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Getting Ahead
4th Quarter 2013

In this issue:

There's an App for That

How to Create a Household Budget for the New Year

7 Areas Where You Can Reduce Your Winter Energy Bill

There's an App for That

AppsYour smart phone could be full of bargains in the form of coupon and discount apps. Designed to save you money on everything from groceries to internet service, these hidden gems can make app shopping worth your time.

Grocery iQ
No need to tote around a stack full of paper coupons when you're grocery shopping - they're all contained within Grocery iQ. Make your grocery list within the app, and the app will tell you if there are coupons associated with the item you want to buy. You can also "clip" coupons you find in the app and print them from your phone with a wireless printer.

This app will help you maximize rewards and cash back from your credit cards. First, enter your credit cards into the app. Then, using the GPS on your phone, the app will help you identify the retailer or restaurant you're in and let you know which card you should use to get the most cash back or reward points. The best part: If you feel uncomfortable putting all your credit card information into the app, you can simply enter the type of credit cards you have to find out what card is best to use when.

You can actually make money with this app when you go shopping. Here’s how it works: Select your deals before you head to the store - most of them require you to vote in a poll, read a recipe or watch a commercial before you can claim it. After you go shopping, take a photo of your receipt and Ibotta will verify your purchases and credit your account within 24 hours - the cash is loaded onto a PayPal account.

With this app, you can completely get rid of your wireless internet. PdaNet+ will turn your phone into a wireless hotspot for your other devices. I would recommend experimenting with the app first before you canceling your internet completely - it doesn’t work on ALL android devices.

Article courtesy of WGNTV

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How to Create a Household Budget for the New Year

New year's resolutionGetting your finances in order is a great new year's resolution! Use these simple tips to set yourself on the right financial path for 2014.

Keep it simple!
If something is too much effort, we are more likely to procrastinate or just plain give up. So we need our budget to be as simple as possible, breaking down expense and income as easily as we can and putting things into categories that make sense for us.  Start with a budget template that contains four sections: Beginning Balance, Income, expenditures and Ending Balance. That's simple!

Save that receipt!
Get a basket or a manila envelope and save those receipts, all your receipts. Everything you spend or deposit should have a receipt of some sort, even if it is an entry in your check register. Save the receipts all month, then seal up the envelope for storage after you have logged them and updated your budget.

If you have a lot of receipts, this is a good opportunity to review them and see what things you could do without to save money.

Make an appointment with yourself to update your budget every month, and keep it!
Set a day every month to update your budget, and make it the most important thing you do that day. If you ever have a reason that you can't do it that day, do it the day before. Part of the concept behind making it simple is the idea that it shouldn't take you that long to stay on top of your money.

The Budget
Now that we have established our four categories, we're saving our receipts and have a day every month to update our budget; we're ready to get started. Microsoft has some great templates in their template library that you can use here. Also, Quicken is a fantastic tool for managing your money. If you do not have a computer, Excel, or a comparable program, you can still manage your budget. You will just need a calculator and a pad of paper. I know it may sound archaic to some, but that's how we did it before computers were readily available.

We have our receipts, our income and our resources. Let’s get down to business. The first step is to identify and log your income(s) for the month. Add these together and put them in the spreadsheet. Add in any auxiliary income such as earnings from an internet site, lottery winnings or anything else that you made. Don't leave anything out, as these are critical to understanding your overall spending versus income, and this record is for your own financial planning.

The next step is to categorize your expenditures. For most of us, our largest expenses are mortgage/rent and car payments. These can be entered individually. Next would come utilities like gas and electric, telephone, water, sewer, trash, internet access and cable television. Groceries can be a stand-alone item because this is where a lot of people can realize some large savings by examining their spending and making adjustments to what they buy and how they use coupons and sales. Then our other living expenses like health and beauty, medical and anything else purchased that you need to get by. Entertainment and miscellaneous expenses can be aggregated as well. Categorize all these things by adding up your receipts and check register, and enter them in a spreadsheet.

Now we have a clear look at our income, expenditures and what we have left at the end of the month. Our ending balance is then carried over to the next month as our beginning balance and we start the whole process over. I have added a couple of cells for examining the variance month to month, and annually. The monthly variance will tell you how you are doing as compared to the previous month. The annual variance will tell you how you are doing compared to the monthly ending balance you started with in January, giving you an idea of the overall trend.

This is a simple, easy-to-use way to examine your budget and keep track of your spending for the new year. There are many more complex methods that you could use, calculating retirement, savings and net worth, but for a lot of people they can be somewhat daunting and are easily put off after the first couple of months. The important part is to make sure you have an eye on your spending and can track your money effectively.

Article courtesy of Yahoo! Voices

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7 Areas Where You Can Reduce Your Winter Energy Bill

HeatingAs you dig out your sweaters and winter coats and prepare to ward off the cold, you also should think about ways to ward off higher energy bills in your home. More than 90% of American households can expect to pay more to heat their homes this winter because of higher fuel costs, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Here are some simple, low-costs steps you can take to cut your winter heating bill. None of these changes require big investments to put them into place, yet they can add to big savings for you.

Focus on the furnace
Home heating is a big energy user, accounting for 45% of your bill.

  • You can save 5% to 15% of your heating costs by lowering your thermostat by 10 or 15 degrees for eight hours a day, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. That's up to 1% in savings for each degree you lower your thermostat.
  • Because of limitations with various forms of heating, that might not be the best choice if you have a heat pump, electric resistance heating, steam heating or radiant floor heating. If you have one of those systems, just lowering the thermostat a degree or two, and leaving it there, will save you money in the long run.
  • Be sure to replace your furnace filter regularly - monthly depending on the kind you buy. Some filters run as little as a couple bucks, but don't help clean the air. More expensive filters do a better job of removing particles from the air.
Water heaters
Water heating is your second-biggest energy user, accounting for 18% of your bill.
  • Make sure the thermostat on your water heater is set at 120 degrees. That cuts the amount of heat lost into the surrounding area, according to the nonprofit Residential Energy Services Network.
  • Wrapping your older water heater in an insulation jacket and insulating your hot water pipes also will help save you money.
Cracks and gaps
There are plenty of places where warm air can seep out of your house, while the cold creeps in.
  • Thoroughly check the interior and exterior of your house for cracks and gaps. Pay particular attention to areas around chimneys, furnace flues, pipes, electrical outlets, windows and doors.
  • You can fill in small spaces with caulk, and use spray foam to seal bigger openings.
  • By installing a door sweep under exterior doors, you'll prevent cold drafts from blowing in. They're often available for free when your utility company has a community event.
Attic and basement
Your attic may be insulated, but it's easy to overlook the attic door. Adding a layer of insulation to the door will prevent heating from rising into that space.
  • While you're in the attic, check your ducts. If you find any rips or holes, use mastic or foil tape to seal those.
  • Then check the basement. RESNET recommends checking the basement rim joist at the top of the basement wall, where the cement meets the wood frame. It's often a source of heat loss, so be sure to add insulation.
Inefficient windows can account for 10% to 25% of heating loss, according to the DOE.
  • Instead of a costly window replacement project, you can install window film that resembles plastic wrap and helps retain heat. The film is applied on the interior of your windows, and can be easily removed when spring rolls around.
  • Another way to reduce heat loss is to keep drapes closed at night or when the sun isn't streaming in. The DOE says closing the drapes can reduce heat loss by up to 10 percent. When it's sunny, open your blinds or drapes and let the sun pour in and warm your home.
Unless you're using your fireplace, keep the damper closed. A chimney creates a draft, pulling air from the room. An open damper lets warm air, and your money, go up your chimney like smoke.

Ceiling fans
You probably don't give a second thought to using ceiling fans in summer to keep your house cool. Most ceiling fans have a switch so you can set the blades to rotate in reverse, pushing the warm air that's near the ceiling down toward the floor.

Article courtesy of Money Talks News and MSN News

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