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Save money on your energy bill

KJ: So this post is not about doing things like shutting your TV off when it’s not in use, unplugging your coffee pot when not in use, turning off lights unless you need them on, charging your phone at Starbucks instead of at home, or cutting the power supply to your AC so it doesn’t run unnecessarily…Oh sorry, I got side-tracked there a moment. This post is more about a great website that my father-in-law told me about when I moved into my first home with my wife. Sorry folks if you’re not in Texas, but the power[ful] site (no pun intended?) we use is PowerToChoose.Org.

Why it’s a life-saver
For no cost at all, you can peruse the website looking for deals on how to cut your energy costs. The site allows you to compare energy contracts across the providers in Texas, so you can choose the best plan that’s right for you, your family, and your goals. Plus, it’s an unbiased way to search for low-cost contracts. No longer do you have to hear TXU, Reliant, or any other ad on TV and wonder, “Is this really the deal they say it is?”

So many options!
Whether you are looking for a long-term contract, short-term contract, no-term contract, or somewhere in between, they have the plans outlined in detail right in front of you. Even if your goals aren’t about what’s right for your wallet, but are more about what’s right for the environment and your energy footprint, then they’ve got a plan for you.

What to consider
Look at the cost per kilowatt hour, minimum energy usage requirements (and if you’re traditionally above or below that), monthly fee, termination fee, whether the cost is variable or fixed, and any other potential charges.

Think ahead
Maybe you’re an energy buff, a super analyst, or a real-life Ms. Cleo, but if you’ve got an idea on where energy costs are headed then consider locking-in your rate today. Researcher beware: those pesky early termination fees can eat up the benefit of a lower cost you thought you were getting throughout the year…

AJ: Energy used to be a somewhat fixed expense, however, it is now a competitive industry that allows customers who are willing to invest a small amount of time and research into finding the most reasonable plan for their needs. Many summer-loving Texan friends of ours opt for the plans that take their highest monthly bills and subsidize them across the entire year in order to avoid bills in the summer that are five times higher than bills in other months. Researching your options allows you to spend more in areas that you enjoy than on boring expenses like energy.

    Have you used PowerToChoose.Org before?
    What sites or resources have you found in your area?
    What tips do you have to save money on electricity?

Save money on your energy bill is copyrighted by TheSimpleMoneyBlog.com without consent to republish.

Some of the links in the post above may be affiliate links. This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, we will receive an affiliate commission. We feel strongly about only recommending products or services we use personally and/or believe will add value to you, our readers. Read more about our commitment to providing quality product recommendations.

Canceling your tv

KJ: What’s that you say? Cancel your television service? That’s unheard of!…at least in our family. Even with how busy we are with friends, family, and work, we always find time to wind down at the end of our day with some nice recordings, so we’ve never really thought that canceling our TV could be a viable, money saving option…until recently.

So, we’ve got a lot going on right now with work, planning an incredible trip, and planning our next move, that we’ve decided to cut out TV from our lives for about a month. It’s less about saving the $70+ per month – so hard to determine what the true cost is per month when you have it bundled with internet and get a discount for getting them both at the same time – than it is about being practical. With a lot of things we’ll need to take care of in the new home and a well-timed vacation thereafter, it just doesn’t make sense for us to fork out some unnecessary cash when we don’t need to. As such, starting in a couple weeks, we’ll be canceling our TV for a month!

AJ: For whatever reason I have always loved TV. In addition to the 20+ shows we record at any given point, we watch Wheel of Fortune together almost every night, and I end my evenings with HGTV, Food Network, or Snooki and JWOWW (don’t judge me!). The thought of going without TV even for one night takes me to a dark place, but practically speaking, I think I’ll survive. I realize this is neither food nor water, but there’s a certain level of comfort that comes from winding down a grueling work day with Pat Sajak that I’ll have to fill with my own thoughts.

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The alternatives
More and more these days, I’ve run into people who have taken the plunge and canceled their tv service. Here are a few ways they’ve managed to make it work:
Netflix – in the market for a movie and want to stream it instantly to your phone, iPad, Xbox, PS3, or Nintendo Wii? There’s really not much of an easier way to do this. We used to have a subscription, but we found when they were increasing the cost on the service we were already hardly taking enough advantage of, we decided to cut ties. We’ve missed it here and there, but we certainly haven’t been any worse off without it. Now might be time for us to pick this old habit back up. At only $7.99 per month for their instant streaming service, it’s a much cheaper alternative than renting movies regularly or getting Pay-Per-View on TV. Plus, they have TONS of tv series available online too…sounds like it’s time for another “Friends” marathon!
Hulu – Hulu is another online media streaming service that focuses mostly on television shows. They have quite a wide variety of shows and options…you just have to learn the nuances of how to find the shows you want to watch. For $7.99 per month, you can watch unlimited shows. Depending on their agreement with the networks, you may have access to a limited number of episodes each season, and you may have a delay after it airs before you can watch it. The latter is less of an issue for us since we almost never watch live tv and are always just watching what we had recorded. Still, at $16 per month for both Netflix and Hulu, it’s a way cheaper option than cable!
Roku – The Roku box is a system that basically aggregates a mix of free resources (a lot out there) and paid subscription services all in one location. It allows you to access your Hulu account, Netflix, Pandora, and Amazon Instant Video accounts, but it also has access to over 700+ other channels of content ranging from sports to movies. I haven’t personally used one before, so please share your experiences if you’ve had the chance to use one!
Apple TV – Apple TV is a similar setup as the Roku box, but you can also access iTunes movies and television shows. We’ve thought about this with its ability to sync to our portable devices, but I’ve tended to steer away from movies and TV on iTunes since the costs are usually much higher than I would want to pay. The main downside is for those of us that want to avoid a per show cost and instead watch mindless television marathons on Food Network, The Cooking Channel, HGTV, the History Channel, USA…

    Do you have the willpower to cancel your television?
    How about trying it out for a month..how bad could it be?
    Tell us about your experiences with Netflix, Hulu, Roku, or Apple TV

Canceling your tv is copyrighted by TheSimpleMoneyBlog.com without consent to republish.

Some of the links in the post above may be affiliate links. This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, we will receive an affiliate commission. We feel strongly about only recommending products or services we use personally and/or believe will add value to you, our readers. Read more about our commitment to providing quality product recommendations.

Invest in yourself

Invest in yourself
KJ: Everyone’s heard about making a good (or bad) investment in a company, but what about investing in YOURSELF. That’s right, one of the greatest things you can do in attaining your long-term goals is to invest in yourself to improve your future income. No, you don’t buy shares of yourself or issue debt for others to purchase at market, and you don’t tape money to yourself. Investing in yourself means discovering what you do best – whether that is sales, marketing, finances, sports, or crafting – and identifying ways to market it to others.

It’s not likely some great investment return or unexpected windfall that will help you achieve your goals, but rather your skill-set and know-how that can get you there. The answer can be found in your human capital. I define human capital as:

    The earning potential and knowledge you have that makes you both unique and gives you the ability to generate income.

Find what you love
Start by finding what you love. For some people, it is becoming a doctor while for others it is running a successful set of fast food operations. I have learned over the years that you can make a lot of money across many, many walks of life provided you have both the passion to make it successful and the innovation to get there.

AJ: Finding what you love is an unrealistic goal for many of us. It’s hard to imagine making less than you do now to go off and find some passion project or taking a risk on an unknown career path when you’re just beginning your career, but sometimes it’s worth it. Consider what you’re good at – not just what you’re currently good at making money from – and pursue it on the side at the very least to see what kind of hidden potential you possess.

Always be learning
KJ: The best thing you can do for yourself is to continuously be learning and improving. If you’re in medicine, should you only learn about procedures, medicines, and biology? No! Most of our greatest breakthroughs and all important ‘AHA’ moments come when you branch out of the ordinary and experience something different. If you’re a finance major, then read a book on running. If you’re a doctor, read a mystery book. If you’re an english major, read a book about investing.

When the greatest return on your investment is in your skills
You hear a lot of information about needing an 8% or 7% return over the long-haul to get you to retirement, children’s education funding, etc., but those return figures don’t compare when looking at what you might be able to sock away by increasing your earning potential. Especially when you are starting out, if you can save $100 per month, and the following year increase it to $200, you have more than doubled the rate at which you would save. After year 1 (without accounting for any gains/income) you would have $1,200, after year two you would have $3,600. That’s 50% more than what you would have had if you had only kept at the pace of $100 per month.

Where’s the extra savings coming from?
It’s easy to say that you can increase your income or reduce your expenses next year, but spend some time thinking about how to get there. We all get caught up in our day-to-day, so when was the last time you set time aside to think more strategically about how you can make that extra sale at work, leverage your knowledge to other departments, find creative ways to improve your work product, or increase your chance of getting that promotion you have wanted?

Go ahead: work toward that promotion, study for a certification (my personal favorite…sorry AJ!), attend classes to further your education (many employers even have programs to pay for the classes – a win-win), read books, read magazines, read news, and don’t stop thinking about what lies ahead!

    What have you done to invest in yourself?
    Have you invested in yourself in a non-monetary way?

Invest in yourself is copyrighted by TheSimpleMoneyBlog.com without consent to republish.

Some of the links in the post above may be affiliate links. This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, we will receive an affiliate commission. We feel strongly about only recommending products or services we use personally and/or believe will add value to you, our readers. Read more about our commitment to providing quality product recommendations.

Sometimes life happens

Set a goal
AJ: For the first time in our almost eight-year relationship we decided to make New Years resolutions together this year. After reviewing our end of year finances for 2012, we felt like finding an investment property might be a good way for us to further press on towards our retirement goals. My daily cruising of my Zillow app suddenly had a purpose and we began seriously considering a wide range of properties to potentially invest in. After looking at a lot of houses online and in-person we finally made progress…just not in the way either of us intended.

Expect change
KJ: In the last month, we have seen a lot of change. We thought we were looking to buy a house we could flip, then we decided we wanted to move into said ‘flip,’ then we decided to rent our house instead of sell it, then the ‘flip’ house was unavailable, then we decided to purchase a new home, then we decided to rent our existing place, and then we decided to sell our existing place. So many decisions and so many factors have been coming to the table at each stage of the process that our heads are spinning. It doesn’t help Angela that I will analyze every decision with a spreadsheet to look at ‘what-if’ scenarios and all the relevant factors to see what the ‘best’ scenario may be. Some of you may think I’m crazy while others of you may say “I do that too!” Regardless of which side you take, in today’s world we sometimes get ourselves into information overload.

AJ: Kirby and I are typically a great team. Generally, we communicate well-ish (considering the whole Mars/Venus thing at least), we strive to achieve similar goals, and we agree on what matters to us. HOWEVER, sometimes Kirby makes a lot of spreadsheets. And sometimes it’s really hard to keep up. And sometimes I just want to say “do whatever you want!” But at the end of the day, Kirby has protected us from emotional and financial disappointment time and time again and even though I can’t really sleep trying to keep up with all of the decisions we’re trying to make, I keep coming back to our resolution to get ahead even if that means we make a few risky decisions that could push us back a little in the process.

Somehow we’ve bought our next 10+ year home. Not a flip, not a true investment property, a home. Which means we now own two beautiful, structurally sound, mortgage-carrying homes. One of which is full of stuff that needs to be packed and moved within the next two and a half weeks, and one of which needs our animals and personality to make it warm. How the heck did that happen?

When solid analysis fails peace-of-mind
KJ: What this process has taught me is that sometimes, the math may work in your favor, but the risk and peace of mind may not. Sure, if we kept our existing place for 5-10+ years, rented it for $X, had $Y in repairs, replaced $Z for each tenant, yadayadaya…then it would all turn out well in our favor. But is the potential financial upside worth the stress and current unknown? We’ve all heard horror stories of renting, but we’ve also heard tons of stories that have turned out quite successfully. When it all boils down, the question that keeps coming to the front of our minds is “is it the right thing for us NOW.” Timing (especially in the real estate market) is everything, and when it comes to life changes, sometimes the mental timing is more important than the financial timing…

AJ: Wait…now I’m confused. Are we selling our house or renting our house? Just kidding, KJ. :)

    Have you had plans that made financial sense that turned awry?
    Have you had a shaky plan that turned out better than expected?
    Tell us about your trials and tribulations and how they turned out

Sometimes life happens is copyrighted by TheSimpleMoneyBlog.com without consent to republish.

Some of the links in the post above may be affiliate links. This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, we will receive an affiliate commission. We feel strongly about only recommending products or services we use personally and/or believe will add value to you, our readers. Read more about our commitment to providing quality product recommendations.

401(k) or IRA: what a choice!

Step one: saving for retirement when it’s so far away

KJ: Especially at a young age, when you are saving for retirement, you’re literally setting money aside for 30 or more years from now! Fortunately, the younger you start and the longer time-period you have before retiring, the greater your chance of having a successful retirement since your savings can compound over very long periods of time and have your money work for you!

Step two: what are the options?

So now that you’ve decided to save for retirement (convincing intro, right?), let’s look at some options. The most common retirement savings vehicles are 401(k)s and IRAs. Don’t feel excluded if you are saying to yourself “hey, I have a 403(b), what is that?” as those are pretty much the same as a 401(k) (with a few exceptions).

As most everyone has limited resources (sorry Bill Gates if you’re reading this – it might not apply), it can be a challenge deciding whether to contribute to your 401(k)/403(b), your IRA, or a combination of the two. Let’s take a look at a few highlights of the account types.

Step three: a closer look

401(k)

  • You can potentially contribute up to $17,500 for 2013 (and even more if you’re over 50 – you can contribute an extra $5,500), regardless of income.
  • You have limited investment options – this can be a good or bad thing depending on your level of experience and preference for selecting your own investments.

Individual Retirement Account (IRA)

  • They have a much lower contribution amount: you can contribute up to $5,500 for 2013 (and if you’re over 50 an extra $1,000).
  • There are income limitations that start at $95,000 for married individuals for a Traditional IRA, and almost double that income limit – $178,000 – if you’re contributing to a Roth IRA.
  • They have far more investment options available than a 401(k).
  • The money in the account is a little easier to get access to than a 401(K) (although neither account is without potential IRS tax penalties depending on your age and the circumstances) – a potentially good and bad thing as you shouldn’t touch the money until retirement.

Step four: putting it all together

401(k), IRA, then 401(k)?…let’s explain
If you are one of the fortunate few to have an employer match on your 401(k), then the decision can be a little easier. You should minimally contribute up to your employer’s match. What’s better than an instant 100% return on your money!? Even if the investment options pale in comparison to your IRA options available, an employer match is just too good to pass up.
Once you have met the employer match, then consider setting additional retirement funds aside in a Traditional IRA or Roth IRA if you are eligible and aren’t passed the income limitations.
If you still find yourself wanting more savings for retirement, then consider contributing the remaining to your 401(k) up to the yearly limitations.

If you don’t have an employer match, then depending on your level of investment experience, you may prefer to take the route of contributing to an IRA where you have far more investment options. If ease is the name of the game for you, then your 401(K) with limited investment options (usually less than 20) might be a great place to start.

Related posts:

    Are you contributing to a 401(k), IRA, or both?
    Does your employer provide a 401(k) match?
    Share your retirement saving strategies!

401(k) or IRA: what a choice! is copyrighted by TheSimpleMoneyBlog.com without consent to republish.

Some of the links in the post above may be affiliate links. This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, we will receive an affiliate commission. We feel strongly about only recommending products or services we use personally and/or believe will add value to you, our readers. Read more about our commitment to providing quality product recommendations.

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