Managing Money

Saving, budgeting, investing

The Green Apartment

Solar panels, programmable thermostats and STAR appliances—when it comes to being green, homeowners seem to have all the fun! But there are simple ways that apartment dwellers can make their living spaces more green as well.

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Reduce Your Bathroom Water Waste

Photo credit: Hemera Collection/Thinkstock

Dear EarthTalk: Is it true that the bathroom is where over half of our household water usage takes place? What are some ways to take a bite out of that?
-- Shelby McIntyre, Chico, CA

YYes indeed, some 60 percent of our household indoor water usage happens in the bathroom. As such, updating old leaky fixtures and changing a few basic habits could go a long way to not only saving fresh water, an increasingly precious resource, but also money.

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Are Plastics a Good Idea for Food Preservation?

Freezing foods in plastic containers isn't as worrisome as heating them, but if you're leery of plastic, glass containers designed to withstand large temperature extremes, such as Ball Jars (aka Mason jars), like the one pictured here, or anything made by Pyrex, can be a sensible alternative. Just be sure not to load them to the brim as some foods expand when frozen.
Photo credit: Johnathunder, Wikipedia.

Dear EarthTalk: I love to cook and when I have the time I make soups, stews and pasta meals in large batches and freeze them. I use leftover plastic containers, but I know this is not good. What kinds of containers are safe for freezer food storage?
-- Kathy Roberto, via e-mail

Reusing leftover plastic food containers to store items in the freezer may be noble environmentally, but it might not be wise from the perspective of keeping food safely frozen and tasting its best when later heated up and served. Many such containers are designed for one-time use and then recycling, so it’s not worth risking using them over and over. Likewise, wax paper, bread wrappers and cardboard cartons should not be used to store frozen foods; these types of containers don’t provide enough of a barrier to moisture and odors and also may not keep food fresh when frozen.

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5 Frugal Finds That Can Change Your Life

Whether we are trying to balance a family and a career, or living in this economy as a single woman, we are all trying our best to better our lives while saving money. Three of the most important areas of our lives we have the power to change are our health, our money, and our relationships. And it doesn't have to cost a lot of money to make a difference. Here are 5 great frugal finds under $10 that can change your life, for the better!

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Home Solar Energy

Converting an existing home to solar power can cost upwards of $25,000 and is probably not be a good investment for most people, strictly economically speaking. But if you’re building a new home, incorporating a solar system from the get-go is simply a matter of choosing solar over something else and therefore may pencil out much better. Photo credit: Student Design and Experiential Learning Center, courtesy Flickr.

Dear EarthTalk: Is it now feasible to provide all of a home’s energy needs—including air conditioning—with solar power alone? If so, why hasn’t solar caught on more, particularly in U.S. “Sun Belt” states from southern California east to Florida?
-- Tim Douglas, Burlington, VT

It has been possible for years if not decades to provide all of a home’s energy needs with solar power. The technology is here and is only getting more efficient and less obtrusive every day. The only real stumbling block is cost: Solar systems capable of meeting all of an average U.S. home’s energy needs start at around $25,000. Given how inexpensive the grid-based power we now get all across the country remains—and, bear in mind that many utilities are working more and more renewable energy sources, like wind power, into their mix—going solar alone just doesn’t pencil out economically for most people.

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Make Your Own Gift Baskets EBook

Don't purchase another expensive gift basket--
YOU can create terrific & unique gift baskets yourself for a fraction of the price!
Learn How to Make Gift Baskets at Home!

Dear Readers,

Saving money on gifts is a favorite topic around here. We all have holidays, birthdays, anniversaries and other gift-giving occasions to deal with, and it adds up, doesn't it!

But no one wants to be a "skin-flint," or worse, see our gift "re-gifted" at a garage sale! We want our gifts to be appropriate and wanted--we want people to see we went to some trouble and were really thinking about them. Right? Of course.

Nothing says, "I'm really thinking about you" more than a custom gift basket--and nothing could be more expensive!

Have you priced a gift basket lately? Yow! Talk about sticker shock! But it's hard to look past those beautiful hampers, when you know the person you're shopping for would just love what's inside.

Here's a thought:

Make the gift basket yourself!

This guide can show you exactly how to put together 99 different homemade gift baskets--baskets you can easily customize even further for a gift your loved ones will know was made just for them!

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The New Homemaker EBook of Crockpot Cookery

Fast, economical, healthy and flavor-packed, crockpot meals can save you money, time and hassle--and your family will love them! You'll get 250 crockpot recipes for every meal:

  • Breakfast
  • Drinks
  • Appetizers and dips
  • Hearty soups and stews
  • Roasts and chops
  • ...Even dessert--you can bake a cake in a crockpot with your favorite recipe!

SAVE TIME: These recipes are easy to plan ahead, and the crockpot does the work--you're free to do other things instead of standing over the stove tapping your toes.

SAVE MONEY: The cheap cuts of meat in these recipes are better for crockpot cooking, and are more flavorful than expensive ones. Once you taste these dishes, you may find out you prefer brisket to steak!

SAVE DINNER! With a crockpot and this book, you can make tasty, nutritious and inexpensive meals while you work, play or sleep.

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A Craft Fair Goldmine Ebook

Psst! Be sure to read all the way to the end so you don't miss the free bonuses--more than 500 craft ideas that come with this ebook!

Do you love making unique gifts and keepsakes with your hands? Do you wish you had more time so that you could do more crafting and maybe make money doing it? If so, this could be the most wonderful message you've ever read! Why?

Because I Can Teach You How to Succeed Selling Your Own Crafts!

It's a huge step when you decide to take a hobby to the next level and start trying to make money off of it. It's a little scary, but it can be so very rewarding. The key to making your crafting business a success is being prepared and armed with information. You have to know what you're doing before you start.

That's why I'm offering you this wonderful ebook, "Craft Fair Goldmine," to help you along the way! This is more than just a guidebook, it's a training manual designed especially for you--the beginning craft business owner.

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Life of the Party

Considering cancelling your annual holiday shindig because of cost? No need. "With planning and a little creativity, it's easy to throw a great party without spending a lot of money," says former caterer Denise Vivaldo, author of Do It for Less! Parties: Tricks of the Trade from Professional Caterers' Kitchens and Do It For Less! Wedding: How to Create Your Dream Wedding Without Breaking the Bank. Try some of her favorite themes for successful celebrations on a shoestring. Your guests will never guess that you didn't spend a bundle on them.

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Save Money on Groceries

Let's face it, with the way things are today with gas and grocery prices going up (and just about everything else) most of us are doing what we can to save money on groceries. I know you've heard it all; coupons, shop the sales, using rebates...but I have a simple technique that I have found is the best way to save money on groceries for my family. So no matter how much money you make, or how much you spend, anyone can save money!

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Have you changed your driving habits?

Yes, I've drastically reduced my driving
43% (49 votes)
Yes, I've reduced it a little
37% (42 votes)
Yes, I drive more
1% (1 vote)
No, I drive the same amount
18% (20 votes)
I never had a car to begin with
2% (2 votes)
Total votes: 114

Quicken 2008 Premier

Had to upgrade, our old program was no longer supported and we couldn't download transactions anymore.

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Process and Paperwork

Getting your offer accepted is half the battle in completing your home purchase.

First and foremost, you want to make sure the property is worth what you're willing to pay for it. Your lender will send out an appraiser to check out the property and compare it to similar properties that have recently sold in the neighborhood.

While the home is being appraised, you'll need to hire a professional home inspector to check out the physical condition of the home. Even though you and your agent may have toured the property several times, looked in the closets, attic and basement and even turned on the appliances, savvy home buyers use an inspector to catch those harder to detect items, like loose roof shingles.

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Frustration of a Seller's Market

The problem with being a homebuyer these days is that you have the best and worst of home buying all rolled into the current market.

Interest rates are hovering around seven percent, with lower rates available on adjustable rate mortgages. Low interest rates boosts home buying power. At current interest rates, if you have no other debt and some cash to put down on your home, you'll be able to buy three to nearly four times your gross annual income. That's a lot of house, if you can find one.

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Save Energy Save Money

Where the last review of a Reader's Digest home repair book, 1001 Do-It-Yourself Hints and Tips, fell short, this one comes through in spades. The last book was excellent bathroom fodder, and this book makes more reading room or kitchen table reading.

Which is odd, given that *this* book has a specific focus, and a stated goal of providing "201 Do-It-Yourself Projects, Tips, and Ideas" that are supposed to save the homeowner money.

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1001 Do-It-Yourself Hints and Tips

I luuurv me some home improvement books! No, seriously. They are fun to peruse through while eating gluten free fish and chips on the couch. They are the perfect reading while in the bathroom--reading about repairing a toilet while...yeah, it makes sense, actually.

The problem I have with this book is that it is very very very brief.

Oh, sure, the tips are valid, but they are also kinda dumb for the better than average home-owner, and far UNDER-detailed for the less than average homeowner.

Example #1: if your tub is dripping, you might as well go outside, drink a cup of coffee and wait for the repairman you called just a few minutes ago. Why would you sit outside with a big cuppa joe after getting all dressed up in your fancy dancy short-wasted plumbers pants? Cuz it's not in the book.

Need to replace an outlet? This is your book. Need to replace your attic vents? Read the book, then call a repairman...the instructions here are so light that they are in danger of wafting off with the loose bits of insulation you are sure to cut out of your roof.

Overall, get this book. No, seriously, and then leave it behind the toilet for that light reading. Inspiring it is, but don't plan on anchoring a "This Old House" crew after your morning sojourn.

Making an Offer the Seller Can't Refuse

My friends have just made an offer for a home. At first, the negotiations went smoothly and they and the sellers agreed on a price. But suddenly, the discussions stalled, and my friend was confused.

"We've agreed to their price. Why don't they come back and accept our counter offer?" she asked.

Why indeed? It seems silly that sellers would balk on the final acceptance of a counter-offer when their property has been sitting vacant for the past six months. Wouldn't they want to go on with their lives?

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Let Your Retailer Manage Your Contractors

This year, homeowners will spend more than $150 billion on home improvement, maintenance and renovation projects. That number, say analysts, will continue to grow, which will only increase the odds that the contractor or subs you hire to complete your job won't be as talented or experienced as you might like. In fact, one of the most frustrating aspects of home improvement is finding qualified contractors to complete the job.

But someday soon you may be able to get around all that.

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Buying a Fixer-Upper

Why do people buy fixer-uppers?

They're looking for a real estate investment: Buy a home that needs work, throw some time and money into it, and then sell it for a profit.

Fixer-uppers are a way to buy a home in a preferred neighborhood that may otherwise out of reach financially.

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Choosing A Loan

What kind of loan should you choose? Consider the lower cost and higher risk of an adjustable rate mortgage over a 30-year fixed rate loan.

According to the mortgage industry, the average homeowner refinances his loan or sells his home within 5 years. If you're going to move or refinance your home within 5 years, choosing a 30-year mortgage doesn't make any sense. You're paying for stability you'll never need.

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Matching Your Wants and Needs to What's on the Market

Is there a perfect home? Unless you're building it yourself and have an unlimited budget, you're probably going to have to be flexible about what you buy and compromise on some features and amenities.

How can you match what you want and need with the homes available for sale in your area? It's a matter of trading-off those amenities you want with those you can't live without.

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Homes Need Constant Care

One of the hardest things for homebuyers and homeowners to come to terms with is that no house is perfect. As one home inspector liked to say, "An old house has older problems, but new houses have problems, too."

Moving into a brand new space is magical. And many homeowners want to keep it that way. But inevitably, the shiny new stainless steel sink gets scratched, as do the chrome bath fixtures. The grout in the floors gets stained and windows get dirty. Your kids leave handprints on the walls and here or there you might find the wood molding has cracked or the paint is peeling.

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Make Your Own Baby Food

What's in that jarred baby food in the cupboard? Chances are there's a ton of sugar and preservatives in it, that's what. The majority of baby foods on the market add sugar to everything, even chicken and peas. And that's not counting the extra salt!

Why should you go homemade? For starters, you'll know exactly what's going into it that way. You'll be able to tailor the ingredients to what your baby needs and likes. The food will be fresh, free of extra sugar and salt, and prepared with good ingredients, as opposed to jarred ones which are often made from bruised fruits and vegetables with chemicals added to even out the taste. The killer reason for me? Homemade baby food isn't only better for baby, it's not only easy to make--but it's incredibly cheap!

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A Change of Seasons Can Help Your Search

One of the best things about fall is so many more homes come on the market. Indeed, the change of seasons can help you in your search for a home -- if you know when to look.

Spring is the hottest home buying season, particularly March, April, and May, as families want to get settled before the start of the school year in September.

Fall is the second-hottest home buying season, with September, October and early November being the busiest times.

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Money for Nothing: The Dark Side of the Lottery

Money for Nothing coverI have never won the lottery. Not really sure what I would do if I did, really. I think I would pay down the house, and maybe buy a new bicycle. I think I would buy Lynn and I a couple of new laptops, and certainly, the kids would get new bikes as well as some new clothes, but I am not a big car kinda guy, nor am I a big house kinda guy. I don't drink, and I don't gamble, and I have no desire to buy into horses, boats or racecars. I have a sneaky suspicion that Edward Ugel would hate me.

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Figuring Out How Much The Property Is Worth

You think you've found the right home. But is it really worth what the sellers are asking?

Before you give away your hard earned money, do some thorough research.

First, ask your agent to prepare a comparable market analysis (CMA). This is a compilation of sales prices of homes similar to yours in the neighborhood which have recently sold.

You'll also want to check out the school district, crime statistics, and whether property values have been generally rising or falling in the neighborhood. Visit city hall to learn about future development plans for your new neighborhood.

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Keeping Renovation Costs Down

Everyone says a renovation will cost more than you expect and take longer to complete. And that's completely true in most cases. But you can hold down the costs--by making tough choices ahead of time.

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Determining Future Costs: Maintenance and Upkeep

Houses are akin to living, breathing objects that need to be regularly maintained. Everything from typical wear-and-tear to weather to natural disasters can cause roofs to leak, basements to flood, and dollars to drain from your bank account.

Even if you're handy or have a relative who is a contractor, house maintenance and upkeep can be costly. How costly depends on whether you maintain your home along the way or wait until a small problem becomes a big problem.

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Expect the Unexpected During Construction

When they finally decided to build a new home, Linda and Jimmy hired the best-known (and most expensive) builder in their area. They paid the premium for his services, because they assumed there would be few, if any, real problems with the construction.

Wrong. When it comes to building or doing a major renovation on your home, there are always going to be problems, no matter how much you pay your contractor.

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The Shifting Real Estate Market

Rrecently, there has been a subtle shift in the residential real estate market. In some communities, in some price ranges, home buyers are finding there are more homes available for sale, and they are taking longer to sell than they did six months ago.

What's happening? Although interest rates are low, the economy is stalling. Consumers are nervous about job layoffs, and some have put off looking for a home. When demand goes down, the air starts to go out of a seller's market.

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