Don’t Forget to Follow Up on Your Home Inspection!

If you’re under contract for a new home, you’ve likely had an inspection conducted on your new home. This inspection is an important part of the home-buying process, and is generally required by the mortgage company. It can help you find any major defects in the home, such as a faulty roof or dying HVAC system, which may prompt you to walk away from the deal. Alternatively, the seller can choose to repair any areas needing major work before the closing. 

In addition, a home inspection often reveals other, smaller recommendations the seller is not required to fix. This can include a long list of items that need minor repairs or replacements, such as a leaky faucet, overstuffed gutter, or an insecure stair railing. Often, in the rush to close on the home and all the tasks that must be tended to before the big move, these repairs are forgotten about and never get fixed. 

Some homeowners mistakenly assume that it’s no big deal to leave some repairs on their newly purchased home unfixed. Unfortunately, though, nothing will fix itself. Instead, the longer you wait to make a repair, the more likely it is that you will need to make more extensive and expensive repairs or replace the faulty system, appliance or part. Consequently, it’s best to make any necessary repairs on your home as quickly as possible. 

Here’s what you need to know about following up on a home inspection.

Hold onto the list of recommendations

Most inspectors will leave the potential buyer with a list of items that need repairs. While some will require urgent attention, the less-important items on the list can be forgotten about and never tended to at all. You may not have the time or resources to fix everything on the inspector’s list before you move, but it’s a good idea to hold onto that list for future reference. File the list in a safe place so it won’t get lost during the move. You can also snap a photo and upload it to a digital storage space so you can always find it if the original document is misplaced. 

Categorize repairs according to urgency

Once the dust has settled after your move and you’re ready to tackle the household repairs you haven’t yet gotten to, dig out your list and categorize repairs by urgency. Look for repairs that can cause extensive damage if left unfixed, such as a leaky pipe, faulty exterior drainage or the presence of mold or mildew. These should be tended to as soon as possible. Cosmetic repairs, on the other hand, can be delayed without major consequences. Create a new list with all the repairs written in order from most to least urgent. 

Identify what you can do on your own

It’s almost always cheaper to do home repair projects on your own. However, there are some areas that are best left to the experts. In addition, if you will need to spend a lot of money on supplies you will use just for this one-time repair, it can actually be cheaper to call in the experts. Keeping these two factors in mind, look through your list carefully to see what you can realistically do yourself.

Start working through your list

Now that you’ve sorted your list according to urgency and you’ve identified which repairs you can do on your own, you’re ready to start tackling the repairs. Start with the most urgent repairs, and set aside time on weekends for the repairs you plan to do on your own. When hiring professionals, be sure to do your research carefully and to ask for references of past clients. 

Uphold general household maintenance

It may be a while before your entire list of repairs is complete. To help prevent further damage, and to keep your home in the best condition at all times, follow these tips for general upkeep and maintenance:

  • Make sure faucets and showerheads are completely turned off when not in use.
  • Keep the air clean by vacuuming and dusting regularly.
  • Look for discolored spots on ceilings and walls, which can indicate an internal leak.
  • Keep your home heated in very cold weather, even when you’re not home, to prevent freezing pipes. 
  • Drain your outdoor sprinklers completely before turning off for the winter.
  • Keep all trees and shrubs near your home well-trimmed. 
  • Control moisture levels with a dehumidifier or humidifier, as necessary.
  • Clean your dryer vent and all heating vents regularly.

A home inspection is an important part of the home-buying process. Don’t forget to follow up on the list of recommended repairs!

Your Turn: Have you followed up on your home inspection recommendations? Tell us about it in the comments.

What to Buy and What to Skip in September

Get ready for savings on big-ticket items this month! Retailers are looking to bring the crowds back after the big back-to-school storm has passed, and bargain prices are always a great way to attract shoppers. They also need to clear shelves before the holiday season blows in with its shopping frenzy. Add in the Labor Day sales that kick off the month, and it means big savings during September – but not on everything. Here’s what to buy and what to skip in September. 

Buy: Mattresses and bedding

Mattress sales practically give Labor Day its awesome name, and for good reason. You can find crazy-deep discounts on mattresses this month at almost any retailer that sells them. Top off the deal with some bedding and bath supplies, which are also selling at bargain prices. Be sure to start comparison-shopping at least a week or two before Labor Day to snag the best deal. After all, if you snooze, you lose. 

Skip: Halloween costumes and decor

Retailers might have you thinking Halloween is tomorrow, but you still have plenty of time to prep for Oct. 31. Though Halloween costumes and decor will hit the stores this month, it’s best to hold off on these purchases until October rolls around, as that’s the earliest you’ll start seeing scary-low discounts. 

Buy: Airfare

Since the days are getting shorter, it’s time to think winter! The holidays will be here before you can blink, and if you’re looking to grab airline tickets at a great price, you may want to shop for them now. The best deals on plane tickets usually show up eight weeks before the travel date, and for Thanksgiving, that means you’ll need to buy tickets in September. Look out for deals on tickets at the end of the month to save big on your travel plans. 

Skip: Autumn wear

It’s too early in the season for slashed prices on clothing. Pick up some essentials if you must, but you’re best off waiting until October or November to shop for your complete autumn wardrobe at sizzling-hot prices.

Buy: Plants

Hold onto summer a little bit longer with some vibrant greenery. All summer plants, trees and shrubs will be retailing at dirt-cheap prices this month as garden centers make room for autumn and holiday plants. This can be a terrific time to upgrade your property’s landscaping with some well-placed perennials. You can also find some fabulous deals on summer flowers, though you may not have much time left to enjoy them.

Skip: Electronics

Labor Day might bring some incredible deals on big-ticket items, but electronics aren’t among them. Instead, TVs, headphones, audio systems and more tend to see their lowest prices during Black Friday sale events. Wait just a little bit longer and you can snag a fantastic deal on an electronic item you’ve been eyeing for months. 

Buy: Denim

Jeans are a hot item during back-to-school shopping. Come September, retailers will slash prices to unload their unsold inventory. Cash in on a great deal by shopping these sales for a new pair of denim jeans this month. 

Buy: Beauty and skincare products 

Early autumn is a great time to stock up on beauty and skincare products. As college students pack up to head back to the dorm and consumers pick up skincare routines, prices may have dropped over the summer. Look for price cuts on products like shampoo, body wash, moisturizer and all kinds of cosmetics from Labor Day and on. 

It’s back to school, back to work and back to savings this month! Use this guide to know what to buy and what to skip in September. 

Your Turn: Have you picked up any great bargains in September? Tell us about them in the comments. 

Step 8 of 12 Steps to Financial Wellness-Know When and How to Indulge

[Now that you know how to spend mindfully, pay it forward, and regularly set aside money for savings, you’re ready to learn how to indulge in the occasional expensive treat–responsibly.]

Many people equate financial health with a life of deprivation, but this is far from the truth. In fact, living a life of true financial wellness means being happy with a lifestyle that is within your means, but does not leave you feeling like you are lacking. Like an overly restrictive diet, an overly tight budget is more likely to become broken.

On the flip side, financial wellness means spending your money wisely and learning how to treat yourself for less – or for free. It means money choices are governed by discipline, and not by emotion. And sometimes, it means telling yourself no.

How, then, do you strike a balance between the two?

Here’s how to indulge responsibly. 

Live with a budget

The first step to financial wellness is knowing where your money is going and how much you actually have to spend. The best way to always have this information is to create and stick to a budget. 

[If you’ve been following all the steps to financial wellness until this point, you’ve already developed and live with a budget. So you know how to stick to it. Let’s take a quick review of this crucial money management tool.]

Create your budget by tracking your spending for three months. Make a list of all your expenses, including fixed, non-fixed and discretionary expenses, and list your income in a parallel column. Tally up your totals and assign a realistic dollar amount to each expense. Going forward, be sure to only spend within the allocated amount for each expense category each month. 

Leave room in your budget for “just for fun” purchases

As you work on building and sticking to a budget, be sure to leave room in your spending plan for the occasional treat. The exact amount will vary by income level, lifestyle and personal choice. However, choose an amount you can easily afford without feeling deprived. 

To ensure you don’t overspend in this area, you can borrow an idea from the money-envelope system and withdraw the designated amount from your checking account at the beginning of the month. Place this cash in an envelope, and use it as necessary. When the money is gone, so is your “allowance” for pricey treats this month.

It’s important to note that the indulgences referenced here are spontaneous buys, or small purchases that aren’t part of your normal budget. Large purchases you have planned for and saved toward for months, or even years, are in an entirely different category. 

Review your savings

Before giving yourself permission to indulge, make sure you are setting aside a percentage of your monthly income to savings. Savings should be an item line on your budget, with short-term savings like an emergency fund in a savings account, holding enough to keep you afloat for 3-6 months if you have no source of income. Long-term savings should be sufficient to support your retirement and any long-term savings goal you may have, like saving for a house or a luxury vacation. 

Choose your “treats”

Everyone’s got their personal vices and their guilty indulgences. Take a look at where your non-discretionary money went during the last month or two. Highlight the more expensive impulse buys and hold them up to these questions:

  • Did this purchase bring me happiness or positive energy the day I bought it? Did that feeling last until the next day? The next week?
  • Did this impulse buy blow my budget?
  • Does thinking about this purchase now fill me with joy, guilt or something else?
  • If I found myself in the same circumstances today, would I make that purchase again?

Here, too, the answers to these questions will depend on your personal set of circumstances and lifestyle. Use the insight you’ve learned about your indulgences to help you make better money choices in the future. 

Lose the guilt

Once you’ve decided how much you want to spend each month on indulgences you can afford, it’s time to let go of the guilt. If you’re spending responsibly and you’ve already fed your savings as well as your future, there’s no need to eat yourself up over an impulse buy you could have done without. As long as you’re keeping these just-for-fun purchases within your budget, and your choices fill you with happiness or positive energy, you can still maintain your financial wellness.

Your Turn: How do you indulge responsibly? Share your best tips in the comments.

Back-to-School Shopping Hacks

It’s back-to-school season, and that means you’ve got a list of stuff a mile long to buy. The good news is that you don’t need to break the budget during the second-biggest shopping season of the year. There are lots of ways to save, and if you plan your shopping well in advance instead of frantically rushing to get everything done at the last minute, you can save a lot of money. Below, we’ve compiled seven back-to-school shopping hacks to get you started.

  1. Take inventory

Don’t set foot in a single store without first checking to see what you have at home. You may have stocked up on lined paper in the spring, or maybe you bought some autumn wear for your child at the end-of-season sale last year and you’ve put it in storage until you’d need it. Keep a running list of everything you find so you know exactly what you have before you spend a dime on new supplies and clothing. 

  1. Shop tax-free

Many states offer a sales-tax holiday sometime during the summer, and if you use these days to shop for big-ticket items, like a new laptop or pair of school shoes, you can shave a significant amount of money off the final price. You can find a list of sales-tax holidays by state here.

  1. Shop with a list

And we’re not talking about the list of required supplies your child’s school or teacher has sent home. When shopping for anything, especially with kids and teens, it’s best to start out with a clear goal of what you plan to buy. This way, you’ll be less likely to overspend and come home with bags of stuff you don’t really need, along with lots of buyer’s remorse. Make a list before hitting the mall, the school supplies store and even before shopping online. 

  1. Divide and conquer

The circulars are packed with specials on school supplies all summer long. The problem is that, while one store is offering a crazy-low deal on crayons this week, another store is running a super sale on pencils – and the stores are across town from each other. You don’t want to spend all weekend hunting down supplies, and you don’t want to lose all your savings to fill the tank of your car either. Keep your savings, and your sanity, by teaming up with another school mom. Divide the school supply list between the two of you, pooling costs and paying back as necessary. This way, while one of you can go pick up the crayons at half-price in Walmart, the other can load up on marked-down pencils in Staples. 

  1. Let your kids choose some items on their own

Teach your kids a lesson in budgeting by allowing them to shop for one or more of the costlier items they need now on their own. For example, you can have your middle-schooler choose and pay for their own backpack. Set a reasonable budget together, but let your child do the actual choosing and paying on their own. They’ll learn how to make responsible money choices and so much more. To encourage thriftiness, you can offer to allow your child to keep the change. 

  1. Save some stuff for later

Yes, your child will be starting school soon and they’ll need some supplies and clothing before the big first day. But the stores won’t be going anywhere, and there’s no need to purchase a complete autumn wardrobe before Labor Day. Waiting a bit for the mid-season sales will save you a ton of money. As a bonus, shopping without the pressure of having everything ready for the new school year will help you make better money choices. 

  1. Scan receipts to get cash back

Put more money back in your wallet by scanning or uploading your receipts to cash-back sites or apps. Some popular cash-back apps include Coupons.com, Dosh and Ibotta. It’s like getting paid to shop!

It’s back-to-school shopping season, but that doesn’t mean you need to spend yourself broke! Cash in on savings with these hacks and get your shopping done without breaking your budget. 

Your Turn: How do you save on back-to-school shopping? Share your favorite hacks in the comments. 

What to Buy and What to Skip in July

The days are still long and filled with sunshine. And though retailers would have you think otherwise, school is still a long way off. If you’re looking to save on some purchases this month, you can find lots of bargains around Independence Day weekend and beyond. Here’s what to buy and what to skip in July. 

Buy: Patriotic items

Pledge allegiance along with your favorite retailers by purchasing almost anything under the sun in red, white and blue. You can pick up bargain-priced clothing, home goods, toys, party goods and so much more in the days and weeks after Independence Day. Of course, you’ll also find discounted fireworks and July 4th-themed decor, which you can store for next year’s Independence Day festivities. 

Skip: Sunglasses

If you need a new pair of shades, you’re best off waiting a bit before springing for a new pair. Sunglasses are still retailing at full price this month, and they won’t start seeing discounts until September. For even steeper savings, pick up a new pair of shades in October. 

Buy: School and office supplies

The start of the school year may be close to two months off, but retailers are already deep into back-to-school season by the time the calendar hits July. Check out big-box stores, like Walmart, Target and Staples, for specials on supplies, like pens and pencils, paper, crayons, scissors and more. If you keep an eye out for sales through the rest of the summer, you can enjoy significant savings on all of your school and office supplies this year. 

Skip: Grills and patio furniture

School might be on the retail calendar, but that doesn’t mean summer is already gone. Grills, patio furniture and other outdoor gear will still be retailing at full price through July. If you can wait a bit, until mid or late August, you’ll save a bundle on all you need to upgrade your outdoor living.

Buy: Summer apparel 

Fashion is always one step ahead of the rest of the world, and summertime is no exception. July means fashion brands and apparel stores are already clearing out their summer goods to make way for the incoming autumn line. Look out for discounts on tank tops, white sneakers, shorts and other summer wear you can still enjoy this season or save for next year’s hot-weather season.

Skip: Lawn mowers

Your mower may be old and creaky, but this isn’t the best time to spring for a replacement. Lawn mowers are still in high demand in July, so they are still retailing at full price. As always, patience can be the key to significant savings: The longer you wait into the season, the better price you can find on a lawn mower and other gardening tools and supplies. 

Buy: Amazon devices

Amazon has announced it will be hosting its Prime Day sales event in July this year. Look out for the exact dates to pick up some fantastic savings on all Amazon devices, including Echo speakers, Echo Show smart displays, Fire tablets, Kindle eBook readers and more. 

Skip: Sandals and flip-flops

Put warm-weather footwear on the skip list this month. Sandals and flip-flops won’t be discounted until August, when the end of the summer is in sight and retailers need to move merchandise to make room for the next season’s inventory. 

Buy: A/C Units

A/C units will begin to drop toward the end of the month as the season passes its midpoint. If your A/C needs to be replaced, you can find a new unit at a discounted price in July. 

July can bring great deals on all kinds of products for the savvy shopper. Use the tips here to know what to buy and what to skip this July. 

Your Turn: Have you picked up any great bargains in July? Tell us about them in the comments. 

Should I Use a Credit Card at the Pump?

Q: Is it a good idea to pay for gas with a credit card? 

A: On average, Americans pump close to 392 million gallons of gasoline a day. That’s more than a gallon for every American! Each day! With fuel prices spiking, you want to make sure you’re paying for that gas in the best manner possible. Many people reach for a debit card or cash when filling up on fuel, but there are several key advantages to using a credit card to pay for gas. Here are four reasons you may want to use your credit card at the pump. 

  1. Paying with plastic makes it easy to track your spending

Cash leaves no paper trail. Once you’ve spent it, you have no way of knowing where that money went unless you actively record the expenditure at the time of the purchase. When you pay with plastic, though, there’s always a record of the transaction. You can review your spending habits, or calculate how much you are spending in one budget category (transportation) to help you stay on top of your finances as best as possible. Just check out the credit card statement at the end of the month or billing period to see how much you’ve spent on fuel costs. 

  1. Earn rewards for every gallon

If you own a credit card that offers rewards or miles for every purchase you make, you can earn a lot of rewards by using your credit card to purchase the gas you’d buy anyways. In just one year, you may have enough rewards or miles to fund a full vacation! Just make sure to choose the card that offers the most bang for your buck.

  1. Fraud and theft protection

When it comes to protecting your funds from fraud, credit cards are the number-one choice of payment methods. Unlike payments made in cash or with a debit card, a credit card purchase can always be disputed if found to be faulty. Many cards offer a zero-liability plan in cases of fraud as long as the credit card company is notified within a predetermined amount of time. Finally, paying with cash always carries the risk of theft, but a stolen or hacked credit card account can easily be closed. 

  1. Free up your money

When you choose to pay with a debit card at the pump, you’re choosing to put your money on hold. Gas stations present a unique risk to their owners, as the consumer can fill up and drive away without paying. To avoid this form of theft, gas stations will immediately authorize cards by placing a hold on the debit card account as soon as the consumer initiates the transaction, which is before they’ve even begun to pump fuel into their car. The hold is generally between $50 and $150. After the consumer has finished pumping gas, the card will be charged for the appropriate amount. However, the hold on the card may not clear for several days. If you need every dollar in your account immediately after paying for gas, you may want to use a credit card rather than a debit card at the pump. 

Many drivers choose to pay for gas with cash to save on surcharges that some stations issue for payments made via credit card. However, if you use a rewards card and get cash back on every credit card purchase, the small surcharge can be more than offset by the rewards. In addition, some stations will waive the surcharge upon request. 

It’s important to note that, as always, credit cards should only be used responsibly, even when paying at the pump. Only use a credit card if you know you will be able to pay the bill in full before it’s due. Otherwise, the interest charges you’ll accumulate mean you’ll be paying for far more than the actual price of gas.

Using a credit card to pay for fuel can have unique advantages over other payment methods. The next time you’re at the pump, consider pulling out your credit card instead of paying with a debit card or cash. 

Your Turn: Do you use a credit card at the pump? Why or why not? Tell us about it in the comments. 

What to Buy and What to Skip in June

Summer is here and it’s time to work on your tan–and on finding big bargains! Though there are no major shopping holidays in June, you can still find fantastic deals on all kinds of products. There are some purchases you should skip this month, though, and we know what they are. Here’s what to buy and what to skip in June.

Buy: Swimwear and lingerie

Get ready to hit the beach in style! Retailers offer steep discounts on swimwear as summer gets underway, and you can pick up a sweet deal on the swimsuit of your choice. Also, Victoria’s Secret famously hosts one of its semi-annual sale events in June, so also add lingerie to your “to buy” list!

Skip: Grills

Grills are in high demand this month, so they are retailing at full-price. If you’re looking to upgrade your grill, wait until mid- or late summer for a better deal. As with most timely products, the longer into the season you wait, the more you’ll save.  

Buy: Dinner for Dad

It’s Dad’s time! Restaurants know you’ll be taking him out to eat, and they offer great deals on meals to lure prospective diners inside. Some of these discounts might only be available through gift card purchases, so be sure to check it out in advance. 

Skip: Mattresses

If you need new mattresses, you’re out of luck. The Memorial Day sale events, which happened last month, will typically offer the best discounts on mattresses. If you’ve missed out, you’ll want to wait until Labor Day to score a deal.

Buy: Workout wear and gear

Consumers are building their beach bodies this month, and retailers want in on the action. Check out your favorite brands for steep discounts on workout wear and gear throughout the month of June. Getting fit is always easier – OK … a little more fun – when you’re outfitted in style!

Skip: Brand-name clothing

Don’t go all out on designer clothing this month, unless you love paying full price. In just a month from now, you can save hundreds of dollars on brand-name clothing, handbags and shoes from most major department stores, partially due to the Nordstrom Anniversary Sale. Put the designer wardrobe on hold, and save a bundle.

Buy: In-season produce

The fresh fruits and vegetables are especially abundant this month. You can enjoy great prices and full flavor on in-season produce all June. Pick up some refreshing watermelon, stock up on all kinds of berries and load up the crisper with stone fruit of all kinds. You can also bring your barbecue dinners up a notch by grilling fresh and in-season corn on the cob, summer squash and even tomatoes. 

Skip: Electronics

School’s out, and so are the deals on laptops and other electronic devices. Older tech has been cleared out, so you won’t find discounts on last year’s models in June. If you need to upgrade your electronics, wait it out a bit until the back-to-school sales start in July and August. 

Buy: Tools and paint

The best deals on tools and paint won’t hit stores until November, but you can still pick up a sweet bargain on these home-improvement essentials in June. Discounts are generally offered around Father’s Day. Look for sales on these items at major home improvement stores, like Lowe’s and Home Depot, to stock up on all you need for your DIY summer project. 

Skip: Patio furniture

You might be spending hours of each day outside this month, but that doesn’t make it an ideal time to furnish your patio in style. Outdoor furniture retails at full-price this month, and won’t start to see discounts until deep into the season, in another month or two. Wait it out a bit to save a ton.

Use the tips here to know what to buy and what to skip this June. 

Your Turn: Have you picked up any great deals in June? Tell us about it in the comments. 

4 Ways to Stay Financially Fit this Summer

Ahh…summer! The season of flip-flops and sunscreen, of lemonade and baseball games. What’s not to love about summer?

Unfortunately, though, summer is also the season of overspending for many. When the sun is blazing across a cloudless sky and the day stretches on with endless possibilities, purse strings are looser and cards are swiped with abandon. But nothing kills summer fun like a busted budget and a mountain of debt. So, how can you stay financially fit this summer?

Keeping your finances intact throughout the summer is well within reach if you’re ready to plan ahead and make responsible choices. Here are four hacks for a summer of financial fitness. 

  1. Prepare for a possible change in income

If you’re a freelancer, business owner or you get paid per diem, you can expect to see a drop in income during the summer months. Business is notoriously slower across a wide range of industries during the summer, so it’s best to be prepared for this reality. To avoid dipping into savings or going into debt, you can trim your discretionary spending and use the extra funds to cover non-discretionary expenses. You can also choose to find a side hustle for the summer to cover the gap in your income. 

  1. Get your budget ready for summer

Your budget will see some changes in the summertime, and it’s a good idea to prepare in advance instead of being caught unaware. Here are some changes you can anticipate:

  • Higher utility bills. With the AC blasting, your energy costs will likely be higher. Water costs can rise, too, especially if you water your lawn and any outdoor plants and flowers on a regular basis. 
  • Increase in fuel prices. Just when you thought it couldn’t go any higher, the price of fuel is likely to jump again in the summer. 
  • Travel expenses. Of course, if you’ll be traveling this summer, it’s going to cost you. If you haven’t yet budgeted for your getaway, start saving up and/or trimming costs from other categories in your budget now.
  • Social events. It’s wedding season, and they don’t come cheap, even if you’re not the one in the white gown. You may also receive invites or host other events during the summer months, such as family reunions, block parties, anniversary celebrations and more. It’s best to budget for gifts, the travel costs of attending these events and of course, for the expense of hosting, if applicable.
  • Activities for kids. School’s out, and the kids need to be kept busy. Aim for free activities whenever possible, but you may want to set aside some funds in your budget for occasional activities that have a price tag attached. 
  1. Create a vacation budget 

Aside from adjusting your monthly spending plan, you’ll want to build a workable budget for your summer getaway to avoid overspending. Money choices are nearly always better made in advance, so plan for every conceivable expense during your vacation. Attach a dollar amount for your hotel stay, car rental, food costs, transportation expenses, entertainment and outings, gifts, and any other cost you might have. Leave a bit of wiggle room for miscalculations, but try to keep your budget as close to the actual cost as possible. While on vacation, be careful not to go over budget and be open to a last-minute change of plans if some expenses end up being substantially higher than expected. 

  1. Review and adjust as necessary

Like going off a diet, blowing a budget is never an excuse to go all out and overspend without sparing a thought to the consequences. To avoid falling into this trap, resolve to review your budget and your overall spending on a regular basis throughout the summer. You can choose to do this weekly, or bi-weekly, but be sure to take a careful account of every dollar in and every dollar out. Being aware of the state of your finances in real-time instead of waking up after the damage has been done will make it easier to make responsible choices going forward. 

The temptation to overspend is especially strong during the summer. Follow these tips to keep your finances intact throughout the summer. 

Your Turn: How do you plan to stay financially fit this summer? Share your tips with us in the comments.

How Can I Save on Super Bowl Sunday?

Q: I’m looking forward to hosting a big party on Super Bowl Sunday and possibly watching my favorite team celebrate their major victory,  but I don’t want to blow my budget on this party. How can I save on hosting a Super Bowl party?

A: Super Bowl parties are always great fun to host, but they can cost a pretty penny. To help cut the costs, we’ve compiled some hosting hacks so you can pull off the party of a lifetime without breaking your budget. 

Don’t fumble the decor

You want to set the mood for your party, but that doesn’t mean you need to drop a ton of cash on decor. Keep it simple with free printables of your team’s logo from sites like Pinterest, and choose party goods in your team colors instead of springing for branded items. Use any football gear you have at home, like jerseys, helmets and actual balls, to give your home a festive feel. If you’re still stuck for ideas or items, hit the dollar stores to score some fun football-themed party goods for just a few bucks. 

Tackle the food together

Just because you’re the one offering your home for the party doesn’t mean you need to handle all the food provisions yourself. You can go potluck and have everyone bring one dish, order takeout and split the bill with all the guests or set up a spreadsheet with all the menu items and have each guest choose one to bring, filling in their job as they choose so everyone knows who’s bringing what and every job gets done. 

Skip the Super Bowl platters

In general, the more niche a product is, the more it’s going to cost – and Super Bowl party food is no exception.  Fast-food chains and grocery stores will aggressively advertise their “game day platters” ahead of Super Bowl Sunday, but these are rarely worth the cost.  Instead, make your own for a fraction of the price and just a few minutes of work.  You can slap together some extra-long hero sandwiches, cut them up and arrange them on a large plate for an easy sub platter.  For your health-conscious guests, slice up everyone’s favorite veggies and add a dip or two for a fresh veggie platter at half the cost you’d pay at the grocery.

Choose the party cut

If you’re making a pizza party, you can still save on costs by knowing what to ask for when you place your order. But first, consider going partially homemade by picking up some frozen pies at a great price in stores like Costco or ALDI. Besides the savings, you’ll have your home smelling awesome just by popping some pies in the oven. 

If you want it hot-from-the-pizza-store fresh, maximize the rewards and coupons that are available at chains like Papa John’s, Domino’s and Pizza Hut. To get even more bang for your buck, use this hack: Ask for the “party cut” on your pizza instead of the traditional triangles. The smaller squares help guests choose portion sizes they’ll actually eat instead of leaving half-eaten slices on their plates. 

Consider your lineup

Don’t just set your buffet with an eye toward what is most aesthetically pleasing. Also consider your budget and place the more affordable items at the head of the line. These are typically grabbed first, and putting them front and center, with the pricier stuff in the back, will help to ensure you don’t run out of any buffet item too quickly or blow your budget on one pricey food. 

Let’s play … bingo!

Let’s face it; not everyone at a Super Bowl party is all that crazy about football. Some are just there as their more sports-inclined partner’s plus-one. Some might show up just because they consider you a friend, and you’re the host. Prepare some games to help keep the party fun for those who aren’t that interested in the game on the screen. You can download Super Bowl bingo cards here, or set up some old-fashioned board games in a quiet corner.

Super Bowl parties don’t have to defeat your budget. Use the tips outlined above to keep costs down while throwing a party that’s truly fit for champions. 

Your Turn: How do you save on costs when hosting a Super Bowl party? Share your best tips and tricks in the comments. 

Practical ways to save on heating costs this winter

As the outside temperature falls, we raise the temperature inside, and with it, heating costs go up, too. While peaceful white snowfall may be picturesque, the winter utility bills are not quite as pretty.

If you’ve been to a gas station or store recently, you’ve seen first-hand how the 6.8% inflation rate is affecting prices on just about everything nowadays. The smaller supply along with increased demand for fuel will really hit home as a result.

Almost half of U.S. households use natural gas heat as their primary fuel source, which costs over 25% more than last year, and consumers are projected to spend 30% more than last winter, on average.

The 41% of U.S. households that heat with electricity, which is up 6.5%, are slated to spend 6% more, according to the Winter Fuels Outlook 2021 report from the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

The 4% of households that heat mostly with heating oil, or the 5% who use propane, could see even bigger cost hikes, between 43-54%.

While we can’t change the weather or the economy, we can change our habits to be smarter for our budget and more environmentally friendly.

Here are some practical ways to keep more heat inside your home and more money inside your wallet.

  1. Add rugs to your floors, such as in the bathroom, to help keep rooms insulated. Dress in layers, warm sweaters and socks. Use flannel sheets and more blankets at night to keep your body heat inside.
  2. Clean or change air filters for heating devices. Debris is unclean for breathing and will keep the warm air from circulating. Move furniture and curtains away from heaters to enable air flow and prevent fire hazards.
  3. Lower the thermostat by 7-10 degrees when everyone is out for the day. An electronic thermostat usually allows you to set the temperature to automatically increase or decrease as your schedule changes each day. If going away for a few days, do not reduce temps to less than 55 degrees to prevent pipes from freezing.
  4.  Call a professional to inspect your furnace and either clean it or upgrade it. The cost can be well worth the savings in heating. An old and dirty furnace system can work at 60 to 70% efficiency; switching to a newer, high-efficiency system can work at 90 to 98%.
  5.  Contact your utility company for a free home check-up. Costs for service or upgrades can be offset by federal tax credits, and utility rebates are available for many energy-efficient upgrades.
  6. Check windows for leaks. Detect air leaks by lighting a candle and watching if it blows in a certain direction. Seal windows with caulking or spray-foam insulation, or cover with plastic insulation sheets. Put draft stoppers under doorways.
  7. Open the shades during sunlight hours to let the sun naturally heat up your space. Close curtains at night to retain your heat and prevent cold night air from entering. Insulated curtains can help to better trap the heat than basic curtains would.
  8. Use plug-in space heaters to warm up isolated areas instead of turning on entire heating zones if all the space is not in use. Place them in open areas, away from flammable items and children or pets. Close vents in rooms that are not being used to avoid unnecessary output.
  9. Switch to LED light bulbs. They use about 75 percent less energy and last about 25 times longer than incandescent bulbs. Though their initial cost is higher, it pays off in the form of reduced electric bills over time. Unplug devices that are not in use.
  10. Reduce your water heater temperature to 120 degrees. Many houses or buildings have water heaters set to a burning temperature of 140 degrees. Reducing it to a comfortable 120 degrees is safer for skin and easier on heating costs.

Following a few of these easy-to-implement tips and hacks for saving on heat costs can make a big difference. Put them to good use so you can sit back and enjoy a cup of hot cocoa during this cold winter, content that you are staying warm and also saving money.

Your Turn:  Are you thinking about putting any of these heat-saving tips into action this winter? Any that should be on our list that we missed? Share in the comments.