How to Keep Warm without Heating Up Your Bill

Bundle up, America: it’s going to be a cold winter.

The Energy Department expects the price of natural gas to increase a whopping 13 percent over last year’s rates, to the tune of about $679. Homeowners using electricity to warm their abodes can expect a 2 percent increase in heating costs.

If this news isn’t enough to make you shiver, experts predict this winter will be colder than it has been over the last two years. In addition to stockpiling blankets and tea bags, consider these tips to stay warm this winter without overheating your energy bill.

1. Look for Leaks
No matter how high you crank up that thermostat, your house will never be warm enough if your doors and windows aren’t properly sealed. Take the time to test air loss throughout your home and properly seal the areas prone to leakage, including baseboards, attic hatches and electrical outlets. The Department of Energy’s article on detecting air leaks can help you cover all your bases.

2. Ask for a Free Audit
Most energy companies offer free home audits that offer expert-level understanding of where your home is losing heat. If you’re lucky, a few strips of duct tape may be all you need to repair leaky ductwork. It’s probably a good idea to schedule an audit after you make the effort to patch air leaks to determine if you missed anything.

3. Start with the Attic
A well-insulated attic to save you up to 50 percent on your heating bill, so evaluate the insulation levels in your attic and replenish accordingly. Additionally, check the air seal around attic access points as these are often overlooked and can result in significant heat loss. For more information on how to properly insulate your attic, read these tips from the experts at This Old House.

4. Get on a Schedule
If you haven’t purchased a programmable thermostat, this year is definitely the time to invest. You can save up to 10 percent on these devices by purchasing discount gift cards through GiftCardGranny.com to Lowe’s or Home Depot. Once you find a device you like, create a schedule you can stick to and remember to adjust it when you leave for extended periods of time.

5. Condense Your Space
By closing windows and doors to unused rooms, it will take less time and ultimately less energy to heat the areas you use most. You can go so far as to place a towel at the base of closed doors to better lock in the heat. Make sure ceiling fans in heated rooms are reversed and on low to better circulate warm air. Don’t forget to open your shades during the day–the sun’s rays will naturally warm up your home.

6. Consider a Space Heater
Space heaters offer supplemental heat without increasing your heating bill. According to Consumer Reports, you can buy top-rated heaters for as little as $40 while keeping your thermostat set to as low as 60 degrees. Safety is paramount, so read up on user and expert reviews before purchasing a unit and place it on ceramic tile instead of carpet or table tops.

7. Bundle Up
Nothing says cozy like a good down comforter, heavy blanket and flannel sheets. When in doubt, keep the thermostat low and stock up on warm bedding and toasty attire. Flannel sheets will do the trick too and you can usually find fun prints that your kiddos will love to sleep with. I personally enjoy a cooler night’s rest bundled under covers. I recommend searching for quality bedding at discount retailers like Homegoods and TJMax. Otherwise, wait until Veteran’s Day for deals at department stores like Macy’s.

How to Get Started with Lending Club

Over the past couple of years, I’ve been talking about peer-to-peer lending.  I’ve shared my returns each quarter (see last quarters’), and shared how I go about selecting the loans that I invest in via FolioFN.  One thing I haven’t talked about in detail is how to get started with Lending Club.  So let’s do that.  Let’s talk about how the strategies that you can use to get started with Lending Club.

What is Lending Club

Before we talk about strategy for investing with Lending Club, we need to briefly discuss what Lending Club and other peer-to-peer lenders are.  They act as a service for both borrowers and lenders.  As an individual, you can apply to get a loan, or you can invest in a loan.  If you’re getting a loan, the peer-to- peer lender will vet the loan for risk, and then provide that information, anonymously, to the prospective investors.  As an individual, you can also invest in the loans that have been vetted.  The borrower then repays their loan just like they would if it were borrowed from a traditional lender (banks, credit unions, etc) and each payment (with interest included) is split out to each of the investors.  In short, they make you and the other investor/lenders into the bank.  There’s a lot more too it, but that’s the basic rundown. Now, lets talk about three strategies that you can use to get started with Lending Club.

Go Big or Go Home Strategy

Getting Started with Lending ClubThere are some people who refuse to do anything on a small scale.  You know who you are.  If this describes you, this is likely the strategy that you will use.  Decide on the percentage of your overall portfolio that peer-to-peer lending will be, then calculate how much of an investment that means you’ll be making.  Deposit that amount into your Lending Club account and start investing it into loans.  Depending on the size of your deposit, it might still take a little time to get it 100% invested into loans, but you’ve got the full amount in the account and ready to go.  As you progress, you’ll also want to make regular deposits that match the % of portfolio that you’ve set for your investment accounts.

Slow and Steady Strategy

Some people really like systems.  They like to decide on a path, set the system that will take them down that path and rarely deviate from that system.  In this strategy, you still decide what the percentage of your portfolio that your Lending Club account will occupy.  But, instead of making one large deposit to assign it, you make several smaller, timed deposits to bring it up to the % of portfolio that you’ve decided on.  Each deposit will be invested as you go.  Ongoing deposits will likely be larger than they would be with the above strategy because you’ll be increasing the account balance to match the % of portfolio as well as including your amount of new investments.

Get Your Feet Wet Strategy

Some of you are still a bit leery of peer-to-peer investing.  You’ve heard that it’s risky.  You aren’t sure if it has a future, or, more specifically, if it has a future in your portfolio.  Maybe you like investing in high-value stocks and bonds and playing it safe.  But, still, you’re tempted.  Tempted by the rate of return that I and others are claiming to receive.  This is the strategy for you.  Instead of selecting a percentage of portfolio like the above two strategies, you want to just get your feet wet a little and test the water.  Decide, instead, on an amount of money that you want to use to test the waters.  At a minimum, it should probably be something like $125-$250 minimum.  That amount will allow you to invest in $25 increments and reduce your risk by having at least 5-10 loans in your account.  Using this strategy lets you feel the system out with a minimal amount to lose.  Even if you lose it all, it’s not a large percentage of your investments.

Get Started with Lending Club

As investors and stewards of our money, it’s important to find the best way to handle our money.  For many of us, that means finding ways to eliminate our debt, earn more, and invest smartly.  I’m not a financial adviser.  I’m just some guy that likes learning things about money.  I share those things, and my thoughts on them here.   One of the things that I’ve been using to grow my investment portfolio is Lending Club.  I’ve been very happy with the service, and I recommend it.

Which strategy do I use?  At this point, I still have significant debt.  I happen to believe that investing while you are in debt is not all that smart.  So, I’m more focused on my debt than I am on investing.  I’m still firmly in the get your feet wet strategy with my investments.  In the time I’ve been testing the waters, my portfolio has grown to quite a bit more than the minimum investment I suggest above, but that’s where I started, and that’s the strategy that most closely resembles my usage of Lending Club today.

If you’re thinking about getting started with Lending Club, be smart, know that there are risks, but I don’t think they are as bad as some would claim.  Know that, just like stocks, there is a chance that you will lose your entire investment.  Just like investing in stocks, that chance is pretty small.  I’m not an adviser (that hasn’t changed in the last two paragraphs) so if you’ve still got questions, and want professional advice, I suggest you talk to your adviser first.

I’ve consistently been getting returns on my money of 13-14%.  Even in the boom times of online savings accounts, the interest rates weren’t that high.  Heck, even if you believe Dave Ramsey and his 12% returns on stock investments claim, it isn’t that high.  Getting you feet wet in Lending Club offers a potentially good rate and, I think, is worth a try.

Original Image Credit: Feet by lukasberg, on Flickr

A Two-Step Approach to Preparing Kids for a Giving Holiday: Part Two

The holiday season will soon be upon us.  If you find yourself stressed out every holiday season by financial and time demands, now is the time to decide that this year will be different.  Now is the time to decide on a giving holiday. Not only will you benefit, but your kids will as well.

Last time we talked about teaching your kids to give during the holidays, and this time we’ll talk about the second part of creating a giving approach to the holidays–teaching your child to have reasonable expectations for presents.

Years back, the holidays weren’t simply a time to get-get-get.  As a girl, I loved reading Little House on the Prairie, and I was always amazed by how delighted Laura was by the simple presents she received.  One year it was a tin cup and an orange.  Another year it was a corn cob doll.  Now, our kids receive oodles of presents and still demand more and are disappointed when the present opening is over.

Preparing kids for a giving holiday part 2How to Set Reasonable Expectations

If you’re the parent of older children and you previously gave them too many presents, you might sit down with them well before the holidays and let them know that they won’t be getting as much this year.  You can explain that you want to focus more on giving rather than receiving.  Plan on some resistance, but if you hold firm and continue to treat holidays this way, your kids will adapt.

If you’re children are younger, you can start the tradition of a simpler Christmas now.  Your kids may express some resentment as they age and see how much their peers are getting, but if it’s your family tradition, they will likely understand.

How Many Presents to Give

You and your significant other will need to decide what works best for your family.

Some families decide on a dollar limit per child and don’t go over that amount.  This is the way that my mom always handled Christmas for my brother and I, but she carried it a step further and made sure that we each got an equal number of gifts, too.

Other families say that Jesus received 3 gifts from the Wise Men, so they give their kids 3 gifts for Christmas.  Another take on this is to give your child 3 specific presents–something they want, something they need, and something they’ll wear.

In our family, we are blessed with grandparents and godparents that give our children many presents.  So, we buy our children very little for Christmas.  The one time we did buy our kids a lot of Christmas presents, they simply received too much.

Finally, some families take an extreme approach and don’t exchange presents at all.  Instead, they donate all the money they would have spent to charity.

If your children are already used to lavish holiday celebrations, scaling back may be difficult, but it’s not impossible.  First teaching children to be givers and then scaling back may help ease the transition for your child.

How do you determine how many presents to buy your child?  Do you worry about going overboard with gift giving?

Original photo credit: Theresa Thompson, on Flickr