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    Keeping Your Utilities in Check

    GUEST POST BY: Cyndi Lobejon , author of Life By Cyndi

    Ahh…utilities. These are things that are so essential to our modern lives as we know it, but often fade into the background of our minds as we sit in our toasty, well-lit homes, enjoying our roast dinners. We may hear about energy consumption on a daily basis through various media campaigns or advertisements, but how often do we actually stop to give it some thought in the context of our own homes? What if I told you that in your bid to master your finances, it’s well worth the time to do so? Here are a few ways to think about your own individual situation and assess how energy smart you’re being.

    • Especially if, like me, you pay for your utilities via automated direct debits, it’s easy to ignore the bills that pop intermittently into your inbox, or worse yet, logging into your online account and having a peek. A good habit to develop, however, is taking a look at your costs each payment period (whether this is monthly or quarterly) and keeping track of how these change in each billing cycle. Of course, how much energy you use up during any given time period will depend on many factor, not least of which are the season or weather. Nevertheless, if you spot your bills not just inching up according to the season you’re in, but actually making sizeable leaps, it’s time to cry “Whoa Nelly” and get to looking at the breakdown.
    • I’m convinced that in the past utility companies made understanding bills and one’s usage as difficult as they possibly could on purpose! However, times are changing and these companies now have to be more transparent. That being said, although it seems a most daunting challenge, it’s very important that you do take the time to understand how your bills are calculated and what they say about your usage. Pay special attention to things like per kWh prices, tariffs and standing charge. These are important points of reference that you will need when looking at the rates of competitors. The good thing is that normally your energy provider will provide an explanation of these terms either on their website or on your bill. There are also useful independent sites that give advice on this, like https://www.consumersenergy.com/, https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/ and https://www.thegreenage.co.uk/.

    • Know which type of tariff you’re on. Suppliers’ ‘standard tariffs’ are usually the most expensive ones and are the defaults for when you don’t specify the tariff you wish to be on. On the other hand, ‘fixed tariffs or ‘capped tariffs‘ are normally their cheapest tariffs and are excellent aids in budgeting, since they mean you don’t have to worry about your supplier suddenly increasing the rates at which they charge you for however much energy you use. If you’re on a special tariff that claims to give you variable rates based on peak and off-peak energy use times, then it’s key that you find out what these hours are, which typically depends on your specific energy supplier or your particular area. The off-peak times that these tariffs refer to (for example Economy 7 or 9 tariffs) tend to be roughly somewhere between 11pm and 8:00am. So if you’re on one of these tariffs, but the bulk of your energy consumption isn’t at these times, you might want to check out whether another tariff type would suit you better. At the very least, you could program some of your appliances like your washers to come on at these times.

    • Speaking of programming your appliances, many of the modern machines now allow you to set the time you want it to come on (which, when I first learned about, was like pure magic!). It’s recommended that you run your big appliances like your washing machines and dish washing machines at times when public energy consumption is lower, which means in most cases, late at night, and before 3pm and after 7pm on weekdays. Do bear in mind that these time brackets will differ depending on your area, supplier and season, so you will need to look up what these are in your neighborhood. In relation to boilers, even if you your specific make doesn’t have a timer in built, you can purchase a boiler timer separately (retails for around $30-$50) which will allow you to have full control over the times at which your central heating homes on, and make sure that it’s not constantly blasting out heat that goes wasted when you’re not home.

    Tip: Be sure to make sure your radiators aren’t cranked all the way up, and only turn on the ones in the areas people are in your home.

    • If you think you’re still paying too much for your utilities, based on tracking it over time, and on household factors like how many people are there at any given time, don’t be afraid to ring up your current supplier and have a chat about this. You might be surprised over helpful they may be in checking if you could switch to a cheaper tariff (always find out if there are any exit fees and beware of tariffs with high exit fees), installing a different type of meter, or even installing a meter when there was none there before in the property. The last point resonates strongly with me, because we’ve just moved into a property, and when I found at about the estimated monthly payments we’d be making for our water (much higher than at our previous property), I rang up the water company and they informed me that this was because we were in an unmetered property and, based on the house’s characteristics and our household profile, we would be saving roughly half that amount if we had a meter installed! Best part? There’s no installation charge. Ahmm…yes, please!
    • Finally, even if your current supplier offers you a cheaper tariff, it’s always good for you to do a little price comparison yourself. Thankfully, there are lots of energy price comparison sites that make this super easy. All you need to have are your prices per unit, average annual or monthly usage in hand and you’re off! Sites like https://www.electricchoice.com/, https://www.electricrate.com/, http://www.moneysavingexpert.com/, http://www.gocompare.com/, or https://www.uswitch.com/ might be good starting points for you, depending on where you live.

    Tip: Before making a move, be aware of any exit fees your current supplier may charge you if you decide to switch either tariffs or suppliers.

    Hopefully all or at least some of the above suggestions will give you the courage to go out there and conquer your utilities, one step at a time.

    About the author: Cyndi Lobejon is the writer of the blog Life By Cyndi where she discusses things she’s passionate about and has found useful in her own journey of self-fulfillment and joyful living. Her main interests are individual well-being, a healthy lifestyle, personal finance and anything else that brings happiness to daily living. Check out her blog at lifebycyndi.com.

    Birthday Freebies 2017!

    Today I turn the big 2-9! And in celebration of this special day I am sharing some of my favorite birthday freebies! Want to eat free on your birthday too?

    Check out these tasty offers:

    Einstein Bros Bagels– Free egg sandwich with purchase 
    Denny’s
    – Free birthday breakfast
    Ihop– Free rooty tooty fresh ‘n fruity pancakes
    Waffle House– Free waffle
    Firehouse Subs– Free medium sub
    Buffalo Wild Wings– Free order of snack size wings
    Fudruckers– Free burger with purchase
    Which Wich– Free sandwich
    Papa John’s– 10 free papa points which must be used during your birthday month
    Red Robin– Free birthday burger
    Spaghetti Warehouse– Free birthday entree
    Wingstop– Free large fresh cut seasoned fries
    Chili’s– Free birthday dessert
    La Madeleine– Free pastry
    Nothing Bundt Cakes–  Free bundtlet
    Amy’s Ice Cream– Free ice cream
    Starbucks – Free handcrafted beverage
    Amy’s Ice Cream– Free ice cream
    Ben & Jerry’s– Free scoop plus $3 off an ice cream cake
    Dairy Queen– Buy 1, get 1 free blizzard
    Sprinkles– Free birthday cupcake

    Be sure to sign up early to receive your coupons before your birthday!!

    May the funds be with you!

    Four Ways to Prepare and Survive a Job Loss

    Let me start off by saying, I am a huge Dave Ramsey supporter. But I am also stubborn and like to do things my way. Dave suggests an emergency fund of $1,000 as baby step #1. This seems like a reasonable amount for flat tires and unexpected car trouble but what about life’s bigger challenges? What about a job loss?

    I started my financial journey in January 2017 with gazelle intensity! I was knocking out debts left and right. It’s incredible the kind of traction you can get once old habits are released. Living within your means is possible and it’s exciting! Everything was smooth sailing, until last month. I began to notice a decline in my service industry. I decided to put a halt on my debt payoff plan and continue building my emergency fund instead. A thousand dollars didn’t seem like it would be enough to support me in the event of a job loss. I had a feeling my company would be reducing hours and I wanted to be prepared. This of course, was pure intuition but I put a lot of value in my intuitiveness. Sure enough, my boss came into my office sharing the news of multiple layoffs throughout the company. Me being one of them.

    I had never experienced being let go before. There was some disappointment but no need for panic. I kept thinking about was how grateful I was to have a large emergency fund. Had I not stalled my extra debt payments I would have been a complete mess! We never know what sort of challenges life will deliver… but I strongly believe in being prepared.

    Here are my top 4 ways to prepare and survive a job loss:

    1. Create passive income streams. Just as we must diversify our investments it is wise to create multiple streams of income. This could be as simple as a few side hustles a month or starting your own business. These ventures require much effort but they can be quite rewarding, especially if your side business is doing something you love. I started a clothing company last year because I wanted to offer ethical clothing made in the USA from sustainable materials. Most people do not know where their clothing is from or who made it. I want to help promote positive working conditions and high quality products. To be honest Lettuce Amor feels like a passion project more than a job. It’s fun, it provides an additional income source and it brings me joy to know I am living my values. As for side hustles, mine tend to change monthly. I am always looking for new ways to earn money and try new things. I recently joined a yoga studio part time to pursue my goal of becoming a certified teacher. Sometimes my life feels all over the place. I have many interests and I feel lucky to be able to explore them. RELATED: Check out my post, “4 ways to make easy money.”
    2. Increase your emergency fund. Being gazelle intense is extremely motivating but it leaves you with very little support in a true emergency. I personally prefer having 3-6 months expenses set aside before moving onto Baby Step #2. Depending on your total debt amount I would suggest at least saving three months worth of rent/mortgage payment. Aside from having food on the table, having a roof over your head is crucial. I grew up in multiple apartments and experienced our electricity and water being turned off more than once. My mom is my hero. She somehow managed to support three daughters as a single mother. I want to always be prepared enough to avoid uncomfortable housing situations. My question to you is, have you ever encountered a emergency that outweighed your one thousand dollar fund? Please share in the comments below.
    3. Stop spending. This goes without saying. If you’re currently on your financial journey I hope you’ve already eliminated all unnecessary spending. There are so many ways we can reduce our monthly expenses by cancelling gym memberships and shopping for deals on car insurance. But the real challenge is saying goodbye to weekend trips to the mall and going out to eat when we’re too tired to cook at home. Like everything else, these are learned behaviors and can be reversed. Practice being okay with owning less. For me, Minimalism has been incredibly inspirational. I see my personal belongings in a new light and no longer desire trendy clothing or possessions. It’s like Dave Ramsey says, “Live like no one else, so later you can live and give like no one else.”
    4. Be open to new opportunities. It’s important to keep growing your network regularly. Stay open to meeting new people and learning additional skills. I enjoy local meet ups and online forums to stay connected with others in my line of work. Change is inevitable. We must be proactive in educating ourselves with new technologies and marketing growth. Update your resume frequently and engage in communities online and in person.

    All in all, I feel this job change is a blessing in disguise. It is empowering me to level up and fulfill my deepest dreams. What would you do if money were not an issue?? I hope these tips provide a little comfort in knowing you have a cushion to fall back on. In times of loss it’s critical we stay positive. When we come from a place of scarcity, we attract lack. Instead, set yourself up to come from a place of abundance and gratitude! Keep your head up! Whatever it is life is throwing your way, you can and will overcome it.

    This article was originally published on KimGaleta.com.

    Thank You, Debt Free Community!

    I have to admit, when I started my financial journey I was gazelle intense! I was paying every extra penny towards my debt. Nothing could stand in my way! It’s funny how quickly things can change. I was recently let go from my job and I literally felt like the rug had been pulled from under my feet. It’s taken me a few weeks to get up the nerve to write this post. At first I was embarrassed. Then I felt lost. But today is different, today I feel BRAVE.

    Losing a job can be extremely difficult. Not just financially, but mentally too. Because I have struggled with accepting my current financial situation this was a huge blow to my self-esteem. I announced the news on my instagram account and couldn’t believe the amount of support I received from the debt free community.

    • eyeletcreative It’s always for the best! Put your heart and time into your business now!
    • veefrugalfox You’re going to be ok. I know it doesn’t seem like it now, but you’ll find your way. Let me know if I can do anything for you.
    • christinathenurse First let me say this: I’m so sorry. I can’t imagine the negative feelings that are going on in your world right now. Now let me say this: I was perusing Christine Caine’s IG page last night and saw this message and it just spoke to my heart. Perhaps your heart needs it today as well. Your next adventure is waiting just around the corner! Here’s what she said: “Sometimes God closes doors because it’s time to MOVE forward. He knows you won’t move unless your circumstances force you. Trust the transition. God’s got you!!” @christinecaine
    • new2budget @christinathenurse this is a true statement. I strongly believe when I was laid off from my job, it was God’s way of moving me because otherwise I would’ve never moved.
    • new2budget I am a testament that GOD WILL PROVIDE. I was laid off after being with my employer for 18 years in 2015. God has provided me with employment since then. I am currently working temporary but I am able to meet my financial obligations with God as my source providing a resource. Keep HIM first and I promise HE WILL MAKE A WAY! @thebudgetawakens
    • eatpraybudget I am so sorry @thebudgetawakens !! Your #debtfreecommunity is here to support you!!
    • kristylea_80 Oh @thebudgetawakens I’ve been there! Honestly, as awful as it was, I had not been happy at that job anyway and I ended up at a job I truly did enjoy. Dust off that resume, start applying and do some soul searching in meantime. Do your four walls, the rest can wait. ((Hugs!))
    • getrichquickish Best of luck!
    • the_soulful_savers Try to find clips of #daveramsey giving advice for someone in this situation I believe it will help. He makes it a positive thing! Best of luck! 🙏🏼😻🤓
    • minimisewithme I’m sure this is just the start of a new journey 😊
    • mariandaniells New step, new adventure. You got this!!!

    I mean, WOW!! If you haven’t joined our instagram community, I strongly suggest you visit some of the accounts listed above. Their words of encouragement helped me get back on my feet and continue moving forward. I truly believe everything happens for a reason and this job change will bring me closer to more fulfilling work.

    Be sure to leave your instagram username in the comments below so we can be friends!

    No Spend April and Adam Sandler Date Night

    This month I decided to tackle something I’ve never done before: A No Spend Month.

    I don’t think I was as mentally prepared as I should have been but I’m glad I’m doing it. I’m learning so much about my emotional triggers and how to let go of them. The first week started off great. I didn’t spend any money (aside from my grocery and gas budget). People were taking me out to eat and to the movies. I’m not sure if it was because they were inspired by my challenge or if they just wanted to spend time with me. I’ll just assume it was little of both 🙂

    The second week, I started to notice how strict of a lifestyle I’ve been living. I started really attacking my debt in January 2017. I was so motivated! Determined to do it right this time. But determination doesn’t have to mean restricting yourself ALL OF THE TIME. My boyfriend does so much for me and our relationship. And I was really feeling the need to give back to him in some way. We both love Adam Sandler and he was coming to Sugarland, TX (seriously, when does anyone come here?). I decided to surprise him with tickets and I’m so glad I did!! We had an amazing time and laughed so much! No, it wasn’t in my budget but I feel like it was an experience we’ll cherish forever. It’s important for me to allow space for giving back. I believe it strengthened our relationship and helped us to stay motivated with our usual cheap date nights.

    So I’m not 100% perfect but perfect isn’t real anyway.

    Back to no spending! Have you ever done a no spend month?

    My Debt Free Story

    I have a confession to make…. I didn’t learn the value of a dollar until my late twenties. I spent most of my life living off credit cards and loans. It all seemed so normal back then. My stepmom is a loan officer and even encouraged me to improve my credit score by using credit cards. The problem was, she didn’t realize I had no idea how to manage my money, let alone someone else’s money.

    I started working fulltime at the age of twenty and I was making more money than I had ever seen! Growing up we didn’t have much so when I started earning money on my own I was living it up! Music festivals throughout the year, you bet. Vacationing out of the country, all the time. It was so easy to borrow money to fuel my extravagant lifestyle. And because I had no problem paying minimum payments I didn’t realize what I was doing was wrong. My credit card debt added up quite quickly and reality eventually set it. I had dug myself into a giant hole. I had become a slave to my money.

    I discovered Dave Ramsey a couple years ago, and a light switch came on. Everything he talked about made so much sense and borrowing money became so unattractive to me. I did my best to cut back on concert tickets, travel and shopping but old habits die hard. Life happened and I continued to play the game of debt. It’s crazy how much a recent relationship influenced me to quit Dave Ramsey’s baby steps all together. I finally came to my senses and ended that relationship.

    So now here I am, twenty-eight years old and ready to breakup with debt once and for all! I have adopted a minimalist lifestyle. This has been extremely helpful in teaching me how to be content with less and truly loving the items I do own. If you want to change your spending habits, I encourage you to give minimalism a try. You can see my recent closet clean out video here. I love living on less than I made. This March I was able to put $1,500 towards paying off my debt! Minimalism and side hustles have become two major factor in speeding up my financial journey and I’m so excited to explore them even more!

    I don’t have a family yet but I would like to start one soon. In fact, one of the driving forces behind my goal of financial freedom is to be debt free before getting married and having kids. I want to be able to instill positive money management skills for my family from day one. I personally know how detrimental it can be to date someone that doesn’t share my values. This has become a major deal breaker for me. I believe having a partner that’s on the same page financially is essential to success. I am so thankful my boyfriend shares my values and supports my debt free journey. If you are searching for a support system, I recommend joining Instagram. There’s an amazing community of people encouraging each other to stay on track and reach our goals. It’s not always easy going against society’s norm but you are not alone! 🙂

    4 Ways to Make Easy, Extra Money

    Working full time doesn’t always leave me with a ton of free time to pick up a second job. I’d love to be able to work 2 jobs to help speed this debt snowball along. But the reality is, my schedule is pretty tight as is. This month I decided to get creative and look for new ways to make extra cash. Who doesn’t love an easy side hustle?

    Here are four ways I was able to add to my income this March:

    1. Poshmark – If you watched my closet clean out video you saw me eliminate almost half of my clothing. Since most of my clothes are still in fairly new condition I decided to list them on Poshmark. Poshmark is an app that allows you to sell used clothing. I love it because they provide the postage and all I have to do is pick up the free mailing envelopes from the post office. It’s cheap, it’s quick and it’s effective! March total: $101.05 (and counting).
      Sign up with code PKUQS to get $5 off your first order.

    2. Decluttr – Decluttr is an app that allows you to sell phones, CDs, DVDs, games, and books. I had a ton of dvds and books that weren’t being used so decided it was time to let them go. It’s a simple process of scanning each barcode to see how much money you can earn per item. This app also sends you the postage label. All you have to do, is find a box that will fit your order. March total: $44.91

    3. REI – Did you know REI has a 100% Satisfaction Guaranteed policy? I’ve been driving around with a tent and other camping equipment in the trunk of my car for a few months now. It was lightly used and because I want to eventually upgrade to something a bit larger, I decided to return it. The process was quick and easy! March total: $168.19

    4. Ebay – My boyfriend is helping me with this one so I don’t know much about the process. We listed a couple electronics and one has sold so far! March total: $69.00 (minus ebay fees)

    What is your favorite side hustle?

    I’m excited to look into more ways to earn in my spare time!

    Why I’m choosing to go against Dave Ramsey’s debt snowball rules.

    Last week, as I was preparing to make my first payment in Baby Step 2, I received this email:

    You got hit with a finance charge! $78.35 APR 22.99%

    I immediately panicked! Am I making the right choice by paying off my smallest balance first? Do I really have to pay off a 2% interest loan – before a 22.99% interest credit card?!

    Sorry Dave but there is just NO WAY that I can rationalize that. I understand the reasoning behind small wins helping us to stay motivated but I feel so sick and tired of this debt game that I’m determined to reach financial freedom! and SOON! So, I’m going against the grain and altering my payoff plan… I’m going to eliminate my credit cards before my low interest rate loans. It’s the only way I can sleep at night.

    I know some of you may not agree with me (Dave definitely wouldn’t) but I’m convinced I can pull this off! Thanks for following my journey and helping me to stay accountable 🙂

    Balance:               $4,370.50
    Payment:            –$1,432.55

    New Balance:     $2,937.95

     

    How about you – Do you follow The Baby Steps perfectly?

    THE #GIVINGCARDS PROJECT

    I was so excited to partner with Rockstar Finance and their Giving Card Project! From the moment my card arrived I was contemplating ways to give back in my work environment. I work for a cleaning and restoration company and our guys do some of the dirtiest cleanups! And they’re usually in homes with no AC, in the scorching Texas heat! I admire our mission because we help others in times of disaster: flooding, fires and storm recovery. When I mentioned the idea of a company lunch my coworkers were quick to pitch in. So much so, that we were able to offer lunch to our employees as well as customers stopping by for supplies.

    Thank you Rockstars for brightening everyone’s day and reminding us to pay it forward!