Happy Valentine’s Day!

Hope you can spend some quality time with the one you love.date-from-hell

I’m always interested in feedback about my cartoons.  Feel free to tell me what you think in the comment section.  If you really liked it, please share it with others.

Tips for Saving Money Around the House During Winter

Energy savingAs the temperature continues to drop, here are some great tips on things you can do around your house to save money this season.

Turn your thermostat back

Turning your thermostat back 2 to 3 degrees for about 8 hours a day will help slash your annual heating bill. Some digital systems let you program them, so the heat is turned back while you’re out of the house and back up when you’re there. Some systems can help you save about 12 percent a year. I have a programmable system and it works great.
Some energy companies allow their customers to see the energy they’re using and when, so they can better manage their usage and save.

Use your fireplace less

You might think using your fireplace will save on your heating bills. Unfortunately, that’s not true. Unless a house is very small, a fireplace doesn’t produce enough heat to warm the whole house. Your heating system will still run even if you have a roaring fire. While the ambiance is nice and relaxing, cold air from outside replaces the hot air going up your chimney. In turn, your heating system has to warm that cold air up.

Make sure your fridge and freezer are shut

To ensure you’re not spending more on your energy bill than you should, be sure your fridge and freezer are tightly shut. Stick a dollar in your refrigerator door, so the bill is half in and half out of the refrigerator. If you can easily pull the dollar out, then you may need to adjust the door latch or replace your seal.
To optimize your freezer’s performance, defrost it once the frost builds up to 1/4 inch.

Watch your gaps

According to Energystar.gov, up to 30 percent of the air that goes through your home’s ductwork is lost because of leaks. Check the exposed ducts throughout your house, such as in the attic or basement, and seal any leaks. Caulk between window and door frames and the walls to plug leaks and keep heating from escaping.

To avoid costly repairs to your roof, walls and gutters, clean leaves and debris out of your gutters regularly. Clogged water freezes in and may cause damage.

Take advantage of bargains

For long-term savings, consider buying outdoor furniture offseason. Just like summer fashions, prices on patio furniture are slashed at the end of summer. Find what you like and take advantage of the excellent bargain.

Don’t let the cold air and high heating bills get the best of you. Take steps to follow these tips so you don’t pay in the long run.

Weekly cartoon: Careful ordering flowers.

alexa-flower

I’m always interested in feedback about my cartoons.  Feel free to tell me what you think in the comment section.  If you really liked it, please share it with others.

6 Tips To Prepare for Tax Season

Mature Adult man working in the officeTax season is almost here, so it’s time to get ready. Here are six tips to help you prepare and make filing your taxes as easy as possible.

Get organized

It’s important to have everything in one place.  As you receive tax documents, such as your W-2 and 1098 or 1099 forms, place them in a large envelope or file folder. Gather receipts and documents for charitable donations, tax payments and other deductions, and put those in the folder too. When it’s time to complete your tax return, you’ll be ready.  However, not everyone may be as organized as you are and some documents may not be ready on time.

Maximize contributions to your retirement plan

Try to contribute the maximum amount allowable to your employer’s 401(k) or deferred pension plan. Your contributions are tax-deferred and grow tax-free. Not only do you get a tax benefit, but you also might get matching funds from your employer.

Consider making a contribution to a traditional or Roth IRA if your company doesn’t have a retirement plan. You may get a tax deduction for your contribution to a traditional IRA. Both types of IRAs offer tax-deferred gains.

Remember the EITC

If you earned less than $53,505 in 2016, you may be eligible for the earned income tax credit (EITC). The IRS states that one out of every five workers fail to claim the credit. If you don’t know whether you qualify for the EITC, use the EITC Assistant tool.

Make withholding adjustments

Check your year-to-date withholding. Are you expecting a large refund?  If so, think about changing the amount of taxes withheld. If you plan on claiming the earned income tax credit (EITC), this is very important. A new law requires the IRS to hold all refunds on returns claiming EITC until February 15 to prevent tax fraud. If you decide to change your withholding amount, complete Form W-4 and submit it to your employer.

Donate what you no longer need

Do you really need all the clutter around your house? Make a New Year’s resolution to clean out your closets, attic, basement and other storage areas, and donate those items to charitable organizations. A charitable donation deduction is limited to the donated good’s fair market value, and the item must be in good or better condition. You have to file Form 8283, Noncash Charitable Contributions, if the value of noncash donated items is more than $500.

Take advantage of education tax breaks

You may receive tax savings if you, your spouse or dependents had high education expenses in 2016. The American opportunity credit, the lifetime learning credit, and the tuition and fee deduction all offer tax benefits. Various requirements may limit your benefit. Use the Interactive Tax Assistant tool to determine which one is best for your tax situation. You’ll need Form 1098-T, which your school will send to you, to complete IRS Form 8863, Education Credits.

No one enjoys preparing and filing their taxes, even if they expect to get a refund. However, these tips will save you time and money during this year’s upcoming tax season.

Do you smell funny?

he-smells-funny

This is a different version on the same gag as last week.  Which one is better?  Let me know in the comments below.

Preparing yourself for financial freedom

financial advisor with young family

Creating the financial future you’ve always dreamed of is not as difficult as you’ve been led to believe. It will require some discipline and lifestyle adjustments, but it can be accomplished by those who are committed and willing to make changes. This is where the average U.S. consumer needs to begin getting your financial big picture into shape.

Consolidate Smaller Loans into One Single Loan

This step is the practical first step that is the best one to take if you can swing it. There are three major benefits to this process that make it well worth completing.

  1. It pays off several smaller loans. They are finished and you are free and clear of those obligations.
  2. You’ve whittled down several monthly payments to keep with into one single payment.
  3. You’ve eliminated countless hundreds if not thousands of dollars in interest.

Paying out less money over the life of the loan should be incentive enough. The other two simply make it more convenient to repay your debt and maintain or rebuild your credit rating.

Create a Budget

Now it’s time to explore your income verses your outflow each month and establish a budget you can live with. If you’re married, you’ll need to work with your spouse to establish priorities in spending and identify expenses you can live without. It’s important to have a budget that not only allows you to live within your means, but also to enjoy the occasional splurge while saving money for rainy days and retirement.

Change Your Spending Habits

This is the hardest part for most people. We live in a consumer driven society. Do you really need 10 gigs of data on your mobile phone plan or can you rely on Wi-Fi more frequently? Can you limit your afternoon latte to one day a week? How much money can you save by reducing meals eaten out to once or even twice a month? What monthly expenses can you eliminate completely? Cable, movie rentals, pedicures? These expenses add up if you’re not careful.

Consult with a Financial Planner

Seeking financial advice and guidance from someone trained and qualified to look at your current financial situation and offer practical advice for saving, paying taxes, and building a nest egg for the future can help you get on the same page while getting your financial affairs in order – with an eye on tomorrow. The earlier in life you get your financial affairs in order and start looking at the big picture, the more comfortably you will be able to retire. These tips will help you get started on the right path. All you have to do is commit to following them.

Get Organized and Streamline Your Bill Paying Sessions

The fact that paying bills is not one of your favorite activities is actually an excellent reason to get organized and streamline your bill paying sessions. If you haven’t taken advantage of paying your bills online, you need to. By creating a routine and maintaining a location to take care of all bill related activities, you’ll find the entire process is shortened and becomes less stressful. A regular weekly payment session and singular storage location will also eliminate missed payments or lost bills. Utilizing paperless bills and automatic payment options will further simplify the process.

Designate a Place in Your Home to Pay and Store Bills

Instead of randomly placing bills around your home or storing them in your purse, wallet, car, etc., designate a location where you’ll keep all of your paper bills together. Ideally, this will be a space with an open table or desk containing: 1) a file to hold paperwork in an organized way (by order of due date is excellent), 2) materials to pay bills (pens, envelopes, stamps), and 3) a computer to check online balances. It’s a great idea to write the due date of any opened bill on the outside of the envelope in which it came to simplify the payment process. When the time comes to pay those bills, you’ll know exactly where they are and will avoid missing one or more payments.

Create a Weekly Time Slot to Pay Bills

Set aside one time slot per week to pay your bills. Even if you aren’t paid weekly, chances are excellent that you’ll have one or more bills due over the course of the next seven days. Make sure you have enough funding to cover any checks going out that week and move money from one account to another if needed. Provided you have marked the outside envelopes of your bills with their due date and have kept them in order, this weekly process should take a only a few minutes and will simplify your life.

Go Paperless and Set Up Automatic Payments

Perhaps one of the easiest methods to simplify the bill paying process is to go paperless and shift to automatic payments that directly draw from your checking or saving account(s) on the due date for each bill (or any pre-determined date you choose). You’ll still need to maintain your weekly bill paying session to open and review electronic billing notices and ensure that you have enough funding in your account(s) for any upcoming bills, but you’ll never need to write another check or open another paper envelope containing a bill. You may even be able to choose the recurring date to have payments drawn from your account(s), allowing you to wait until right after payday for extra ease in your routine.

How I reduced my financial stress

I use one credit card for all utilities, memberships and recurring automatic payments and another card for everyday spending such as gas, lunches coffee and anything I haven’t planned for. This has reduced the amount of bills to pay each month down to two. Plus, I never need to worry about overdraft fees or compromising my checking account. An additional perk is that I get rewards on all purchases made using the cards. It’s not for everyone, and it critically important to pay the balances off each month. But for me, it’s made my financial life much easier to manage.

What system do you use? Let me know in the comments section below.