Tag Archives: saving money

How Wearing Sweaters in the Winter Can Help Cut Your Electric Bill

I laughed (again) as I read through the growing outrage on Facebook over some recent electric bills. Every year, around the same January through February time period, the same neighborhood FB page gets loaded with comments from people complaining that their bill had doubled, and even tripled over one month. It was a neighborhood with mostly older homes; with many if the homeowners probably not taking the steps to modernize their doors, windows, and insulation. Whether or not the people posting the comments were exaggerating or not, there was no doubt in my mind that their heating bill had likely jumped up, with us coming off of a couple weeks of low temperatures in our area. But how high a bill goes depends, in part, on what people are willing to do to help keep it down.

A month earlier, a friend poised the question on her FB page, asking what people set their thermostats on during the winter. I was very surprised to see a number of responders saying everything from mid-70 to even as high as 78 degrees! I could just feel the sweat pouring down my back thinking about how hot my house would feel at that setting!

Growing up, I remember my mom telling us to “go put a sweater on,” if we complained about the house being too cold in the winter. My mom typically kept it at a firm 68 degrees. When I got my own home, responsible for paying my own bill, I would do the same. When friends would come over, I would turn into my mother if any of them dared to say something about how my house felt. It’s what I also had to say to at least one roommate. “Don’t dress like it’s summer just because you’re in the house.” This was the same roommate who would always want to turn the heat up, but then would sleep with the ceiling fan on because she “liked the sound!”

But back to that informal FB poll my friend took. Many of her friends tried justifying their thermostat settings based upon comfort. They wanted to feel warm enough in their house that they could wear anything. But to me, if I have to sleep in thin PJs, and under only a sheet in the middle of winter, because the house is too warm to use a blanket, then something is wrong. And  I’m pretty sure that many of the same people setting upper 70s on the thermostat are the same ones complaining because their electric bill runs a couple of hundred dollars and more!

According to the Department of Energy, and most electric companies, the best settings to conserve energy and keep your utility bill down is 68 degrees during the day and down to 66 degrees at night. To keep from moving mine back and forth, I just keep it at 66 all day. I figure I’m not home during the day, and will be under covers (or a throw in the chair while watching television), with a nice blanket or two in bed.

“You can save as much as 10% a year on heating and cooling by simply turning your thermostat back 7°-10°F for 8 hours a day from its normal setting. The percentage of savings from setback is greater for buildings in milder climates than for those in more severe climates.

You can easily save energy in the winter by setting the thermostat to 68°F while you’re awake and setting it lower while you’re asleep or away from home.”

— Department of Energy

I believe that oftentimes when people say they’re looking for ways to save money, what they don’t say is that they want to do it without sacrifices or inconveniences. But like almost anything that’s worth doing, there will almost always be some type of sacrifice and perhaps an inconvenience to it.

The truth of the matter is that you can’t have it both ways. You can’t save money on your electric bill while allowing your heat to run all day. You don’t save energy when the system’s running at 78 degrees in the winter. And when you calculate other places where you might be losing some of the energy that you’re trying to save — like old single-pane windows, cracks and spaces around and under the door, or poor insulation in attic or walls, it can really add up.

So if you are serious about saving on your heating bill this winter, it’s not too late. And every little bit helps. Most electric companies provide their customers with brochures and online links describing how people can save money. My city’s electric company has a list on theirs with some helpful tips:

Save Energy This Winter

  1. Turn the thermostat down to 68 degrees or lower and bundle up with a cozy sweater and warm socks.
  2. Look into easy solutions like weather-stripping and caulking to prevent cold air from entering your home.
  3. Close curtains & blinds at night to protect against cold drafts. Open them during the day to let in the sun’s warmth.
  4. Clean or replace your furnace filter regularly. A dirty filter will slow air flow and make your system work harder.
  5. Keep the garage door closed as much as possible to help buffer cold outdoor air from trickling into your home.

So the next time you’re tempted to turn the heat up, go put on a sweater, grab a nice throw; fix a hot cup of tea, and remind yourself how much money you’ll save over the course of the season if you leave it where it is.

Spring Break at the Beach

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Isn’t it beautiful?! There’s nothing quite like spending some vacation time at the beach, sitting on the warm sands, watching the sunrise in the morning. And then returning that evening, after  full day of doing nothing, to watch it set. One of the things I’ve missed about leaving South Carolina for Tennessee is that the once two-and-a-half hour drive to the Atlantic ocean now takes over ten!

I invited myself to the beach with them once I learned their spring break was the same week as mine! It’s the first time it’s happened since I started teaching, and my schedule became dictated by semesters instead of calendar years. I knew they wouldn’t mind, and after the last six months, I needed a real break; not the kind you take over the holidays, where most of your time is spent decorating the house, visiting people, attending events, and hosting family and friends. I wanted, no needed a REAL break! I needed to see the ocean again, feel the warm sunshine on my face while digging in to the sand between my toes. I wanted to not set an alarm clock, wake up to the sounds of the waves, and listen to the high pitched screech of the water birds, drowned out only by the laughter of young children running from the water’s edge. I didn’t want to wait until summer. I needed it now!

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But somewhere along the way, what I wanted; what I needed; and what actually happened didn’t line up!

Okay, yes, I agree. It was the grown-up thing to do to call and UNinvite myself from a week in (almost) paradise. But that was the point. I didn’t want to act like a grown up. I wanted some ME time. Sure there were papers to be graded, which I knew would be a challenge to do sitting pool side, most likely distracted by the splash of the swimmers, and the lure of the lazy river that meandered beside the swimming pool. And while taking long walks down the beach would have been just the kind of medicine I needed to help destress and refocus my mind, and de-tense my body, I probably would have been thinking about all of the other stuff that needed doing at my house — like sorting through stacks of papers, preparing my taxes, cleaning my den and home office, and picking up all those twigs and small branches that keep falling over into my backyard from my neighbor’s overgrown and unkept trees that line our border!

But none of those things are the real reason why I’m sitting back here in Nashville instead of chilling out there, in North Myrtle Beach this week! The real reason for my grown up decision came down to the most basic of things — money! I was forced to count the cost of engaging in this “free” vacation, in light of something more significant that I’m saving for  happening later in the year.

Under normal circumstances, I would not have thought twice about spending the money in gas (for the 1400-mile round trip journey), snacks, meals on the road, and sharing in the costs of food and entertainment once I got there. But that’s just it. Most people don’t think about all of the extra money it takes to take advantage of something that’s FREE. If you’re on a budget, or just watching your spending, you can’t just count the things you want. Money spent is money spent. What goes out today isn’t going to be there tomorrow.

When I talk about budgets in class, I start by having my students write down the amount for everything they currently spend in a month. I think it’s important to have a visual of your habits so that reality sets in before you make out a budget. I remind my students that they have to include everything — every cup of coffee, pack of gum, bottle of water, smartphone upgrade, oil change, new shoes, hair cut, mani-pedi, and pair of sunglasses they just couldn’t resist. For me, that would have meant adding about $200 in gas and probably another $100 for food; not including money for going out.

So while I would rather be curled up in a chair on the balcony of the condo right now, reading a good book and taking in all of the fresh salty smells of the coast, I know that putting off instant gratification today means being able to do something bigger and better later; like maybe this summer, when I’ll have  an entire month to chill!

What about you? When’s the last time you’ve taken a visual of your spending habits? Why not do it now, instead of waiting until you’re ready to take off for somewhere.

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Along Comes a Baby and More

Two weeks ago I spent Saturday afternoon at the baby shower of a long time friend. Sometimes, it’s really hard for me to believe just how long I’ve known this young lady, because she was only 13 years old when we first met. I’ve watched her grow up; become successful in not one, but several careers in her young life; fall in love, get married, and now…prepare to have her first baby!

In spite of how long it’s been since I first met her, I was still truly honored to be remembered and invited to her baby shower; as well being at her wedding, and the weddings and baby showers of her sisters. And after 23 years of having the pleasure of our professional relationship, what matters more is the lasting personal friendship.

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In addition to hanging out with her though, I ran into some other ladies who I’ve met in the same circles over the years. What is so cool about that? I realized at some point in the afternoon that we were all talking about our business, ministries, and professional activities we were engaged in.

Since starting Catching Raindrops in Water Buckets, I’m always on the look out for finding young teens, college students, and women who are taking control of their financial futures by creating, developing, designing, and running their own businesses now, and not waiting for some magical moment to descend. So whether it’s service-oriented, consulting, talent-driven, beauty and fitness, health care, or even the entertainment industry that I myself am a part of, when my friends and former associates start branching out on their own, I want to be a major cheerleader, to help spread the word, as well as sharing any knowledge and suggestions I might have in any given area.

As I sat there listening as we caught up with one another, I took note of one young lady who said she’d been really busy lately working, but primarily for other people. She had been a Work for Hire with another company, but the content was totally hers. She said she was ready to take control over her brand. I knew she was right. She DID need to take over her own brand.

Another lady chimed in moments later, and said she’d been running her own company for almost a year, but was having financial challenges due to her lack of discipline with her money. I was impressed at her honesty. Since she was a single mother, she knew how important it was to get control over that area of her life, not just for the sake of growing her business, but for her family. I asked a few direct questions and uncovered at least a large part of the problem. For her, she was spending way more money picking up meals on the way home, rather than going shopping and preparing them at home.

It can be very tempting to take the safe way out — like working for someone else and picking up a pay check. Or the easy way out — like running through the drive-thru on the way home. But in the end, it almost always costs you more money. Being a Work for Hire, might be a way in to getting business, but it should be just that — a way to get in, not a means to stay in. Otherwise, your talent, and hard work is building someone else’s company and bank account. And at the end of each month, stopping by restaurants and fast food chains might seem economical, and definitely convenient, but the money adds up. Where you see only spending $10.00 on dinner tonight, it becomes $50.00 by the end of the week, which quickly adds up to $200.00 or more by the end of the month. And that doesn’t include the groceries that you DO buy for the other meals of the day. The reality is that smart shopping and creative meal planning will cost you a lot less than pizza, a bucket of chicken, or four kids’ meals a few times a week.

As I’ve said many times before, planning is the key. Whether you’re planning how to branch out on your own, build your own business, create a secondary source of income; or planning how best to save money for your family on meals and other household items, the main part of the process is the Plan.

When’s the last time you’ve asked yourself about your Life Plan? Do you have one? Where do you want to be this time next year? What about five years from now? Ten? Have you even given thought to what your financial situation will be when you’re ready to retire? What happens if you lose your job years before that retirement time?

There are a lot of questions we prefer not to think about; after all, we’re young, or perhaps already well off; or we think our job will last forever. But the truth is that we can’t control what the future holds. Things happen. Life happens. But we can begin to plan for various outcomes so that we are better prepared, should something unexpected come our way.

Why not grab a journal, and take a few moments to ask yourself some of these questions. Then step away, and come back to your answers later. Are they what you think they should be, or what you want them to be?

Think about that, and let’s talk more about it later.

Back to School Time

Don’t shoot the messenger, but the clock is ticking down to the start of the new school year! Now, for those of you northerners and west coast readers, you’re probably thinking, that woman’s crazy! We just got out a few weeks ago, and the fall start is almost two months away. Right? Well..wrong…if you live in the Southern states. My home state of Tennessee is headed back to class the first week of August. You read correctly.

Three weekends from now, several southern state parents will be franticly running around the shopping malls and discount stores, trying to finish up their required school supply lists, and purchase clothes and computer items needed for that following week. Maybe that’s why the planned Sales Tax Holiday for some states, including Tennessee, begins at the end of this month (July 29-31).

Now for those of you whose kids don’t return to school until after Labor Day, take a moment to catch your breath, lest that jaw dropping, big gasp moment finds you at a permanent loss of air.

Yes, gone are the days when summer break is a three-month vacation; except for most college students. But as a (really small) business owner, in addition to my full-time job as a college professor, this is one of my favorite times of the year. It’s not because I’m looking forward to getting stuck behind a school bus, or having to slow down through school zones, and everything else that school being back in brings! But I am looking forward to taking advantage of all of the back to school sales and savings that are about to kick off this week!

And while I don’t have any kids in school, that doesn’t keep me from taking advantage of stocking up on supplies during the sales tax holiday weekend. Remember, I’m all about planning ahead and saving money in the process. So as I look to expand my own back to work wardrobe, I might as well do it during the back to school sales extravaganza!

Now’s a good time to be on the lookout for what’s being offered. For starters, the one cent sale (on select items) is back at Office Depot. Other stores like Staples, Walmart, and Target, among others, have the predictable savings on basic school supplies as well as technology needs. So it’s not too early for you to do a little online research to seek out the best savings for what your household’s needs are, which helps to eliminate wasting gas driving all over town for different items, or paying too much for certain ones.

Want to read more about Back to School savings, check out this article on CBS Money Watch.

Summertime Shopping

The word is spreading. And I’m happy about it!

Hung out with an old college friend last weekend. We spent a couple of days at Edisto Beach during my visit back to my South Carolina home state. Let me start out first with saying it’s really great having friends who want to spend quality time with you; especially friends you only get to see once a year. It’s even better when that friend offers up their family’s condo to do just that! It is a nice place on a beautiful golf course, with a small pond filled with large turtles. Are you getting the picture?

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Yes. It was a peaceful place to just do nothing. And we tried to do as much of that as we could.

But during one of our talkfests, Leigh was excited to share with me some really cool savings she happened upon on the way down to the beach. I don’t remember if she said it or I mentioned it, but the topic of catching raindrops came up as she started to share her incredible shopping savings.

Leigh is the mother of three, including two college students! She’s also married to an accountant. So making wise financial decisions is an important part of her daily family life. As a high school principal, Leigh also wants to be able to look professionally good at work. So when she went into a retail store to trade out a bathing suit she’d purchased earlier, she noticed a store sale that she couldn’t resist; after all, since she works year-round, and not off for the summer months as many of her teachers are, she needed a few more pieces for those super hot summer days in the South.

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But she wasn’t expecting such great savings; like the $90.00 dress she picked up for only $20 bucks! And the $58.00 blouse she got for $14.00. But probably the best savings of the day was a $50.00 shirt for just $5.00! So for less than $40.00 Leigh walked away with almost $200.00 worth of merchandise. And not just any merchandise, but clothes she actually needs and will wear. You see, that makes the difference. Shopping just for sales is the beginning of a problem, if that’s your only motivation. And that’s not where we at Catching Raindrops in Water Buckets, are coming from. However, if you’re shopping for need, then take the time to seek out sales, so that you’re also saving money (catching those raindrops) in the process!

So take the time to look for ways to save those dollars the next time you go shopping. There are plenty of savings out there for the taking. As a matter of fact, we’re coming into the best time period to purchase summer clothing and shoes for incredible prices. Why? Because our retailers seem to think that we’re ready for them to start loading in the Back to School fall items; even though the calendar says it’s not even the official first day of summer (June 21)!

But remember, their craziness is our gain!

Catching Raindrops in Water Barrels

I love hearing from people who have made changes in their lives because of something I’ve shared here, and on our Facebook page, or challenges I’ve made to encourage others on ways to take control over their own financial future. It’s not always possibly for someone to take on a second job; or even in some cases, working outside the home at all. But there are lots of ways we can all make changes to help save and stretch the use of the money that IS coming in to the home. So I was really excited to hear from a friend of mine who had not only done just that…but utilized one avenue quite literally, by catching raindrops in her water (buckets) barrels!

Meet Erica Manly, a stay at home mom, who previously worked full-time outside the home. Much has changed in Erica’s life over the past five years, including marriage, quitting her day job, having a baby, and moving three hours away from her family for her husband’s job. Erica’s life changed…so Erica had to learn how to adjust her lifestyle to her new normal. Let me let her tell you more about that.

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My name is Erica and I’m a wife and stay at home mom to the cutest and busiest little three year old you’ve ever seen. In order to make it possible to stay with her full-time and to save for our future (and hers), I am always looking for ways for our family to save wherever we can. We became even more serious about saving last year after reviewing exactly how much money was going out every month. I started serious couponing first, because most of our budget was going to the grocery store. I wouldn’t call what I do “extreme couponing”, but we are definitely saving about $400 per month in comparison to two years ago between the grocery and other big box store spending. And as a bonus, our cupboards and closets are full of food and toiletries!

I also took up gardening last year with one raised bed garden of vegetables. Whenever I decide to start a project like this, I’m sure my husband cringes as this means work for him. He built a nice raised bed for me and filled it with a truck load of dirt. Our friend had started extra tomato plants and had other extra seeds, so we actually spent absolutely nothing on our plants!

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As a new gardener, I noticed how much more everything grew when it rained in comparison to my usual watering from the hose. Our friend calls it “magic water”.

Partly inspired by our Catching Raindrops friend, Gloria, I told my husband that I needed a rain barrel. The way I remember it, he rolled his eyes and sighed. A couple days later, my man was researching rain barrels and told me he found some 55 gallon drums for sale nearby and had found a way to tie them into our downspout under the back porch. Within a week, the project was complete – three 55 gallon drums filled with water after one good rain.

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I can’t break down exactly how much money it is saving us, but I was watering our new landscaping on the front of the house and/or the veggie garden almost everyday. Since installing the rain collection system, I have only pulled the garden hose back out a few times. I am looking forward to expanding my garden this spring to two raised beds of vegetables and using my good and bad experiences from last year to improve. My husband will also add another rain barrel or two to be sure we never run out of rain water.

While my ways may be extreme to some, and my reasons to save money may be different from yours, there are almost always ways to spend less and save more for a rainy (or even not rainy) day!

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go follow my child around while turning off lights and try to explain (again) that just because you can flip all the light switches now doesn’t mean you need to turn all the lights on!

Three Reasons Why You Should Join Rewards Programs

I’m sitting in a Starbucks, back in my SC hometown where I like to visit during the first weeks of summer. I just enjoyed lunch on Starbucks, including a Turkey Rustico Panini and sweet tea. Yes, I said lunch ON Starbucks, not just “in” Starbucks.

It’s been almost a year since I signed up for their Rewards program. And while I’m still trying to figure out exactly how their Bonus Stars program works, one thing that works for me is the birthday gift they load onto the card each year! So today, I had a FREE sandwich and a discounted drink to accompany my hang time at the restaurant, catching up on email and social media stuff.

I have often talked about the “rewards” that come with signing up for Loyalty and Rewards Programs; especially with places that you already support. But even with places you don’t normally shop, receiving a freebie just for having a birthday is a great excuse to try something new, or just enjoy a treat at a place you perhaps would otherwise never have visited.

Monday was my birthday. But my celebration started a week earlier. Though I’m a huge supporter of certain rewards programs, it was one of my sisters who turned me on to a number of restaurant programs I’d been missing out on. Two years ago I signed up for Red Robin’s birthday club and started enjoying a FREE burger (which comes with fries) for my birthday each year. I love their program because I don’t have to eat-in to take advantage of it. Not so with Applebees, whose free dessert I have missed two years in a row. But I did take advantage of a FREE Honeybaked Ham sandwich I grabbed on my way to the movies (aren’t large purses the best?), and went to Buffalo Wings after church last weekend, enjoying a FREE Shareable, their fancy word for Appetizer. An yeah, they did make money on us for lunch, but you don’t have to give in to that. Just go with some friends after work and enjoy an appetizer for FREE! Plus, shortly after that visit, they sent me another email offering me free wings to complete a survey about my previous visit. Who wouldn’t want to take advantage of that??

I had a meeting at Panera a week ago, and took advantage of the FREE birthday pastry that day. But I missed signing up for Jersey Mike’s Subs in time (they require two weeks in advance of your birthday), so my FREE sub sandwich treat will have to wait until next year. Again, you don’t have to make the same mistake. Sign up today! What still awaits me in my email is a FREE breakfast at IHOP, a FREE scoop of ice cream at Marble Slab Creamery, and an email from another organization listing other deals I didn’t even know about, including a FREE burger at Ruby Tuesdays and a complimentary steak dinner at Ponderosa Steakhouse.

Lest you think it’s all about the food (though I make no apologies for having various lunches and dinners taken care of during this vacation time period), there are also numerous other stores where you can take advantage of their birthday club program. My favorite place to get gas near where I live is Thornton’s, where I regularly enjoy a three cent savings on gas each time I fill up (ditto with Kroger). But for my birthday, Thornton’s sent to my card a 10 cents off per gallon special discount. Perfect timing to use for my long my drive back to TN. And earlier today, I picked up a tea kettle from World Market that was similar to a more expensive one I’d wanted on an online site; only today I not only paid less for it, but was able to use my 15% birthday discount for the purchase. Now to be honest, I didn’t really consider this to be that great of a deal, since up until this year, World Market gave a TEN DOLLAR birthday coupon, which made going by there worth the trip. But now they’ve changed it, which will likely negatively impact the number of people they drive to their stores, since it’s hardly worth the special trip given compared to what they offered before. I only stopped because I was in the area.

I also discovered several websites that list a number of the places offering free or discounted items, meals, and services for your birthday. this time next year, my list will at least double with all that I’ve uncovered during this birthday celebration!

So why bother with loyalty and reward programs just for your birthday week?

First, most of them offer discounts on their products, meals and services year-round. If it’s something you would use, eat, or buy for a friend, why not save money on it?

Second, the majority of them have worthwhile Freebies to take advantage of during your birthday week; some up to a month to redeem.

Third, if you’re saving money on that overpriced, but still hugely popular Mocha Frappucino, you can spend that money on something else instead  — like, say an extra gallon of gas or half of next month’s water bill!

I’m just saying!