them. Use this guide to learn how to fix three common money mistakes and avoid making them in the future. 


How Can I Beat Inflation and Save on Back-to-School Shopping?

Q: With prices soaring and expenses mounting, I’m worried that back-to-school shopping will kill my budget and push me into debt. How can I beat inflation and save on back-to-school shopping?

A: While you may need to adjust your annual back-to-school budget to account for inflation, there are ways to save on these costs and keep your budget intact. Follow these tips to beat inflation this back-to-school season.

Shop with a budget

Your first step toward saving on back-to-school shopping is to create a budget for this shopping season. Determine how much you can afford to spend and allocate specific amounts for different categories such as clothing, supplies and electronics. Having a budget will help you stay focused and avoid impulse purchases.

Take inventory 

Before hitting the stores, take inventory of what you already have at home. Check your kids’ closets, drawers and study areas for supplies and clothing that can be reused or repurposed for the coming school year. This will give you a clear idea of what you really need to buy and help prevent unnecessary spending.

Plan ahead

Start shopping early and take advantage of sales throughout the summer. Watch for clearance sales, promotions and discounts. By planning ahead, you can secure better deals while avoiding the rush and price hikes that happen closer to the start of the school year. You can also take advantage of your state’s tax-free weekend for bigger savings.

Buy generic

Don’t hesitate to reach for generic brands when purchasing school supplies for your kids. Store brands, like Walmart, or Target’s Up & Up, are consistently cheaper than name brands without compromising on quality. 

Shop without your kids

While your kids may savor the experience of choosing their own school supplies for the coming year, shopping with kids is one of the best ways to kill a budget. Kids always have their own ideas of what’s best to spend money on, and their opinions may not necessarily align with yours–or with your budget. If your kids aren’t thrilled about you doing all the shopping on your own, compromise by allowing them to join you on one or two shopping trips, for example, when you shop for shoes and backpacks, but do the rest on your own. 

Think secondhand

Consider purchasing used textbooks, clothing and electronics. You can find gently used items at significantly lower prices on secondhand websites like ThredUp, and at thrift stores like Goodwill. 

When shopping secondhand, it’s important to ensure that items are in good condition and meet your requirements before making the purchase. Also, when buying a secondhand (or any) item online, only use secure platforms and ask to see the item, or a photo of the item, before finalizing the transaction. Finally, use a payment method with purchase protection, such as a credit card, so you can always reclaim your funds should the item turn out different than expected. 

Use discounts and coupons

Before you shop, look for coupons, promotional codes and student discounts to bring down the prices of the items you need to buy. Many retailers offer exclusive discounts to students and teachers. Sign up for newsletters or loyalty programs to receive updates on special offers. You can also use a discount-finder app or browser extension, like Rakuten or Honey to scour the web and automatically pull up any coupons for the items you need. Additionally, check with your child’s school or local community organizations for any available discounts or programs.

Buy in bulk

When possible and it makes sense, purchase supplies in bulk. This is particularly useful for items that are commonly used throughout the school year, like notebooks, pencils and paper. Buying in bulk often comes with a lower per-unit cost, providing long-term savings that will pay off all year long.

Prioritize quality and durability

While it may be tempting to opt for cheaper alternatives, prioritize quality and durability. Investing in well-made products can save you money in the long run, as they are less likely to require replacements later.

Prices are soaring, but that doesn’t mean you need to fall into debt when back-to-school shopping. Follow the tips outlined here to beat inflation and save.

TikTok Inspo: How are you going to beat inflation this back-to-school season? Share your best tips in a short video. 

Beware Check Washing Scams

When Midge Laurin, of Chicago, Illinois, mailed out a $30 check, she had no idea it would be intercepted by a scammer and written out to someone else to the tune of $9,475. Check-washing scams like this are on the rise, and can leave victims struggling to reclaim their lost funds for months. Here’s what you need to know about these scams and how to avoid them.

How the scams play out

In a check-washing scam, the target places a check in the mail, and it is then stolen by scammers who nick envelopes from private mailboxes or lift them out of public mailboxes using “fishing rods” made of strings attached to a sticky substance. With check in hand, the scammer uses ordinary household chemicals, like acetone or bleach, to erase the ink off the stolen checks. Finally, they’ll rewrite the numbers and/or the payee before depositing the checks into their own accounts. 

Sometimes, the scammer will take the ruse one step further by using the checking account details found on the check to commit further crimes against the check-writer. This may include producing counterfeit checks in the victim’s name, as well as fake IDs, driver’s licenses and passports. The victim may only learn about these crimes when they begin receiving overdraft notices or are informed that their ID is no longer valid.

Protect yourself

Unfortunately, check washing may not be discovered for weeks, or even months after its occurrence. Sometimes, the victim will only learn of the ruse when they review their monthly checking account statement and see that the check amount and/or payee has been altered. Or, they may only find out about it when the intended recipient reaches out to let the check-writer know they still have not received the check. The scam’s discovery is more likely to be delayed when the scammers have not modified any information on the check and have simply stolen and deposited a check made out to “cash”. 

In addition, many financial institutions do not offer complete protection on fraud that is not reported within a few days of its occurrence. Some offer partial protection for up to 60 days. Advantage One Credit Union

Law enforcement agencies on local and federal levels, including the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and the FBI, have task forces to help stop check washing. They offer the following strategies for keeping your checks and your information safe from scams:

  • Whenever possible, use mobile and online banking services and P2P systems as a replacement for checks.
  • When writing checks, use black ink, preferably the gel kind. The ink found in blue ballpoint pens can be easily removed with acetone.
  • Don’t raise your mailbox flag when there are bill payments inside. Hand this mail directly to your carrier or mail it from the post office.
  • Retrieve your mail daily and never leave the mailbox full overnight. If you’ll be traveling, you can arrange for the post office to hold your mail for up to 30 days. Alternatively, have a friend or trusted neighbor retrieve your mail so it doesn’t pile up.
  • When mailing checks, use envelopes that have security tinting.
  • Shred or burn all canceled checks, checks deposited through your mobile app, credit card statements and bills. 
  • Review your checking account activity frequently. Ensure all checks have cleared for the correct amounts and to the correct payees. You can generally access this information through your financial institution’s mobile banking app or website.
  • Store your checks in a secure place within your home.
  •  Avoid making checks out to “cash”. Instead, write out your checks to a specific person or business.

Check washing can wreak havoc on a victim’s finances before they even know it’s occurred. Follow the tips outlined here to keep your checks safe.

TikTok Inspo: Have you sidestepped a check-washing scam? Tell us your story in a 15-second video.

What Happens When a Mortgage Lender Checks My Credit Score?

Q: I’m shopping for a mortgage and wondering if I’m going about it the right way. What happens when a mortgage lender checks my credit score? And how do I find the perfect lender?

A: Your mortgage may be the biggest loan of your life. Therefore, it’s important that you do your homework well and carefully research any potential lender. However, as you note, shopping for a mortgage lender generally involves a check on your credit. Let’s take a closer look at the mortgage-shopping process, how a credit check affects your score and some tips for choosing the lender that’s right for you.

Credit score 101

First, let’s brush up on credit scores and why they matter. 

Your credit score is a three-digit number that serves as an indicator of your creditworthiness and financial responsibility. Your credit score can be anywhere from a “poor” 300 to an “excellent” 850. The score is calculated through a variety of factors, including your credit utilization, payment history, outstanding debt, types of credit and history of credit. The higher your score, the easier time you’ll have getting approved for a mortgage, and the lower the interest rates you’ll be offered. 

What is a credit check?

When you apply for a mortgage, the lender will typically pull your credit report from one or more of the three major credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. This is known as a credit check. The lender will use the information on your credit report to determine your creditworthiness and whether or not you are a good candidate for a mortgage.

During the credit check, the lender will review your credit report and look for any red flags that may indicate that you are not financially capable of carrying a mortgage. This may include factors like missed payments, high levels of debt or a history of bankruptcy. If the lender determines that you are not a good candidate for a mortgage based on your credit report and review, they may deny your application or offer you less favorable terms.

How does a credit check impact my credit score?

When a lender pulls your credit report, it can have a temporary negative effect on your credit score. This happens because each credit inquiry is recorded on your credit report, and can be seen as a red flag by lenders. The good news is, the impact is usually small and temporary, and your credit score should bounce back within a few months.

The impact on your credit score will depend on a variety of factors, including the number of credit inquiries, the types of credit inquiries and your overall credit history. If you have a long and established credit history with a good payment history, a single credit inquiry may have little to no impact on your credit score. On the other hand, if you have a short credit history with missed payments or high levels of debt, a single credit inquiry may have a larger impact on your credit score.

Should I limit my mortgage applications to mitigate the effect on my credit score?

Actually, you can shop around for a mortgage without any additional impact on your credit score, as long as you are mindful of the passing time. All credit checks from mortgage lenders within a 45-day window will be recorded as a single inquiry on your credit report. Creditors know you are only going to buy one home, so the multiple inquiries do not indicate multiple loan applications. You can take your time shopping for a mortgage and getting loan estimates from various lenders. Just be careful to do all your research within the 45-day window. 

How can I improve my chances of getting approved for a mortgage?

It’s best to work on boosting your credit score before you start shopping for a mortgage. Here are some tips for bringing up your score:

  • Pay your bills on time and in full
  • Keep your credit card balances low
  • Avoid opening many new credit cards 
  • Check your credit report regularly and dispute any errors

How do I find the mortgage lender that’s right for me?

When researching potential lenders, you can start by asking family and friends who’ve recently taken out a mortgage for lender recommendations. Look up online ratings and reviews of potential lenders as well. As you check out various lenders, look for those that offer excellent customer service, reasonable closing costs and fees, transparency about the loan process and, of course, favorable loan rates. 

Shopping for a mortgage will have a temporary impact on your credit score, but it’s a necessary step in the home-buying process. Use the tips outlined here to find the mortgage lender that’s right for you and to learn what happens when they check your credit score. 

If you’re ready to apply for a home loan, stop by Advantage One Credit Union today. We’re completely committed to your financial success.

TikTok Inspo: You’re a mortgage lender, offering a less-than-ideal home loan. Can you sell us on your mortgage? Explain why you have the best loan out there in a 15-second video.

Travel Hacks 7 of 12-Save on Transportation Costs on Vacation

Vacationing with a prepared spending plan on hand is one of the best ways to have your fun, and your financial wellness, too. However, transportation costs can take a big bite out of a vacation budget. The good news is, there are loads of tricks and hacks you can use to bring those costs down. Here’s how to save on transportation costs while on vacation. 

Book early

One of the most effective ways to save on transportation costs is to plan and book your travel arrangements in advance. By doing so, you can take advantage of early bird discounts, promotional fares and special offers. Whether you’re booking flights, train tickets or rental cars, comparing prices and booking ahead of time can significantly reduce your transportation expenses.

Travel offseason

Timing your travel during off-peak seasons can yield substantial savings on transportation costs. Popular tourist destinations often have peak and off-peak seasons based on factors such as weather, holidays and local events. By choosing to travel during less-crowded times, you can take advantage of discounted transportation services.

Take advantage of public transportation

Public transportation can be a cost-effective option when exploring a new city or country. Many destinations offer efficient and affordable public transportation systems such as buses, trains, trams and subways. Research the available public transportation options and consider purchasing daily or weekly passes for unlimited travel within the area. You’ll save loads on your transportation costs and enjoy the unique experience of rubbing shoulders with local residents.

Get moving

Think outside the box and consider exploring your vacation destination on foot or by bicycle. Getting from point A to point B outside the confines of a vehicle will give you a more immersive and intimate travel experience. Many cities have well-planned walking and cycling routes, making it convenient and enjoyable to navigate through popular areas and attractions. You can rent a bike for the duration of your stay, or opt for a daily rental when needed. You can also choose to participate in guided walking tours to save on transportation costs while staying active and getting up-close and personal with the destination.

Share rides and carpool

If you prefer the convenience of private transportation, sharing rides or carpooling can significantly reduce costs. Services like Uber and Lyft often offer shared ride options, allowing you to split the fare with other travelers who are heading in the same direction. You can also link up with fellow travelers through websites and apps dedicated to carpooling, helping to reduce expenses while meeting new people.

Use travel passes

Many destinations offer travel passes or city cards that provide discounted or free access to various modes of transportation, attractions and activities. Research and compare available travel passes at your destination to determine which best aligns with your travel plans. These passes can provide substantial savings, especially if you plan to visit multiple attractions or use public transportation frequently.

Seek out local discounts

Keep an eye out for local discounts and offers that can further reduce your transportation costs. Look for tourist information centers, visitor bureaus or websites that provide information on discounted transportation tickets, car rentals and more. 

Rent smartly

If you do plan to rent a car, be sure to do it right to score the best deal. First, use an app like Hopper or Hipmunk to learn about special deals. Next, choose a smaller car for big savings. Finally, don’t ask for recommendations. The hotel concierge who shares the name of a rental place is likely getting a kickback from the company for every referral, which significantly increases your price.

Don’t let your transportation costs kill your budget! Use the tips outlined here to save big on vacation transportation costs. 

TikTok Inspo: Tell us how you’re going to get around for less while on vacation in a short video. 

Perfect World, Real World: The Secret Weapon for Achieving Financial Independence

Title: Perfect World, Real World: The Secret Weapon for Achieving Financial Independence 

Author: Jacob Nayman

Hardcover: 226 pages

Publisher: Independently published

Publishing Date: March 23, 2023

Who is this book for? 

  • Any ambitious person who is looking for a strategy for achieving financial independence. 

What’s inside this book?

  • The knowledge and tools you need to achieve financial independence in the 21st century.
  • Short summaries at the end of each chapter as well as a full book summary (organized by chapter) at the end provides a quick recap.

3 lessons you’ll learn from this book:  

The three must-have abilities for achieving financial independence:

  1. Ability one: How to identify manipulations and say no. 
  2. Ability two: How to harness active support for your agenda.
  3. Ability three: How to create a significant passive income.

4 questions this book will answer for you:  

  1. Is it really possible to achieve financial independence with today’s staggering cost of living?
  2. What’s the secret weapon for achieving financial independence?
  3. Are inborn charisma and leadership abilities necessary for success?
  4. How can I use my limited resources, like time, money and mental energy, to focus on agendas that promote my personal desires and goals?

What people are saying about this book: 

“If you desire to become financially secure, this book is a game changer.” — Meni Nuriel

“The book shows you the way to build financial independence and gives you the knowledge and confidence to be able to do it yourself.” – Victor Bakenrot

“He explains strategies, in simple terms, that I can use to keep from being manipulated into making decisions that are not in my best interest. I am confident his advice can help me achieve financial independence.” – Allie

“Using actual case studies to illustrate his principles, Jacob Nayman explains how we can protect ourselves from being manipulated while at the same time promoting our own agendas.” – Jonathon Silver

TikTok Inspo: What did you think of Perfect World, Real World? Give us a live book review in a short video.

The Homebuying Process for First-Time Homebuyers

Buying a home is a long and, sometimes, overwhelming process. That’s especially true for a first-time homebuyer. However, with some self-education, good planning and preparation, the process can be smooth and less stressful. Let’s take a look at the 11 steps of the homebuying process and what to expect along the way.

Step 1: Prepare your finances

Before you begin the homebuying process, ensure you’re financially ready to handle a mortgage. Here are some tips for preparing your finances ahead of the homebuying process:

  • Set a realistic budget. How much house can you actually afford? Before you start your search, take some time to determine how much house debt you can carry. Consider your existing and expected income as well as ongoing expenses. 
  • Boost your credit score. If you’re thinking of buying a home within the next year, take steps now to bring your score up. Make full and on-time payments, avoid opening too many new credit cards and keep your credit utilization low. You’ll also want to check your score before applying for a home loan to ensure you’ll qualify for a mortgage. 
  • Save for a down payment. If you haven’t already done so, start saving for a down payment now. 

Once you have your finances worked out, you can start shopping for a mortgage.

Step 2: Choose a lender

When choosing a lender for your mortgage, you can decide to use your current bank or credit union, another financial institution or to utilize the services of a private lender. 

When researching potential lenders, look up online ratings and reviews. Also, look for lenders that offer excellent service experiences, reasonable closing costs and fees, transparency about the loan process and favorable loan rates. Don’t be afraid to ask potential lenders all your questions; they should be more than willing to provide you with answers. 

Step 3: Get preapproved for a mortgage

Once you’ve chosen your mortgage lender, you can apply for a preapproval on your loan. Getting preapproved for a mortgage before you start your search will make the homebuying process easier. It will also help ensure you keep your search within your budget.

Depending on your lender, the preapproval process can take several months, or just a few days. The lender will ask for your financial history and other personal information. If you have a co-borrower, the lender will need this information about them as well. If the information you provide is satisfactory, as is your credit report, the lender will begin constructing the details of your loan.

When they have determined how large a loan you are eligible for, they will grant you a preapproval letter. This letter can be a good bargaining chip if you find yourself competing against another borrower for the same property.

Step 4: Find a real estate agent

A real estate agent can help you find the perfect home that fits your budget and preferences. They have access to a broad range of homes on the market and can negotiate on your behalf.

Step 5: Find your dream home 

Once you have a pre-approval and a real estate agent, it’s time to start shopping for homes. Here are some tips to keep in mind as you look for your dream house: 

  • Know what you want. Make a list of your must-haves before you start house-hunting. Is a large backyard a deal-breaker for you? Do you need a specific number of bedrooms? Knowing what you want will help you narrow down your options.
  • Be prepared to negotiate. The seller may counter your offer, so be prepared to negotiate on the price. Your real estate agent can advise you on the best course of action.
  • Beware of red flags. Inspect a home thoroughly before considering it for a purchase. Look for structural issues, like doors that don’t close, cracks in the foundation and sagging ceilings as well as the presence of mold and unexplained smells. 

Step 6: Make an offer

Once you’ve found the home you want to buy, you can put down an offer. If your offer is accepted, the deal will officially be “under contract”. This means you’ve made an offer on a home which the seller has accepted, but there are a number of contingencies that must be addressed before the sale is finalized. At this point, you’ll likely need to pay “earnest money,” or a portion of the down payment. 

Home sales are typically under contract for 4-8 weeks, though this can vary with each lender and sale. You won’t be sitting around waiting for the closing, as you’ll need to complete steps 7-10 at this time. 

Step 7: Get your mortgage

As soon as your offer has been accepted, your mortgage lender will get to work on the details of your loan. If you’ve gotten a preapproval, you should have most of this ironed out already, though the final number-crunching will depend on the loan amount, the property value, the type of mortgage you choose and the size of your down payment. Throughout this time, you’ll need to provide your lender with various financial documents and sign a host of documents as well.

Step 8: Schedule a home inspection 

Hire a professional home inspector to thoroughly check out the home. This will reveal any issues with the home that you may not have noticed. If the inspection uncovers any major issues, you can choose to walk away from the deal, or to negotiate with the seller for a lower price.

Step 9: Obtain homeowner’s insurance

Homeowner’s insurance is necessary to protect your investment. Shop around for the best rates and coverage and make sure you have a policy in place before the closing date. 

Step 10: Schedule an appraisal

The home appraisal, which determines the actual value of the home, assures the lender they are not lending you more money than the home is worth. Your lender will likely choose the appraiser, though the homebuyer usually pays for and schedules it. 

Step 11: Close and move in

Congrats – you’ve made it! You’re ready for the closing, which is when the property will change hands. Be sure to set aside several hours for the closing and to come prepared with all the funds you need to cover the remainder of the downpayment and all closing costs and fees. 

Once you’ve closed, the home is yours. All that’s left to do now is to pack up and move in. Best of luck in your new home sweet home!

TikTok Inspo: Are you selling a home? Convince prospective buyers in a 15-second video that yours is the one they need.

Affordable Sustainability 6 of 12: Five Ways to Reduce Your Plastic Water Bottle Waste

Plastic water bottles have become a ubiquitous part of modern-day life. They’re convenient, portable and readily available. Unfortunately, though, their convenience comes at a cost. 

According to a report published by the United Nations University Institute for Water, Environment and Health, more than one million bottles of water are sold every minute around the world. Approximately 85% of these bottles, which can take up to 1,000 years to degrade, will end up as waste, the report claims. This leads to an average of 25 million tons of plastic waste each year. To put that into context, this waste pile is big enough to fill a line of 40-ton trucks stretching from New York to Bangkok every year.

Plastic water bottles do a job on the wallet, too, with the average American spending $266 a year, or $17,290 over an 80-year lifespan, on these ill-packaged beverages. The good news is that reducing your plastic water bottle usage is easy and can have a significant impact on both your wallet and our environment. Here are five ways to reduce your plastic water bottle usage.

1: Invest in a reusable water bottle

One of the easiest ways to reduce your plastic water bottle usage is to invest in a reusable water bottle. Reusable water bottles are durable and easy to carry around.  You can find one in a wide variety of tastes and styles. Best of all, a reusable water bottle is environmentally friendly and easy on the wallet, too. 

When shopping for a reusable water bottle, look for one made from food-grade stainless steel or glass. These materials are non-toxic, highly durable and easy to clean. 

2: Use water filters

Another way to reduce your plastic water bottle usage is to invest in a water filter. Water filters are an excellent way to ensure that your tap water is clean and safe to drink. There are different types of filters available, such as pitcher filters, faucet filters and under-sink filters. Shop around until you find one that fits your needs and budget. Investing in a water filter will reduce your bottled water waste, and lower your exposure to the harmful contaminants that are often found in tap water, such as chlorine, lead and bacteria. 

With clean water available at home, you won’t have to depend on bottled water to stay hydrated. Just refill your reusable water bottle at home, and you’re all set!  

3: Carry your water bottle with you

It’s a good idea to get into the habit of carrying your water bottle around with you. This way, you’ll have clean water to drink wherever you are. Most workplaces provide filtered water for their employees, so you can always refill your bottle during the workday. Plus, leaving home while prepared with a drink means you’re less likely to waste money and plastic on a purchased beverage. That’s a win for the environment, and your budget, too.

4: Say no to plastic water bottles

It isn’t easy to break the plastic water bottle habit, but you can do it! Aside from ensuring you always have your own clean water to drink, be prepared to turn down offers for bottled water at various venues and events. When asked if you’d like a bottle of water, politely decline and explain that you’ve brought your own water. If you’re the one hosting an event, stay true to your values and serve water from pitchers or dispensers instead of distributing plastic bottles to all your guests. 

5: Support businesses that reduce plastic water bottle usage

Supporting businesses that reduce plastic water bottle usage is another way to make a difference. When choosing a restaurant, café or hotel, look for those that offer tap water or water in reusable glasses or bottles. Additionally, you can support businesses that offer incentives for using reusable water bottles, such as discounts or free refills. Supporting businesses that reduce plastic water bottle usage is a great way to create a demand for sustainable practices. 

Use the tips outlined here to change your drinking habits and do one for the environment.