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Five ways to save on your electricity bill this summer
Summer is finally here in full force. But, as temperatures start to climb, so can your electric bill. It doesn’t help that Georgia ranks number five in the country for the highest utility costs, averaging $441 per month. However, there are simple ways you can save on your electricity bill—without sacrificing your comfort. Here are five things you can do to start saving on your power bill today.
Raise your thermostat’s temperature
While you’re at home, set your thermostat to a high but comfortable temperature to keep you cool. When you leave or if you’re asleep, you can increase the temperature slightly higher. Raising your thermostat’s temperature can save at least 10% per year. The smaller the temperature difference between outside and inside, the lower your overall power bill will be. Don’t set your thermostat to a lower temperature than normal. Your home won’t cool quicker, and it could result in a higher bill.
Switch to a programmable thermostat
More people have switched to programmable thermostats and for good reasons—they maintain a consistent temperature throughout your house, keep your home energy efficient, and save money. According to a study by Nest, using a programmable thermostat saves almost 15% in cooling costs. Also, a huge benefit is that they enable you to set schedules, so you spend less time adjusting the thermostat when you leave your home or before you go to bed.
Clean your air conditioning vent and unit
A clean air conditioner is more effective than a dirty one. If you’re reading this and can’t remember the last time you cleaned your a/c unit, it’s probably time you should. Filters, coils, and fins should be maintained to help a unit run efficiently and properly. Ideally, your a/c unit should be serviced at least once or twice per year. But, filters should be changed frequently—replacing a dirty filter can lower your air conditioner’s energy consumption by 5-15%.
Turn on the ceiling fan
This seems obvious, but use the ceiling fan to your advantage. While ceiling fans don’t cool a room down, they create wind that circulates throughout the room, thus cooling you off. During the summer, your ceiling fan should rotate counterclockwise, so cool air is pushed down. If your fan is not rotating the way it should, turn your fan off and flip the direction switch. When you’re not in the room, turn your fan off so you aren’t wasting power.
Use electricity during off-peak hours
Companies charge more for electricity during peak hours when the demand for it is greater. You can reduce the cost of your power bill by limiting energy use to early in the morning or late at night. You’ll help reduce the load on power grids and save money. From June through September, 4 pm-9 pm are considered peak hours.
Despite the sweltering heat, it’s possible to cool your home without foregoing your comfort—or your wallet. This summer, try these tips and watch the dollars drop off of your power bill.
How to start an emergency fund
As the coronavirus pandemic continues, people have recognized the value of having an emergency fund. People have lost their jobs, faced unexpected hospital visits, and more, leaving some struggling to pay bills. Regardless, it’s still crucial to have funds saved in the event of unforeseen circumstances—26% of Americans have no emergency savings, and only 23% have enough to cover six months’ worth of expenses. Follow these tips to help you get started on your emergency fund, so you’re better prepared for the future.
Track your expenses and spending
Before planning how much you should have in your emergency savings, it’s essential to know your monthly expenses. Calculate how much you spend on your rent or mortgage, utilities, and other necessary items. Tracking your spending is tedious, but there are dozens of budgeting apps, like EveryDollar and Wally, to help you estimate your regular spending.
Set your emergency savings goal
After you’ve gauged how much you spend per month, set your goal of how much you want to save. According to CNBC, less than 30% of households have less than $1,000 saved. That isn’t nearly enough to cover costs in the event of a setback, like a trip to the hospital or unemployment. It’s recommended to have at least three to six months’ worth of expenses saved.
Develop a plan
Once you set your savings goal, it’s time to form a plan of action. Decide what you’re going to do to reach your goal—that could be anything from setting aside a certain amount of money each week to cutting back on unnecessary spending. You can set goals all day, but it’s crucial to know exactly how you’ll reach them—otherwise, it’s easy to fall off track.
Put funds in an accessible place
How you save is extremely important, but where you save is just as critical—if not more. To make the most of your money, put your funds into a high-yield savings account that allows you to easily make transfers between accounts. High-yield savings accounts have higher interest rates than traditional savings accounts—sometimes 20 to 25 times more. While you earn more money in the long run, it’s important to consider factors such as initial deposit or minimum balance requirements and interest rates.
Now that you’ve set your financial goals, how you’ll achieve them, and where you’re going to put your funds, it’s time to start saving. One way to help increase your savings is by setting up automatic transfers—you can set an amount to transfer to your savings each week, every two weeks, or each month. Even if it’s only $50, you’ll be surprised at how quickly your savings will grow. Another great way to increase your savings is by setting aside your tax refund. You can set aside all of it or even just a portion—either way, any amount will help get you that much closer to your goal.
Consider what constitutes an emergency
Now that you’ve started to set funds aside, it’s imperative to decide what constitutes an emergency, so you’re only using your emergency fund for its intended use. This could be unexpected hospital visits, car repairs, job loss, or other unanticipated situations. Defining what you consider an emergency is important so you know your emergency fund is used properly, rather than being spent on frivolous things. Remember, it’s not fun money—it’s money you’re setting aside so you know you and your family will be okay should something happen in the future.
Visit our website to get started on your emergency fund today.
What to do with your stimulus check
Under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act, most tax-filing Americans making less than $75,000 per year are receiving a $1,200 stimulus check—as well as a $500 check for every child under the age of 17. Most people are hopeful for this financial relief—but what should you do once you receive your stimulus check? We have a few suggestions to help you use your check wisely.
Use it for expenses
The primary purpose of this check is to help people survive without a source of steady income. Therefore, one of the best things you can do with your stimulus check is to use it for essentials, like groceries, gas, or other expenses you might have. Like a tax refund, it can be tempting to spend your stimulus check on something nice or new—especially because shopping is at your fingertips right now. However, try to avoid spending your check on unnecessary items.
Put it towards your savings
If you have enough money to get by comfortably, saving your stimulus check could be beneficial. Ideally, you should have at least three to six months’ worth of expenses in your savings account for emergencies. Open a savings account if you don’t have one, and hold onto your stimulus check. You don’t need to set aside the entire check, either—even if you save a portion of it, that’s better than nothing.
Pay off debt
Use your stimulus check towards any debt you may have, such as credit cards or student loans. Even though most lenders are offering deferred payments or forbearance, paying off your debt, if you can, is still the most ideal choice. Anything—no matter how big or small—you put towards your debt gets you that much closer to financial freedom.
Donate it to charity
If you can, donate a portion of your stimulus check to a charity. More than ever, it’s important to stick together and support members of the community. Dozens of charities need help—especially organizations like Action Ministries, that are providing meals for children during the extended school break. Or, organizations, like Meals on Wheels, helping high-risk senior citizens that don’t have access to food. Additionally, many groups are collecting money to help people that are out of work in the restaurant industry. This also means that many scams are escalating. Be sure to research and determine that what you’re donating to is legitimate.
Help small businesses
Lastly, if you’re financially stable, consider helping local businesses. Many small businesses are struggling to stay afloat because of the coronavirus. With social distancing measures in place, many local businesses are changing how they operate or shutting their doors altogether. To help local businesses, consider ordering takeout from your favorite restaurant or purchase a gift card from your local beauty salon to use at a later date.
The COVID-19 stimulus package is a tremendous help for many people, and we hope that these tips will help you make the most out of your stimulus check. If you need further financial assistance, please click here to see how Georgia’s Own is helping members during this time of need.
15 ways to save at the grocery store
It’s natural to waltz down grocery store aisles and add everything you see to your shopping cart. Strategically placed products catch your eye and make you think you need them immediately. Overspending at the grocery store is a habit that’s difficult to break—but, it can be done. Here are 15 ways you can save during your next trip to the supermarket:
Check your pantry
Before you head to the store, check to see what you already have. There are websites and apps, like Supercook or Cookpad, that allow you to find recipes based on ingredients. Depending on what’s in your pantry or fridge, you could make meals with what you have and avoid going to the grocery store altogether.
Make a grocery list
Compile a list to be sure you’re purchasing the essentials, and stick with it. Don’t stray from your list—you’ll spend more money than you intended.
While you’re determining your list, create a grocery store comparison chart. Pick your essential items, choose your stores, obtain the prices, and compare. It’s an invaluable tool that will ultimately save you money.
This seems obvious, but using coupons can help tremendously. There are dozens of websites, like coupons.com, that have free, printable coupons. Also, be sure to read your local store’s circular—it promotes items that are on sale. In addition to circulars, look for digital coupons that are store-specific.
Don’t shop hungry
The golden rule of grocery shopping: don’t shop hungry. According to Psychology Today, when you’re hungry, you overload your shopping cart with items you don’t need. Your brain focuses on finding its next food source, so you grab everything appealing within sight. To combat this, be sure you’ve eaten before you go. You’ll avoid the temptation of grabbing unnecessary items, and your wallet will thank you.
Leave the big spenders at home
Whether it’s your kids or your spouse, there’s always someone adding more than you need to your cart. It’s not always easy to say no, so avoid the situation entirely by leaving your big spenders at home, if you can.
Keep a running tally of your cart’s cost
Steer clear of the dreaded, “I spent how much?!” when you make it through the check-out line. As you add items to your cart, keep track of the running cost. It doesn’t need to be exact—just a rough estimate.
Avoid eye-level items
It may be easier to grab the first option you see, but scanning the shelves is critical. Stores use the motto “eye level is buy level” for a reason. We look at items that are eye level, so that’s where grocery stores place the most expensive items. Look for cheaper items on higher and lower shelves.
Don’t purchase pre-cut food
It’s often simpler to purchase ready-to-eat salad and fruit, but that’ll cost you more in the long run. You won’t receive as much, either, and pre-cut food doesn’t stay fresh for long. Trust me—just buy the head of lettuce and make your salad. It’ll take less than ten minutes, and you’ll save money.
Ask for a rain check
Did someone get too greedy during the BOGO sale? You can ask your store for a rain check on items that sold out during a promotion. If your grocer allows it, you can snag the item once the store restocks.
Don’t always buy in bulk
It appears cheaper, but buying in bulk isn’t always the best choice. Sometimes, depending on the unit price, it can wind up being more expensive. If you’re debating whether you should purchase items in bulk, it’s crucial to check the unit prices and compare them to see if you’re saving or spending more.
Try generic brands
Don’t be afraid to try the store brand. It’s often just as good as the national brand but a fraction of the cost. If you don’t like it, most grocery stores will allow you to return it and get your money back or swap for the national brand.
Shop in season
If you’re purchasing produce, be sure to buy items that are in season. Not only is it fresher and tastier, but it also costs less. It’s all about supply and demand. When produce is in season, there is an abundance—therefore, it costs less per pound. Compare that with something out of season—there is less of the product in-store, so it’s more expensive.
Pay with cash
When budgeting, cash is king. Paying for items with cash allows you to set a budget and stick with it—once your cash for an item runs out, that’s it. Finance expert Dave Ramsey swears by this method. Bring enough money to cover your groceries for one trip. If your total runs over, take items in your cart out. It’s hard but better than ruining your monthly budget.
Changing how you grocery shop can have a notable impact on your financial well-being. By shopping sensibly, you can stick to your monthly budget, as well as reach other money-related goals you may have. Try one, or some, of these tactics next time you’re at the grocery store—you’ll be amazed at how much you save!
Six tips to save for your future home
So, you’ve decided you want to buy your first home. It’s an exciting time, but there are various things to consider—the most significant being a down payment. Standard down payments are approximately 20% of a home’s cost. If you’re purchasing a $200,000 home, your down payment could cost upwards of $40,000—that’s a considerable amount of money! It seems daunting to think about saving that much money, but it can be accomplished—here are some tips to help you start saving towards your first home purchase.
Determine a goal
If you haven’t already, determine how much you need to save. Set a definite goal and time frame, that way you have a tangible end within your reach. Then, set a monthly budget so you aren’t overspending and can accumulate as much money as possible. An essential thing to consider is ensuring you are debt-free—focus on paying off your debts before you acquire more. It’ll save you more stress in the long run if you pay off that student loan or credit card before making a big purchase like this.
If you already have a savings account, then great. However, there are more options than a traditional savings account that will help immensely when saving for a down payment. Look into a high-yield savings account or money market account. You’ll earn more interest than you would with a traditional savings account—the longer your money sits in the account, the more interest you earn, which ultimately puts you closer to attaining your goal of owning a home.
You can also consider a Certificate of Deposit, otherwise known as a CD. CDs enable you to set money aside for a predetermined time, so you earn a set amount of interest. There is less flexibility and liquidity, but this is ideal if you have a particular time frame where you want to meet your goal. However, it’s crucial to note that you could be subject to a fee if you prematurely withdraw funds.
Cut out unnecessary expenses
When you’re preparing your budget, look at where you spend the most amount of money. If it’s unnecessary, cut it out. Things like going out to dinner or buying coffee start to add up—if you spend $5 per day on coffee, that totals up to $25 per week. It doesn’t sound horrible, but if you proceed to do that weekly, it costs $1,300 per year. Shocking, right? Imagine how much closer you’d be to your down payment if you simply brewed that coffee at home.
Pause saving for retirement
Odds are, you’ve probably begun saving for retirement. It may seem strange not setting money towards your 401(k) at first, but just remember, it puts you that much closer towards your goal of owning a home. If that idea scares you, just remember—it’s only temporary. You can start putting money towards your retirement again once you’ve purchased your home. However, despite what some websites may say, absolutely do not withdraw from your retirement account. You could be slapped with penalties and taxes for withdrawing early.
Set aside your bonus
Got a bonus or tax refund? Be responsible: put it into your savings—you’ll be thankful you did when you’re relaxing in your cozy breakfast nook, sipping on a hot cup of home-brewed coffee. As tempting as it is to solely use your refund on a new wardrobe or a fancy dinner, every dollar counts when you’re saving for a home.
I can assure you, things are lying throughout your apartment and collecting dust. Scour and gather everything you’re not using, and sell them. Or, ditch the summer vacation. According to Business Insider, people fork over nearly $2,000 annually on summer vacations. I know—vacations are sometimes necessary, but foregoing your family trip this year will catapult you towards attaining your goal. Do you like animals? Start offering to pet sit or walk your neighbors’ dogs. Or, you could begin driving for a rideshare service or food delivery. Take that extra cash you earn and immediately put in your savings. You won’t miss it—I promise.
If you’ve done all of these but still need some backing, many credit unions offer down payment assistance programs for first-time home buyers. These programs help with home financing, loans for first-time buyers, and more. There are also various federal and state programs that offer similar support. However, it’s critical to keep in mind that you’ll pay more interest with a lower down payment.
Saving up for a home seems intimidating, and with such a large amount of money, it’s hard to imagine ever being able to save that much. These pointers will aid you in reaching your goal, so you can finally fulfill your aspiration of owning a home.
Have questions about buying your first home? We’re here to help!
Six tips for stronger savings
If you’re wondering when you need to start saving money for the future, that time is now. Whether you’re saving for a trip, a house, a car, retirement, or something else, setting aside money now for future benefit is an action that has to be repeated until it becomes a habit. Here are several helpful suggestions—perhaps you’re already doing some of them. The more steps you take, the faster your savings will grow!
Tip 1: Avoid instant gratification
Some call it the 30-day rule. Before you make a significant purchase, wait a month. More often than not, your urge to buy the item has waned or passed completely. Now, you’re enjoying the effects of your patience instead of suffering from buyer’s remorse. A short wait can save you a lot of money.
Tip 2: Set up an emergency fund
One of the fastest ways to get in debt is to be financially unprepared for an emergency. This can include everything from a medical emergency or sudden job loss to unexpected car repairs. As a rule of thumb, you should have at least 3–9 months’ worth of living expenses saved up for these situations.
Tip 3: Record your expenses
When you document your purchases, you avoid the familiar “where did all my money go” scenario. This includes even small purchases, such as that fancy cup of coffee. If you want, you can cross-reference your list with your bank statements to ensure accuracy. Now that you’ve collected your data, break it out into categories (gas, groceries, rent, etc.). Where can you trim? Are you going out to eat too much? Maybe it’d be better to brew that java at home.
Tip 4: Automate your savings
Virtually all banks and credit unions offer automated transfers between your checking and savings accounts. Determine an amount that can be automatically transferred and saved without straining your budget. You’ll be surprised how fast your savings account grows. Just set it up and forget it.
Tip 5: Renegotiate your terms
Whether it’s your cell phone or cable bill, the closer you are to the end of your contract, the more leverage you have to get a better deal. Call and ask to speak to the retention department. Let them know that you are considering a new provider and see what they offer to keep you as a customer. You’ll be surprised at how much you can save. Also, keep an eye on aggressive offers from its competitors. It may be time for a switch. The same goes for your home and auto insurance. Get a quote to make sure you’re getting the best price.
Tip 6: Install a programmable thermostat
Why pay to keep your house or apartment comfortable while you’re away? Programmable thermostats can be set to reduce your heat or air conditioning use during certain times to boost energy savings. According to Energy Star, you can save approximately $180 a year with a programmable thermostat. Now that’s a
This is just a small sample of what you can do to maximize your budget and savings. The important thing is to get started!