Be Green and Save Your Green With These Energy-Saving Tips

Money & Energy Saving Tips

According to the government’s Energy Star website, your home is filled with little critters right now, and they are quietly stealing your energy and your money. These critters are robbing dollars out of your wallet and about 100 billion kilowatt hours of electricity from the power grid each year.

So who are these “energy thieves” in your home stealing the green from your wallet? A quick look around your abode will probably turn up a number of things you can change or improve upon to save you money while also taking pressure off of the nation’s overtaxed energy grid.

Unplug to Save

So you’re probably wondering what an energy critter is. They are all of those items you leave plugged in even when you aren’t using them. For example, if you leave your phone charger plugged into an outlet, it is drawing power, even if it is not attached to a device. In addition, appliances and electronics that are plugged in (such as microwave ovens, DVRs and video game consoles) are also constantly sucking down energy. Experts suggest unplugging appliances, chargers and electronics when not in use, especially those that are infrequently used. You could save up to $100 a year by doing so.

Blind Ambition

Many people put blinds on their windows so as not to give their neighbors too much of an eyeful. But did you know that blinds are also one of the best ways to reduce the amount of heat your homes will gain in the summer? According to Energy.gov, highly reflective blinds that are closed can reduce your home’s heat gain by as much as 45 percent. Because blinds have slats that can be opened and closed to suit your lighting and ventilation needs, they are also more versatile than other types of window coverings, such as shades or curtains.

Finding the right blinds to fit your home’s design is easier than ever today, as these window coverings come in many different types of materials. For example, you can now find aluminum, vinyl, faux wood and wood blinds.

Smartphone, Smart Home

Your smartphone or iPad is good for more than playing Angry Birds and checking out your friend’s Facebook status. Today, you can also use them to control your lights and other items in your home while you are away. For example, you can plug your lights and other electrical devices into a specially designed Wi-Fi enabled switch, such as Belkin’s WeMo, that will allow you to control these devices via your tablet or smartphone, as NYTimes.com notes.

Control Your Fate — Automate

Keeping your home at one temperature setting can be a money waster. Do you really need to keep your home toasty warm in the winter while you are at work? Of course not. The same holds true in the summer. Your air conditioner doesn’t have to work as hard if there is no one home to enjoy its cooling effects. Fortunately, there are inexpensive digital thermostats on the market today that will allow you to program specific temperature settings for your house for different time periods. Some units, such as the Nest, can even be controlled from your smartphone or the Internet, as USAToday highlights. By installing and using one of these units, Energy Star claims that you can save as much as $180 a year on your energy bill.

5 Apps That’ll Put Money Back in Your Pocket

money saving apps

Helping you save money is what we do every day.

By Megan Pacheco

So here is a quick list of 5 great apps that can help you plan, keep track of your spending, reduce your debt, help you find the best deals and even earn you points for your favorite activities (like being a couch potato…no, but seriously!)

Let’s jump right in:

Have a plan, track it and find hundreds of dollars-worth of spending waste!

Mvelopes is by far the best budgeting app out there. Contrary to all of the other apps that simply track your spending and tell you where you overspent–after the factMvelopes is based on an old and tried envelope budgeting approach that allows you to pre-fund your budget categories and then track their balances with every purchase you make.

–       Make a spending plan.

–       Pre-fund your spending categories BEFORE you start spending.

–       Easily track all of your transactions.

–       Watch your spending trends, and find spending waste.

Get rewarded by just walking into a store? Yes please!

 Shopkick  is a great app used by over 6 million shoppers! It will not only make you aware of all the great deals in your area for participating retailers, but it will also reward you with points for various activities.

–       Get rewarded with points just by entering a participating retailer’s store. Simply turn your app on before going through the doors.

–       Get rewarded by scanning your favorite items inside of the participating retailer’s store.

–       Get rewarded by purchasing an item at the participating retailer’s store. (This option obviously allows you to earn the most points)

–       Link your MasterCard or Visa and earn points for making qualifying purchases.

–       Redeem your points for a gift card!

Earn points while you veg out in front of the TV!  It’s possible! 

Viggle has come up with an idea to reward all of us TV-holics. It works like this:

–       Download the Viggle app.

–       Open your app as you watch TV, and it will automatically check you “in” for whatever show you’re watching to earn points.

–       Look for ways to earn BONUS points by watching certain shows.

–       Redeem your points through the rewards catalogthat has brands like Starbucks, BestBuy, Barnes&Noble and more.

Earn cash for grocery shopping…which you probably do a lot of anyway!

 Ibotta allows you to earn cash for making qualified purchases using deals found on Ibotta. Are you getting ready to head over to do some grocery shopping? Here is what you need to do before you head out:

–       Check Ibotta for coupons and deals.

–       Choose all of the deals you plan to participate in.

–       Have fun shopping.

–       After you’re done, take a picture of your receipt so Ibotta can verify you did indeed purchase the items.

–       Receive your earned cash through your PayPal account.

Tired of missing out on a better price just because you didn’t know?

Shop Savvy helps you find best deals for the item you’re about to buy. Have you ever bought something only to find out that this item was offered at a better price in another store? With Shop Savvy you don’t have to worry about losing out on the best deals available any more.

–       Simply scan the barcode of the item you want to purchase.

–       Shop Savvy will quickly scan pricing for this item in both local stores and online.

–       Pick the best price and save money!

There are plenty of money-saving tools out there, but remember this one basic rule: Failure to plan is planning to fail. So before you start taking advantage of all of these great apps, make sure you do all of your great deal buying within the framework of your spending plan. If you have no plan, you’ll continue overspending despite all of the great deals.

5 Budgeting Tips for First Time Home Buyers

Homebuyers

Don’t Miscalculate While Buying Your First Home!

Post by Claire Atkinson

Buying a home for the first time can be as nerve wracking as it can be exciting. For many people, it can be hard to tell how much money will be needed for all the expenses that can go with purchasing a home. First-time home buyers may not be fully aware of all the extra expenses that come with purchasing a house, hence, they may have problems budgeting properly. Being prepared and fully aware is important for financial security when buying a home.

Most people realize by now they can use an online mortgage calculator to figure how much they can afford in monthly payments for a house. However, there are several things as well as mortgage payments that need to be considered when budgeting money before and after a home purchase.

*Upfront costs – It will cost around $300 to $400 to have the home inspected by a professional prior to the purchase. While this may not be mandatory, it will help point out and avoid any potential major problems with the house.

*Closing costs – Purchasing a home is a complicated process and requires a great deal of paperwork that doesn’t come cheap. There are fees to be paid to the lender, lawyers and appraiser, as well as costs for the loan and title.

* The average closing costs has increased since last year in most states. According to bankrate.com, a home buyer applying for a $200,000 mortgage will pay on average $2,400 in closing costs. It’s important that buyers include these substantial costs in their budget calculations!

*Monthly bills – It will be important to have an idea on how much the monthly utility bills will run for the house that will be purchased. The real estate agent will usually be able to provide some idea how much the heating, electric and water bills have been on average. If not, try to find out from the current owners if possible.

*Maintenance – As any homeowner will attest, it is impossible to plan for everything. Whether it’s new windows, a roof replacement or a new major appliance, it’s only a matter of time before a costly repair will need to be made. Some experts suggest setting aside one percent of the home’s value each year to help cover these unexpected costs. It might even be a good idea to set up a separate savings account for this fund and to make monthly deposits, rather than trying to set aside one lump sum.

*Practice – Some experts recommend potential first-time home buyers practice making mortgage payments before they have to do the real thing. After the potential mortgage payment has been figured, take a few months and move that amount of money into a savings account and don’t touch it. This will give a proper feel for whether that amount of money can be spent each month on house payments. In addition, track daily expenses and revenue in a notebook so as to find out what sort of cash flow is happening.  If you love technology, find an online budgeting app that will hep you plan and keep track of all your expenses. 

Purchasing a home for the first time can be an exciting, yet scary, experience. Knowing what expenses will need to be covered, and how to budget for them, will allow the new home owner to rest easier at night and enjoy their new investment.

 

This is guest post written by Claire Atkinson on behalf of Kanetix, a mortgage comparison website. Kanetix can help you compare Kitchener rates and also provides more tips for first time buyers.

6 Smart Credit Card Rules

6 Smart Credit Card Rules

6 Rules for Using Credit Wisely!

By Megan Pacheco

What if you could learn to use credit cards to your advantage? What if credit card companies could pay you instead of you paying them interest for the privilege? Yes, it is possible to use credit instead of letting credit use you. Here are 6 simple rules to play by.

Choose the right credit card based on your spending habits.

Not all cards are equal and not all consumers behave the same way. Credit card companies understand this and hence offer different levels of rewards for different consumer behaviors. Before choosing a credit card, take some time to understand your spending habits. Where do you spend the bulk of you regular monthly budget? Groceries? Restaurants? Gas and Transportation? Utilities? Once you understand where the majority of your monthly budget goes, choose the card that offers highest rewards for those expenditures. There is nothing better than getting paid for what you are already doing on regular basis.

If you’re looking for a credit card that rewards you based on your spending patterns, go to CreditCardTuneup.com. Just answer few questions about your monthly budget – the way you spend your paycheck every month – and you’ll get a list of suggested credit cards with best rewards.

If you don’t have a budget, learn about the most effective budgeting system here.

Beware of store cards

In general, store cards are not your best friend. Opening store charge accounts will quite often lower your credit score, and what’s more, they can get and keep you in trouble. Most cards offer a one-time discount on purchases made when you open your account, with hopes that you will continue buying your favorite brands and pay high interest rates while you do it.  There are a few cards that do offer a continual discount on every purchase you make, but make sure you read the fine print before you do opt for a store charge card.

Pay off balance in full every month – non negotiable

This is most obvious and sadly most ignored credit card rule.What every responsible credit card user understands is the fact that as long as you pay your balance in full every month, you remain in control. As soon as you start keeping a revolving balance, you give the control over to your credit card company. Revolving a balance means you are willingly paying premium for the items you purchased using your card.  So make a decision that as soon as you stop paying your balances in full, you stop using your cards!

Don’t pay fees – unless it makes sense

There are many cards that require yearly one-time fees and there are those that don’t. Before you dismiss a credit card solely based on the yearly fee, I would encourage you to look at the rewards it offers. If the card gives a very high return on your purchases (especially your most common ones) calculate the returns minus the fee versus much lower reward points on a no-fee card. The math should tell you all you need to know in order to make the right decision.

Don’t forget to collect your rewards! Obvious and hidden ones!

Get in a habit of cashing in your reward points / cash back points on regular basis.  Have a plan for what you’ll do with those rewards. You may want to set it aside as a vacation fund or a Christmas fund. Maybe use it to make one extra early mortgage payment (if cash back is what your card offers). The point is to have a plan. And always understand all of your “hidden” benefits since those are often overlooked. Some of those may include:

Automatic extended warranty up to 1 year on certain items

Automatic car rental insurance

Trip cancellation insurance

Credit card usage has been abused for so long that for many the best solution, at least for a season, is to stop using them.

But once you understand and acquire the habit of responsible credit card usage, you can take advantage of the process. Establishing your credit history, earning cash back or rewards, and convenience are just a few perks for those who can play by the rules. The rules are simple and can be summed up in this one statement:

Don’t spend the money you wouldn’t otherwise have, and always pay your bill in full every month.

Most Common Financial Mistakes to Avoid this Holiday Season

shoppers

6 Tips to Prevent Overspending this Holiday Season

Guest post by Dylan Adams

Holiday shopping can be one of the year’s most stressful tasks. Between buying great gifts, decorating, and creating spectacular meals, finances aren’t always at the forefront of a person’s mind. But with a few quick and easy tips on how to avoid common financial mistakes, you can remove the stress of the holiday season from your wallet, even if you can’t get the in-laws out of your house. Here’s what to avoid.

Forgetting to Make a List

Without a list of things you need, whether it be a grocery list for a holiday meal or a list of the people receiving gifts from you this year, a surefire way to overspend on things you don’t need is to try to keep track of all of it in your head, or worse, wing it when you get there. Another drawback of forgetting to make a list is that it might require you to make multiple trips to the same store, draining your gas tank as well as your bank account.

Neglecting to Set a Budget

One of the easiest ways to overspend this holiday season is to shop without a budget. Instead, figure out how much it’s possible for you to spend, total, on gifts, then calculate how much you can spend per person or per gift. If you’re still feeling strapped for cash, this might be a great time to assess your overall budget. You might want to consider saving money by using less heat this winter, clipping some coupons for your holiday shopping (there’s an app for that!), or saving on your phone and internet (try bundling services; check Verizon FiOS availability to see if they’re an option.)

Failing to Return Unwanted Items

Bought a gift only to turn around and find something better or cheaper? One of the easiest ways to lose money during the holiday season is to fail to return gifts you’re no longer going to give. Whether your ordered the gift online and haven’t made it to the post office to ship it back, or you can’t manage to get another visit to a store into your daily routine, don’t let returning those “never mind” purchases fall by the wayside. That way, you free up as much money as possible to splurge on the expensive turkey or get your special someone an extra something.

Buying Everything Online

Doing all holiday shopping online certainly is convenient, but it has a major drawback: things often seem cheaper until shipping costs are added. Instead, shop smart online. Purchase things you can’t easily get or that aren’t available in stores. Take advantage of websites that have free shipping deals or low-cost gift wrapping, and consider saving yourself a trip to the post office for gifts that are going out of town. Resist the temptation to buy everything sight-unseen and rack up huge shipping charges in the process.

Avoiding Comparing Prices

Sometimes the idea of shopping around until you find the best price seems exhausting. Though buying everything online isn’t always a good idea, the internet is a great resource for comparing all kinds of products and prices before you get to the store. Plus, shopping around online might alert you to deals or coupons you weren’t aware of. If you don’t compare both prices and products, there’s a good chance you’ll miss the best deals. Fortunately, there are several apps for that.

Shopping Last Minute

Not only will stores be crowded the day before a big holiday, you’ll probably feel pressured to buy things quickly. You won’t have time to compare prices or models, and you might feel like settling on more expensive or convenient items to cut down on your list and on the amount of time you have to spend in the haze of holiday-shopping-induced panic. You can do much of your consumer research before you ever set foot in the store, luckily.

So even when you’re stressing about the fact that your gift-wrapping skills aren’t the greatest, you won’t have to stress about overspending. As long as you’re paying attention this holiday season, your finances will stay healthy. Which thankfully removes one thing from your list of possible New Year’s Resolutions.

WARNING: Watching too much TV may be hazardous to your finances!

Are you watching too much TV?

By Megan Pacheco

American, on average, watch 34 hours of TV per week…

Would you exchange your frequent TV viewing habits for something that could help you improve your financial stability and give you a higher probability of financial success in the future?

As you consider this question, here are few interesting numbers…

According to Tim Corley, author of the book Rich Habits – The Daily Success Habits of Wealthy Individuals , 67% of the wealthy watch 1 hour or less of TV every day vs. 23% for the poor

, and only 6% of the wealthy watch reality TV vs. 78% for the poor.

Today cable TV, with all of its “bells and whistles,” is pretty standard, even among those who struggle financially.

Did you know that, on average, Americans spend close to 5% of their annual gross income on entertainment? That’s roughly $2,600 per year according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Based on a study conducted by The Heritage Foundation, nearly two thirds of those defined by the Census Bureau as “poor” have cable or satellite TV.

So, why are we sharing this insight with you?  How can NOT watching TV help you generate wealth when, on average, your cable bill may be only $85 – $120 per month?

Even though there is a financial component to consider here, I’d argue that it’s not just the fact that the wealthy don’t watch TV, but it’s what they use that extra time for that makes the difference!

So let’s take a look at all the ways that NOT watching TV can help you in achieving financial success.

The financial side

Even though our monthly cable TV bill may not be substantial, it’s still over $1000 a year. Considering the fact that many of us don’t have a $500 – $1000 emergency fund set aside, it would be much wiser to “pause” the cable and use those funds to build up your emergency fund. Why? Because unless you start using cash to pay for unexpected life events like car problems, home repairs etc. you’ll be bound to use debt in order to fund those emergencies. Saving is one sure way to finally break free from your debt cycle!

Health

So what do wealthy people do in lieu of watching TV? They exercise! Yes, according to the Gallup poll, the wealthy pay much attention to fitness. Not only do they exercise, they also eat less junk calories per day and are more likely to eat home made healthy meals. So how do we mimic this lifestyle without paying fitness club fees?

Take a daily 30 -60 minute walk. It’s free, great for your body and your mind. Use this time to listen to a good podcast, think, reflect, ect.

Go online and search for toning exercises you could do at home. Create a quick 15-20 minute toning routine you can do every morning before you get your day going.

Take an extra 15 minutes in the morning to prepare your lunch. Use in-season fruits and vegetables to complement your sandwich or soup. This will not only be great for your health but for your pocket book as well.

Read and Learn

Instead of spending time in front of the TV, wealthy people tend to read and self educate. This is a great way for someone who can’t afford to go back to school to increase knowledge and add valuable skills without spending a penny.

Exchange 1 hour of your TV time a day and soak in some knowledge:

If possible, set aside a specific hour every day dedicated to self improvement and growth.

Get a membership card to your local library and rent out books that can help you grow in a specific area.

Find good podcasts / instructional messages you can listen to online.

Find good, reputable blogs that address subject matter you’re personally interested in. Opt in to receive newsletters or emails on specific topics.

As you can see, this TV issue is not really just about saving a few dollars every month, although for some that may be a good starting point; it’s about maximizing the way we use our time. There is nothing wrong with watching an occasional movie or a favorite show, but since we all have only 24 hours in our day, we can never “get” more time. Let’s use our waking ours wisely!

Budgeting for an Emergency

budget

Tips on Starting and Maintaining a Solid Emergency Fund!

Guest post by Alanna Ritchie

More than a quarter of Americans have no money reserved for emergencies, according to a 2013 Bankrate Survey, which means millions of people have nowhere to turn in the event of a medical crisis, car trouble or a flood in the basement.

You can combat debt by budgeting for an emergency.

When you find yourself financially stranded because of unexpected life events, it is overwhelming. And, since it is hard to predict what the future will hold, facing an emergency without any preparation can quickly snowball into unconquerable debt. Setting aside some savings before disaster strikes can keep you in control of your money.

Budget Before the Emergency

Start by setting a smaller goal, like saving $500. While this may not be enough money to cover some emergencies, like a new transmission or surgery, it can build a foundation and help you avoid pulling out the credit card for every unexpected event.

Jumpstart your emergency fund by using a large deposit from your tax return, selling items online or keeping what’s left over from your paycheck after a month of seriously cutting back on spending. Having a base to start from will motivate you to grow this account even more.

Decide on a monthly goal that you can afford and, even if it takes time, make sure to consistently contribute that amount to your emergency fund. You may be tempted to skip a month here and there if your budget is tight, but try to adjust your lifestyle expenses – whether it be a gym membership or Netflix subscription—and make the emergency fund a priority.

Maintain the Emergency Fund

Once you reach your goal, keep going. Maintain the habit of setting aside a portion of your earnings for the future. This will help with emergencies and enable you to build a retirement fund later on.

Experts recommend saving at least 6 months’ worth of living expenses. This may seem like a lot and can take time to build, but you will not regret this when the money cushions a job loss or other financial crunches you may encounter.

After an Emergency

If you deplete your emergency fund in the midst of a crisis, don’t panic; you are using it properly. Sometimes the fund will not cover all your costs, and you will need to rely on other sources. You may need to use credit or sell structured settlement payments to handle major emergencies.

The important thing to remember is to not leave your fund empty after the emergency. Work hard to build savings back up.

Finally, if you are lucky enough not to encounter emergencies for a while, avoid using the money to splurge on a shopping trip or go on a big vacation. You may be able to use a portion of this to pay off debt, but leave the rest untouched, as the future is unknown.

Alanna Ritchie has spent years studying, writing and learning to love the intricacies of the English language. Today, she works as a content writer for Annuity.org, where her primary focus is personal finance.

Want Financial Success? Wake up Early!

Habits of the Wealthy: Wake up Early!

alarmclock

“Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise,” – Benjamin Franklin

by Megan Pacheco

Do you ever wish you could have more time? All of us get 24 hours in a day and it’s up to us to manage those hours.

Time management is closely related to our financial wellbeing. Our morning routine can be a great contributor to either our financial progress or our financial decline. Which one will it be?

Tom Corley, Financial Planner, dedicated five years to observing and tracking behaviors and habits of both the rich as well as the poor. What he found was that the morning routine is one habit that differentiates the wealthy from the poor.

Based on Corley’s findings “rich folks often take advantage of those wee morning hours…44% wake up three hours before their 9-to-5 job. In those hours they focus on self improvement, reading educational material, like trade journals or industry blogs. They’ll also squeeze in a workout, which Corley says leads to a more productive day at work.”

Here is the best news for all of us who are ready to start transforming our finances. We can adopt the habit of an early morning routine and start reclaiming a few hours each day! All it takes is determination, discipline and consistency.  Spend the next 30 days practicing this habit.

Here are few ideas on how you can start using your early morning hours to your financial advantage:

Review yesterday’s spending

Knowing where you stand financially is key to making changes and adjustments to your money habits. After all, how can you change something if you are not aware of it first?

Take 15-30 minutes every morning and review your spending from the day before. Did you stick to your budget or a spending plan? Where did you “get off track?” Was every single purchase necessary or did you make some “off the cuff ”purchases?

Your numbers will tell you a great story, so use a few minutes every morning listening to your numbers, taking notes, journaling and making slight adjustments as needed. If you’re consistent, soon you’ll be able to not only detect and prevent bad spending decisions, but also discover financial opportunities! Use an online budgeting software to help you make the process speedy and fun!

Don’t have a spending plan? Learn the most effective budgeting system there is-the envelope budget- and how it can transform your finances and your life!

Exercise

During his research Corley also found that wealthy people pay attention to their health. By keeping their bodies in check they spend less money on health related expenses, they spend less time on sick days, and therefore have more time to dedicate to producing and growing income.

Wealthy people also tend to be “calorie conscious” and are apparently big calorie counters. They eat less junk food and spend less of their calories on alcohol intake.

So what can you do to tap into this habit of the wealthy and transform your morning hours into health building time?

–       Dedicate 20-30 minutes of your morning time to a quick workout. You can find great FREE workout plans online. You can go for a quick run or a walk, or simply create a home workout routine. All at no cost!

–       Take 10 minutes of your morning time to prepare your breakfast and lunch. This will not only allow you to save money on buying fast food but will also help you make better food choices. Win-Win all the way!

–       Interested in counting calories to curb your bad eating habits? There are a few great FREE apps, like myfitnesspal that will make it easy and fun.

4 simple ways to budget for your healthcare related expenses.

Read something

For those of us who are at the beginning of our financial turn-around journey, learning sound financial habits is critical. Morning is a great time to brush up on good financial blogs or read a good financial book. Even if it’s just one chapter or one article at a time, acquiring a habit of constant learning will help you become a much wiser consumer.

By taking 15-20 minutes every morning and dedicating it to “financial self-education” you will discover ways you can become a better buyer, a better investor or a better saver.

Go ahead, make a commitment to wake up at least 1 hour earlier than usual and watch what it does to your financial health. Your formula may be different than what we have outlined, so do what works for you. Let’s see if the next 30 days can be a beginning of better you!

Kill the Chaos – How to Organize Your Financial Paperwork

No more late payments!

Put an End to Chaos Once and for All!

Guest post by Richard Jonas

Are stacks of unopened letters piled up on your desk or crammed into drawers or plastic bags?

Do you routinely pay late fees or bounce checks because you have no idea where your bills are or when they’re due?

Have you spent hours trying to find a receipt or a bill but eventually gave up in anger and frustration?

Today, you can put an end to that once and for all.

I’m going to give you exact, step-by-step instructions that will put you in control of your financial documentation. I’m not talking about digital files out in the cloud or somewhere on your hard drive. I mean bills, letters, invoices, notices, receipts, etc.

If you follow my instructions, you will never again have to guess where a bill is or where to find a receipt. Your paperwork will be highly organized and will actually become useful to you. You’ll eliminate a major source of frustration in your life and take a major step toward increasing your financial security and peace of mind.

Step 1: Set a start date.

Choose a day that you’ll devote to this project and nothing else. Why? Because starting on that day, disorganization and chaos in your financial documentation will become a thing of the past.

Step 2: Gather your tools.

Get the following items:

· Paper shredder.

· Expanding file.

· Letter opener.

· Stapler and extra staples.

· Large binder clips.

· Large trash can or trash bags.

· Several medium size cardboard boxes.

· Post It Notes.

Step 3: Prepare a work space.

Choose a room where you can create a large, open space on the floor. Move furniture if you have to but just clear off a large space on the floor. This will be your work space.

Step 4: Collect and sort

· In your work space, gather all your mail (opened or unopened), invoices, bills, receipts, letters. Everything. Go through your closets, your drawers, your garage, your car or anywhere else where you might have “stored” your unopened mail and other papers.

· Use your letter opener to slice open every envelope. Don’t remove the contents – just open them up and throw them into a box.

· Remove the contents of every envelope, one by one. As you open each letter, throw away any enclosed return envelopes or generic paperwork. Just keep the important pages and staple them together. Throw all the discarded paperwork into one of the trash bags.

· As you go through your papers, create a place on the floor for all documents in a certain category. Write the name of the category on a Post It Note and stick it on the floor by the stack so you can quickly see where each kind of document belongs. Medical bills in one stack, credit card bills in one stack, bank statements in one stack, etc. You’ll probably also need a Miscellaneous stack.

· If you find documents that you no longer need to keep but contain ANY kind of personal information (including your name and address), don’t throw them away – SHRED THEM!

TIP: If you have receipts or other small documents, here’s a trick to make them more manageable. Just staple them to a piece of paper and jot down a note describing the receipt. Write the note lengthwise along the edge of the paper. This allows you to file the receipt so the note is clearly visible and doesn’t get lost among the larger documents.

At the end of this step, every single piece of paper you collected should be in one the stacks.

Step 5: Organize each stack

Within each stack, sort all the documents into groups. For example, your medical bills stack may have invoices and lab reports from four or five different doctors. Find all the documents for each doctor and temporarily put them into separate stacks. Go through each doctor’s documents and sort them according to date, with the most recently dated document on top. Once you have a particular doctor’s documents organized, secure them with a binder clip. Repeat this for each doctor and once you’re done put them all back together in one medical bills stack. Repeat this procedure for each stack of documents.

After organizing each stack, place them in the expanding file. Label the expanding file’s tabs so you can quickly locate documents. (NOTE: here’s a link to what I mean by an “expanding file.”)

Clean up your trash and CELEBRATE! You just completed a very important task.

Step 6: Staying Organized

Now it’s time to adopt a completely different attitude toward checking your mail and staying organized. But it will be a THOUSAND times easier than before, since you took the time to organize your paperwork. Here’s how to stay organized for the rest of your life.

· Check the mail every day.

· Immediately open every letter that’s not an obvious piece of junk mail.

· Designate one place where you will always place any mail that needs to be acted on. Don’t use a drawer or file folder. You want to be able to see the documents every day, with no effort on your part (out of sight REALLY IS out of mind and that’s not what you want). Don’t procrastinate – just do it.

· Once it’s time to file away a document, immediately place it in the organizer with the other documents in the same category. Or, if you no longer need the paper version, you can always scan the document and store it on your computer instead. Again, don’t procrastinate – just do it.

This system works. If your financial paperwork is a nightmare, follow these instructions ASAP. You’ll be very glad that you did.

Richard Jonas is a licensed insurance professional and the president of PrivateQuote.com, an online marketplace that helps people compare life insurance quotes. You can download Richard’s free e-book, “How to Buy Life Insurance Online – An Insider’s Guide” by clicking here.

The power of envelope budgeting!

Envelope budgeting works!

What’s so special about envelope budgeting system?

The envelope approach to money management has many advantages.  First, it requires spending only from cash on hand.

Second, this approach includes setting money aside each month to meet periodic spending requirements.  Now, when you take a family vacation, or purchase holiday gifts, the money is already available.

Planning Ahead for Periodic Expenses

Third, always spending from a remaining envelope balance, means you always know how much you can spend without impacting other areas of your plan.  When the money in an envelope is gone, you have two choices:  (1) Transfer cash from another envelope and spend less in that area, or (2) Wait to spend until you allocate more money to that envelope in the next month or pay period.  These three advantages form clear distinctions between this method of money management, and every other approach.  Following this paradigm completely eliminates the creation of consumer debt and allows you to begin saving and investing at levels you likely never thought possible. What’s more, if you’re already working on debt elimination, envelope budgeting enables a systematic approach that will help accelerate its payoff.

Not able to pay your debt down? Here are 5 warning signs you may be living beyond your means.

With this approach you actually allocate cash you have on hand to spending accounts that are set up for a specific purpose, and then spend from the balance in those accounts.  It’s a proactive approach to your finances that completely takes out the guesswork of money management.

5 positive results from using the envelope budgeting

We have seen great benefits from applying the envelope approach to monthly budgeting. We’ve heard from so many of our Mvelopes users and their stories are really overwhelming. What you may not expect is that the benefits are not only financial, but also emotional and relational. Here is what we regularly see our Mvelopes users experience:

1. Living within your income limits for the first time ever. Many people overspend not because they don’t have enough income, but because they don’t know or “can’t see” where the money is going every month. By proactively using the envelopes system our users are finally able to see where every dollar is going and they can proactively pre-fund each of their monthly categories before spending the money. This gives them the freedom to live within their current income and helps them to not spend money they don’t already have.

2. Reduction in spending waste. Because of the visibility that the envelopes system gives, you can easily find areas where you are “wasting” money. You may be thinking that you only spend $50 a month on eating out, but once you take a look at your actual spending, you can now see that you are spending $150. That’s the beauty of following the envelope system. Many of our Mvelopes users recover up to 10% of their income just by simply finding and eliminating the spending waste.

Are you wasting $200 a month and don’t know it? Find out!

3. Emergency savings fund. We are privileged to see people break their cycles of debt by creating financial margin in their monthly budget through savings. People who were living from paycheck-to-paycheck are learning to “pay themselves first” and many are able to pay cash for an emergency – like a broken car or a broken appliance. We see families become able to take a vacation for the first time in many years, with the cash that they’ve been able to set aside. Saving becomes just another envelope that needs to be pre-funded every month and once you make it a part of your regular monthly cycle it becomes much easier to start and stick with saving money.

4. Cash for periodic expenses. The area of periodic expenses (Christmas, vacation, car insurance, etc.) is where many are simply unprepared and hence use credit cards, payday loans, and other forms of debt to cover these items. By using Mvelopes, our users are finally able to set aside cash every month for their periodic expenses and avoid debt when time comes to make the purchase. Every periodic expense is treated just like a regular monthly need, with one key difference. The money accumulates in your periodic expense envelope until you need to make the payment.

5. Mvelopes saved my marriage. Yes, that’s what we hear from our faithful users. Since money issues cause marital tensions and contribute to a high divorce rate in our nation, couples who are finally able to communicate about money see their relationship heal and flourish. Mvelopes gives every couple one tool, one simple system of not only managing day to day expenses but also planning and dreaming for the future.

Just and Amanda’s success story…$1000 in savings for the first time EVER!

We could keep going but I think you can see that there is really no reason why anyone should say no to following this old, tried and proven envelope approach to budgeting. Mvelopes simply makes it feasible for today’s cashless lifestyle by using today’s technology!