Friday, September 2, 2011

Net Debt - Sept. 2011

Student loans: -$77,809.34 (+0)
Car loan: -$2,837.21 (+163.31)
Revolving Credit card debt: $0.
Mortgage: -$138,506.89 (+543.45)

Net debt: -$219,153.44

Monday, August 8, 2011

Doing Surveys - Making Money

I was just given a $50 gift card from Express, for free. I was able to do this by filling out surveys online. Your first reaction might be, "There's a catch”, “I have to jump through a lot of hoops to do this”, or "I wont qualify." Over the past few years (June 2010), I have been doing surveys online in my free time and during that time; I've been gifted cash, gift cards, shampoo, deodorant, facial cream, among other products. I usually get to keep these products although sometimes I do have to return them (infrequently though).

The two main survey companies I work with are MySurvey and e-Rewards. Both are completely free, both have given me samples to try out, and both have given me enough points or credit to redeem for cash, amazon gift cards, or express gift cards (although I could have also gotten hotel points, airline points, among a vast array of other options). I love both of these companies for different reasons. 

Mysurvey is open and free to everyone; they'll notify you of many of the surveys that you receive however, some they wont so you have incentive to continue to log in daily. They also have monthly give-a-ways, which to my dismay I have never won. :-(  Many of the surveys are easy to fill out and you'll frequently see the same questions across many of the surveys making it easier and faster to fill out. I don't get spam from them or their affiliates. However, to earn points from them is a long and slow process unless you do the longer surveys, which can take up to 15 minutes. When you first sign up, you'll get more short surveys, but the longer you are with them, the more long surveys you'll get. I think it took me a couple of months to start getting consistently long surveys among many short surveys. Looking over my history, I seem to redeem about $10 cash (although lately I'm doing amazon gift cards), every 1-2 month period. I'd say it's easy work to get an extra $120 a year. I recently decided to also put all of that money towards amazon to purchase a new kindle. Nothing better than a free kindle. :-)  

E-Rewards is different than mysurvey, in that it is not open to the public and you have to be invited to use it. I frequently get emails from them and I can adjust how many I get per week. Their surveys you tend to either qualify for or not and frequently, I find that I don't qualify. However, even if you don't qualify they usually credit you a small amount, usually around $0.25 to $0.50. When you do qualify however, the amount is usually much higher, in the range of $5 to $25. When you have a certain amount of money built up you're able to redeem. Their rewards however are more limited. Personally I don't like to redeem for airline or hotel points, which is their main options, I much rather have cold hard cash. However they do have a few stores, which I enjoy shopping at occasionally when they have nice discounts. So, I opt for the Express gift card. They do have different levels of the gift card, but I usually try to aim for the $50, just so I don't have to fuss with many different cards and I can usually go ans pick out at least one or two things that would end up being completely covered by the card. How frequently do I redeem? I'd say I get $50 gift cards from express every 5-6 months, which is about the same as mysurvey, just clumped up into one pot.

So between the two survey companies, I make about $200 a year and free products as well. :-)  The survey's require little time to take, I usually do them on the weekends now and maybe occasionally during the week.  The samples that I try out are usually anonymous, so I have no idea who made them, what scent/flavor they are in (until I open them), etc.  However, I do appreciate them, currently I'm using "Body Wash 407," and it smells wonderfully.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Making money doing what you know best, tutoring

It's easy for many of us to forget that over the years we have gone to college for X amount of years and we may be thoroughly trained in a certain subject or field. While we may take certain subjects for granted, like calculus, history, politics, economics, etc., others are just beginning their journey into that field and need a helping hand. And this is where your knowledge can generate money by tutoring them.

This is how I got started by tutoring.... An email was recently sent around my department from an individual’s father, looking for a guiding hand for his son who will be taking a course in the fall semester in college and wants a head start since he'll have a heavy load. I looked at my schedule over the next 5-6 weeks and discovered that I could probably take on the additional load of tutoring a few times a week. So I replied back by offering my assistance and my online resume by LinkedIn showing my accomplishments in teaching and tutoring and the subject matter from the past (and of course what I'm doing currently as well).

They wanted to know what my rate would be per hour and I dug around looking at for tutoring rates average and then I discovered another website, where you can search locally for tutoring in a wide range of fields, their rates, travel fee's (if any), etc. While there were many people to teach the subject, physics, the rates I discovered were in the range of $15 to $30 per hour. Wow $30/hr., that's better than what I get paid at my day job! I looked at the tutors around our area, and all of them offered to tutor a wide range of subjects but none had specific training in physics besides just the entry level, so I replied back offering $25 - $30 per hour. Needless to say, they took the $25/hr. rate.

Now, 5 tutoring sessions later, and only spending about 6 hours with the student, I've earned nearly $150. And in the next few weeks, we'll be going at a faster pace, which means, I have to tutor him longer per session so I'll be raking in the money!

I did sign up for the University Tutor website and I really hope I'll be able to pick up a few hours a week from them as well.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The U.S. Debt Clock

With all of the debate about the our nations debt I decided I wanted to really see how it was split up and where everything was and to my great desire, I found an incredible website which shows that and much more.

This website will show you real time U.S. National Debt, which includes things like credit card debt, mortgage debt, interest, state debt, local debt, food stamps, etc, along with where it is split, for example, per person, per tax payer, per family, medicare, medicaid.  It's AMAZING!

Then to top it off, they also show different countries debt, state debt, and they have a time machine! For both back in time and forward in time! Ah, time machine, how I wish we could actually use you and go back in time to where the debt was actually going down.

For those of you who are interested, I thought I would just push that out there for everyone to see and hope you'll get a chuckle out of it.  And I hope everyone here will be debt free faster than what that clock shows!

Don't forget to be awesome everyone.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Net Debt - August 2011

Student loans: -$77,809.34 (+0)
Car loan: -$3,000.52 (+835.97)
Revolving Credit card debt: $0.
Mortgage: -$139,050.34 (+178.20)

Net Debt: $219,860.20

About the car loan, if you notice, I'm pushing as hard as I can to have the car loan paid off as quickly as possible and I'm on track to have it paid off by new years. My actual car loan payment is only $172, so I actually paid an additional 4x as much. Although I could probably pay it off completely now, college will be starting soon, so between that and my college tuition bill, and some other bills that we are planning for, that would drop our cash reserves to almost nothing and we would have to start dipping into the emergency fund.

I've also picked up a side gig tutoring! So, at the moment, I have the pleasure of tutoring and making an extra $25 per hour, which I tend to be doing about 3-4 hours a week. So an extra few hundred dollars a month isn't too shabby, and I probably would be wasting that time anyway, so I'm happy at least to be making money from my wasted time. :-) I want to keep a running total of the money made from tutoring, so I'll be keeping a total there and hopefully this will encourage everyone to get a side gig and make some extra money and help pay off that debt faster, save for the future, or what ever you want to do. Of course it wont pay me more than my current job, but at least it definitely compliments it nicely.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

How I got a 76% off my electricity bill!

Several days ago, I received my energy bill for the month of June and to my surprise I only had to pay $20.06!  This is how I got a credit for $65.

First I bought a lawn mower.  Although, your first reaction might be, why or how does a lawn mower affect your electricity Bill?!  My answer is simple.  My electricity company, and I'm sure many of yours as well offers credits for purchasing lawn mowers (or some kind of appliance) that is energy efficient or electric instead of gasoline powered.  When we purchased our lawn mower, we specifically made sure that it was on that list of being able to get a credit back. Our final purchase was a push reel mower (similar to the one I've linked above) which I absolutely love!  I'd like to note that even my wife is able to mow the lawn, so it's not like the days of old where it's brutal to use this type of lawn mower.  This rebate, as you can see from there website shown to the right, is one of many rebates available and gave us $60. back on our bill.

The smaller portion of the bill, $5, was credited back to us due to a free do-it-yourself energy checkup. This energy check-up goes through the basics of your home: asking how large it is, how many people live there, location, windows, orientation, down to the bones of it all such as how much insulation is in your attic, walls, what type of windows you use, etc.  It's very thorough and in the end it gives you a list of things that you could do to your home if you'd like along with the estimated savings of each option.

Has anyone else used these rebates from the energy company?  I'd really like to hear about people using the solar panel option and how it's worked so far for them.  How about a professional energy audit?

Monday, July 11, 2011

Websites I frequently log into....

There are many things I do to keep myself occupied online and I thought I would share some of the website I frequent. - I check in almost daily to make sure accounts are in the positive (and our cash reserve is there), see how our budget is doing, that nothing fraudulent has happened with our credit card, and that our goals are on track. - I like to know what is happening around the world, see what new medical developments are happening and what's happening in our local area. - My general website to check prices on items and usually purchase them. However, before I purchase an item, I usually google it to check that amazon has the lowest prices and if not, I'll go to the lowest website (assuming it doesn't look like a scam) and hit up my next site... - A great website to check the latest coupons on websites.  This website allows you to enter the website that you are shopping on and check that there are no coupons or giftcards that are available for you to enter to help lower the price more. Frequently I'll get free shipping or 10 to 20% off an order by using this website, and it's completely free! - Another great website to bypass those annoying logins or get free access to some restricted content.  You just type in the website and it will give you a list of usernames and passwords that have access to that website. - Amazing professional networking website for everyone! I recently asked my peers a question regarding my thesis and some software suggestions. They responded in full answering my question with a full spectrum of software, further questions some of which I had answers to, others I did not. They provided me with articles and publication that would further help me and my research.  I posed anther question to my local group on what doctors I should use in this specific area. Again fully answered with dozen of suggestions and websites to investigate.  I fully recommend taking advantage of this website by joining not only your professional groups and corporate groups, but also join a few local groups and a few groups that you enjoy, like your favorite sport or hobby. - Another great networking website but much less so for professional and more for personal contacts.  I love to hear the updates of my family and friends.  :-) - Although I may not check it out daily, I like to look at this website to learn (or double check) the process on how certain things are done and also if it's even recommended for me to do it!  I take it as a grain of salt if I go with a contractor or not, but the process seems to be usually accurate for the projects and it is nice to see such a wide range of topics on the home, garden, etc readily available.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Happy 4th of July everyone!

I just want to wish everyone a safe and happy fourth of July!

Friday, July 1, 2011

Net Debt- July 2011

Student loans: -$77,809.34
Car loan: -$3,836.49
Revolving Credit card debt: $0.
Mortgage: -$139,228.54

Net Debt: $220,874.37

It has been several months since my last net worth update and you'll likely see some dramatic changes that have happened in these numbers. So, let me explain a few things from top-down.

The student loans have been on deferment so I haven't made any payments to those; however, I have another 4 years or so left in school. So I will likely try to pay off at least some of the higher interest loans that are sitting at 6% and of course pay the interest while in deferment so it wont get added into the total again once I graduate.

Next the car loan. I was a naughty boy; I got into an accident and it was my fault and sadly, I totaled my beautiful car. Although I was starting to save for a new car, I didn't have enough saved at the time to purchase a car, hence the car loan. The car we did purchase though, I did extensive research into in regards to recalls, overall cost of ownership, mpg, etc. and will hopefully last a long time and save us some substantial money (over the life of the car) as the previous car was a gas guzzler. Likewise, you can see the loan amount is small, I'm hoping to have it completely paid for by the end of this year. Once it has been paid for, I will begin the process of saving for another car, hopefully save $12,000 or more and get a reliable car when needed.

Lastly, we purchased a home! Yay! We love our home and the mortgage principle and interest is actually less than the rent, however because we only did 3.5% down, we have a larger monthly than our rent due to the taxes, escrow and insurance along with all of the other prepay things. :-(

I am a bit disappointed with myself because we didn't pay 20% down, but I'm not sure when we would be able to save 20%. The home we purchased, as you can see wasn't an overly expensive home, and we plan on living here for AT LEAST another 5 year or so until my wife and I both finish our Ph.D.'s. Afterwards, we are hoping that we'll both be able to find a job locally, however, we are prepared, if necessary to sell and move.

However, I don't care much because we now have the freedom of doing what we want in our home. It is an energy star home (I'm too green not to go energy star) so our utilities seem to be staying around the same even though there is a lot more space in the home than the apartment.  We've also retrofitted in water saving devices into the home like the aerators and shower heads which  you can see all of those things in my previous post on how to save money, water, and the environment.  Likewise, because it is my own home I can do a lot more car repairs and maintenance at home saving us additional money!

Friday, June 24, 2011

What is a safe temperature for the hot water heater?

We have all heard of the advice to "lower the temperature of your hot water heater to save money." Perhaps you've read it online or maybe a friend or family member advised you. But my wife recently brought up the idea that it could be dangerous to do this for your health. While you may no longer scold you from burning hot water, you may get some bacterial or fungal infection due to an increased growth in the now warm (no longer killer), wet, dark tank that is your hot water heater.  So I determined it was my job to find the truth!

The answer to is it safe for you to lower the temperature is - it depends.  Below is information from the European Guidelines, OSHA, and Shriners Burn Institute to help inform & guide you.

It appears to me that at 60ºC (140ºF), everything is killed off rather quickly and is generally recommended by everyone, however, you risk getting burned in under 5 seconds.  Even OSHA can't make up their mind on what to recommend as you'll see below; so the question remains what will I do?

120-125ºF. This temperature wont scald us and we don't have a weakened immune system that would make us prone to falling ill easily. This temperature is also recommended for when you have children to help protect them. (Random side note: Temperatures of 60ºC or higher cause gradual erosion of glassware in a dishwasher.) Also, at 125ºF, while it may not kill bacteria, it likely wont encourage bacterial growth, which is good enough for me since the cold water will still likely have bacteria in it anyway. Lastly, temperatures above 60ºC encourage limescale deposits and since we live where the hardest water in the country is, I try to prevent it as best as I can. However, I do use the water booster on the dishwasher so that the dish detergent works at its optimal temperature.

So my question to you is, what temperature do you have yours set to?  After reading this, do you plan on changing it to a higher or a lower temperature?

Two more additional random side notes: From "For each 10ºF reduction in water temperature, you can save between 3%–5% in energy costs." and even our own power company recommends that we keep the water heater tank at 120ºF.

Caution:Below is for the nerds like me who want to know everything.

Here are some facts that you should know about water, burns, and the human skin from Shriners Burn Institute:

Likewise, the most dangerous bacteria mentioned (or that I could find) in regards to water heater is the Legionella. The name came about from an outbreak in July of 1976 from a hotel where there was a convention from the American Legion when this mysterious disease made 221 people sick and caused 34 deaths. 

Here are the facts about Legionella (USA suffers from between 10,000 and 50,000 cases each year, mostly being sporadic cases not associate with outbreaks) and how temperature affects it and the typical water heater colored in yellow and typed in bold font:

Temperature rangeEffect on Legionella
70 - 80ºC (158-176ºF)Disinfection range
66ºC (151ºF)Legionella will die in 2 minutes
60ºC (140ºF)Legionella will die in 32 minutes
55ºC (131ºF)Legionella will die in 5 to 6 hours
50 to 55ºC (122-131ºF)Legionella can survive but do not multiply
20 to 50ºC (68 - 122ºF)Legionella growth range
35 to 46ºC (95 - 115ºF)Legionella ideal growth range
Below 20ºC (68ºF)Legionella can survive but are dormant

Likewise for other bacteria in general from the foodsafetysite:
74ºC (165°F) Most bacteria die; some spore-forming bacteria survive.
60ºC (140°F) No bacteria growth; some survive. 
59ºC (139°F) Danger Zone.
52ºC (125°F) Some bacterial growth; many survive
37ºC (98.6°F) Body temperature - Greatest bacterial growth and toxin production by some.

It is recommended that hot water should be stored at 60°C and distributed such that a temperature of at least 50°C and preferably 55°C is achieved within one minute at outlets. Care is needed to avoid much higher temperatures because of the risk of scalding.
OSHA or the Occupational Safety & Health Administration also has two important pieces about the disease:
Q. Can Legionnaires' disease be prevented?  
A. Yes. Avoiding water conditions that allow the organism to grow to high levels is the best means of prevention. Specific preventive steps include:
  • Regularly maintain and clean cooling towers and evaporative condensers to prevent growth of LDB. This should include twice-yearly cleaning and periodic use of chlorine or other effective biocide.
  • Maintain domestic water heaters at 60°C (140°F). The temperature of the water should be 50°C (122°F) or higher at the faucet.
  • Avoid conditions that allow water to stagnate. Large water-storage tanks exposed to sunlight can produce warm conditions favorable to high levels of LDB. Frequent flushing of unused water lines will help alleviate stagnation.
Q. Do you recommend that I operate my home water heater at 60°C (140°F)?  
A. Probably not if you have small children or infirm elderly persons who could be at serious risk of being scalded by the hot water. However, if you have people living with you who are at high risk of contracting the disease, then operating the water heater at a minimum temperature of 60°C (140°F) is probably a good idea. Consider installing a scald-prevention device.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Money saving tips for heating and cooling using Energy Star

Energy Star appliances have become a common place in today's world.  Most people would really have to try to NOT have an energy star appliance or device in their home today. So let's see what makes a device an energy star one!

What is Energy Star?
According to, the energy star label is a:
...trusted, government-backed symbol for energy efficiency helping us all save money and protect the environment through energy-efficient products and practices.
The ENERGY STAR label was established to:
  • Reduce greenhouse gas emissions and other pollutants caused by the inefficient use of energy; and
  • Make it easy for consumers to identify and purchase energy-efficient products that offer savings on energy bills without sacrificing performance, features, and comfort.
One of the best features of the ENERGY STAR label is the fact that once they have the market share of products, meaning once there is 50% or more of an ENERGY STAR device under one category, they revise the specifications and raise the minimum efficiency standards, they impose harder performance and quality standards, etc.  Yes, in a way, that could make your device no longer ENERGY STAR, however, that makes the field grow ever better in terms of efficiency, quality and makes the world a better place. 

Currently some of the biggest bills out there that a person has is from the heating and cooling of a home accounting for approximately 29% and 17% respectively.  Following that is the water heater (14%), appliances like the refrigerator, dishwater, and clothes washer/dryer (13%), lighting (12%), electronics like the TV, DVD player, computer etc (4%) and of course, the 'other' category like the ceiling fans, home audio, vent fans, etc (11%).

The heating and cooling of ones home is by far the most expensive parts of ones budget and there are some simple ways to save a few bucks without buying a new, more efficient device.  However, if your device is more than 12 years old, replacing it could save you 30% off your bill which would result in a pretty quick payback period!  To be an energy star device you need to have a Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio (or SEER) and an Energy Efficiency Ratio (or EER) of 14% more efficient than standard models.  Here are some tips to help save money!
  1. Change your air filter regularly (preferably every 3 months) a new filter allows the air to flow easier and the system work less, saving you energy. Likewise, a clean filter will help keep the air cleaner in the home because dirty air wont be circulating around. I recommend getting a 3M Filtrete filter, they are capable of filtering out bacteria, pet dander, smog, mold, smoke and just about everything that isn't good! I like 3M because their products are top of the line and if you can filter smoke, then everything else will get filtered as well.
  2. Tune-up your HVAC yearly. Your car needs a tune-up, why wouldn't your heating/cooling system? This should be done by a professional.
  3. A programable thermostat will save you money. These typically will pay for themselves very quickly as you can tell it to raise/lower the heating/cooling while you are gone and when you return so it's like nothing ever happened, except a lower energy bill.  ;-)
  4. Seal & Insulate the heating and cooling ducts.
  5. Insulate your home!  Not having a tightly sealed home is like leaving your windows open.  A home energy inspector should be able to tell you where your home is lacking insulation along with many other tips and look at your home as a system instead of individual pieces.

Monday, June 20, 2011

How to keep (and stay) clean at your office

It's easy to go unrestrained in an office when you don't keep things in check. You might pull something out because it is needed then get distracted and completely forget about it.  The distractions are endless no matter where you work and the piles can only get higher and deeper. So here are some simple tips to help you keep clean and organized.

  1. Keep a system for all of that paperwork! 
    1. This could be an inbox (which should only be used as an inbox) where once you are tasked with a duty you handle it so it's done and your inbox stays within control.
    2. Filing cabinets do wonders as long as they are properly maintained and organized. So keep extra filing folders handy and labels so you can always put them in the proper folder and not laying on your desk waiting to (never) be put away.
    3. Keep a recycling bin and trash can close by so when it's complete, it can be recycled or trashed. 
    4. Schedule every couple of weeks in your calendar to clean your desk and your habit will stick eventually.
Now that  you have a system in place it is time to clean off your desk and do some of the tasks that are needed of you.
  1. Act: If it takes less than 5 minutes (I say 5 because it frequently can take longer), do it, get it over with and mark it off the list and put it where it needs to be.
  2. Delegate: If you can't do it, it was wrongly assigned, or needs someone else to help on the matter, give it to them so it be promptly worked on and kept moving.
  3. Defer: If it takes longer than 15 minutes, defer it to later when everything is cleaned up so you can properly work on it.  I would recommend everyone as separate into four piles that are:
    1.  Important/Urgent
    2. Not Important/Urgent
    3. Important/Not Urgent
    4. Not Important/Not Urgent 
 Some more tips to keep clean:
  • No need to print everything off from your computer.  If it's absolutely necessary perhaps investing into a kindle or a tablet to read and take notes would be better.
  • Forget about post-its. These little friendly critters get lost, never have the full story and frequently get put under a pile of other "important" post-its. If you have to use them, date them and try to include important information on them, like times, names, places... the basic who, what, when, where, and how.  But having a date of when you took them is absolutely necessary that way when you find them again, you'll realize how old it is and can likely be tossed.
  • Toss the pile of pens. How many pens do you need/use?  Two? Three? Four at most? Only keep those around.
  • Keep those books on those darn bookshelves!  Books can easily pile up and become a mess of resources which are never helpful once completely stacked upon each other.  Invest in a few bookmarks, mark the page and stack them in the shelf. When you come back to that book, if the bookmark doesn't bring back a clue, then remove it, that way you don't have 20 bookmarks in the book and defeating the purpose.
  • Keep the memorabilia at the conferences, don't collect the free junk.  Who needs that stuff anyway unless you really use them. Everyone collects free junk from conferences, but it's important that it will just clutter your desk and make a mess. When was the last time you used X from that conference you went to a few years ago?  Exactly.  Toss it.
  • Eat away from your desk. No one wants to hear you slurp your food or munching away. Also walking away gives you that break that you need, removes the clutter of napkins, cups, etc from laying around on the desk and also keeps your desk free of stains and crumbs.
  • Invest in a digital photo frame. No need to keep a dozen photo's on your desk of your loved ones. You only need one frame and have it rotate the pictures every few minutes, hour, day, etc. What ever you prefer.
Hopefully these tips will help you keep productive at work and organized.  What do you do to stay organized?  Do you use any of the tips mentioned?

Thursday, May 19, 2011

5 Water Conserving Tips for inside your home

There are lots of ways to save water in your home with just a few tips that pay off relatively quickly!  Note: In your search of appliances, you may see Tier 1 - 3 ratings, and while these ratings don't refer to the DoE Energy Star ratings, they refer to CEE or the Consortium for Energy Efficiency, and are certainly worthy of looking into.  Tier 3 is the most efficient going well beyond what energy star asks for.  I would go into more detail but the requirements change per appliance.

Tip #1: Install water efficient shower heads.
If you have a shower head that dates back to 1992 or earlier, your shower head could be using up to 5.5 gpm (that's gallons per minute)! Newer models are federally mandated to not exceed more than 2.5 gpm but personally, you can find some great looking shower heads out there that use a lot less!  My personal favorite is by Niagara Earth Massage 1.5 GPM handheld shower head.  I've been using it for about 2 years now and it's great. We live in an area with very hard water (Texas is practically world known for how hard it's water is...) and at the head it says perfectly clean and the chrome is very pretty.  Occasionally for cleaning we'll wipe it down with some vinegar to remove all of the calcium and it looks good as new again. And the great thing about it is that it uses only 1.5 GPM instead of 2.5 or more!

Cost Savings: If you have 4 people in your home with two showers and you replace both of them with this model or another 1.5 gpm model, and each person showers for 10 minutes (assuming you had a 2.5gpm model previously and your water/sewer costs is $0.0095/gal) you'll save 29,200 gallons per year which equates to $277.40 per year with only an initial cost of $38.00 (taxes and shipping included) which means it'll pay for itself in 50 days!  Not too bad!!

Tip #2: Install 0.5 GPM Low Flow Faucet Aerator
Now that your shower is using only 1.5 gpm from that clunky 2.5, lets reduce the water used while using the sink.  Currently, faucet aerators are allowed to pump out 2.2 GPM! Can you image using roughly the same amount of water that you shower with just to wash your hands?!?  I think that is way too much, so lets bring it down to 0.5 GPM.  Currently I've installed 0.5 GPM low flow faucet aerators in all of my faucets with the exception of the kitchen where I want it to flow faster to fill up those big pots and among other things.

Cost Savings: Again, lets assume you have just 2 sinks (both 2.2 GPM aerators replaced with this 0.5 GPM aerator) with 4 people in the family and each day they use the sink for about 10 minutes between washing their hands several times a day, brushing their teeth, cleaning, etc. Replacing it would save you about 49,640 gallons which is $471.58 per year and it'll pay for itself in under a week!

Tip #3: Fix leaky faucets, toilets, etc!
A leaky faucet that is dripping one drop per second results in $1.00 per month increase in your water bill. If you're handy you could probably repair that leak with that one dollar with things you have around the house.

Likewise, if you notice ripples in your toilet that it's leaking more than just one drop per second and should get fixed immediately.  An easy way to determine if your toilet is leaking is to put some food coloring dye into the basin and check to see if your water is that color 30 minutes later.  If it is, then it's leaking, otherwise you're safe.

Lastly, if your hot water heater is leaking, then it's time to replace it.  If you live in a place that doesn't have hard water, I would recommend getting an energy star tankless hot water on demand system. You'll have hot water faster, no waste from keeping water hot when it's not needed and a smaller footprint.  Likewise, if you live in a hot climate like texas or arizona, then I'd suggest thinking about installing a solar hot water tank. Let the sun do the work for you.  :-)

But no matter what you install, make sure it's energy star because it'll pay off over the lifetime of the unit and make sure you follow its maintenance schedule so it will live a longer and more efficient life.  Also keep in mind that you can lower the heating on a hot water heater. There is no need to keep it at a temperature that will scold you.

Tip #4: Appliances: Dishwasher
If you want the best water and energy conservation you'll need to go past just faucets and shower heads and actually get more energy star appliances.  If you get an energy star dishwasher, you'll end up saving even more especially if it has a booster heater (which usually pays for itself within a year).  With a booster heater you can raise the temperature of the water up to 140F, which is recommended for cleaning dishes. Although many people think they can wash dishes more efficiently than a dishwater, that's rarely the case as long as you have a dishwasher that's from 2000 or newer.  A full dishwasher can wash dishes a tremendous amount more efficiently than a person. Another benefit of energy star models is the availability of different cycles, use shorter cycles to save even more water.

Tip #5: Appliances: Washing Machine
Washing machines by their very nature, consume a lot of water. However, by purchasing an energy star, you'll have the option of saving more water than others, a tremendous variety of different options on what to run your load at and maybe even a chime when it's done, like ours. :-)   Smaller capacity washing machines typically have better efficiency ratings than larger ones. More efficient models will also make the dryer run more efficiently as well because they'll spin the cloths better and make them drier to begin with. If you're wondering what the different between front loaders and top loaders, front loaders typically run using less water than top loaders consequently, using less energy.

The best way to run a washing machine, in my opinion, is to run it with full loads and if you're only rinsing the laundry, run it with cold water, no need to do warm or hot.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Would you give money to your state to help bail them out? Personal Finances

I came across this image this afternoon and began to wonder, "Would I give $185.62, or how ever much your state is in debt per capita, to my state to help it get out of debt?"

Which really made me think, well, what would they spend my money on?

Well according to the other graphic I found which shows average state budgets, 40% of the state spending goes towards education among several other categories.  That is significant and I didn't even realize they spent that much! Certainly, the biggest chunk of my change would go back into the education system.  Is that good or bad?  Well, I think funding education is always a good move. And I don't have kids.

So all I can think of now are the countless people who would probably say "No, I wouldn't spend that money to help the state get out of debt, I have my own problems." But then I remember as a child going to school and my school having countless trash cans in the hallways collecting water from the leaks or my brother who went from K-12 completely on austerity budget.

I don't think that's a good environment for any child and I think I would pay that money even though my own debt load is high, if that meant giving the state a "2nd chance."  Of course, I wouldn't give it to them without strings. I would want for them to promise us one thing: Don't get into this mess again. Create a realistic budget, spend properly, pay back debts and look into the future so the state is never in debt again, as I plan to be as I dig my way out.

What do you think?

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

MCC requirements in Texas...

While purchasing a new home I discovered a few incentives that I thought, at first, I was eligible for. Therefore, for those of you who are now in the market, I'd like to show you a few things that may put a few bucks in your pocket or keep them there! 
Mortgage Credit Certificate, or better known as the MCC program...
"Allows the homebuyer to claim a tax credit for some portion of the mortgage interest paid per year. It is a dollar for dollar reduction against their federal tax liability."
The great thing about this is that while it doesn't save you money, it does extend your salary up to $166.66 per month or $2,000 per year! Who doesn't like having an extra 2 grand in their pocket?!?
So, who's eligible? That's the tricky part, the rules aren't too complicated, but they are strict and the household has to be in a low-income bracket to begin with:
  • The household has to meet income and home purchase requirements; 
    • For Texas, it can vary by place, but frequently what I've seen the complete household has to be 80% below the statewide median income or an area of chronic economic distress.
    • To find out what the median income is go to this website: 
      • Enter the address and click on the "Get Census Demographic" on the bottom and you'll find the Median Income Family
  • Have not owned a home as primary residence in the past three (3) years;
  • Meet the qualifying requirements of the mortgage loan;
  • Will use the home as their principal/primary residence. 
    • Sadly, this wont work for those of you who wish to rent the home out. :-(
Some of the costs associated with this fee is a $75 non-refundable MCC Commitment Fee & 1% origination fee.

Granted that 1% origination fee could cost several thousand dollars, but keep in mind that this MCC credit is for the LIFE of the mortgage. In other words, it's possible that within the first year or two that you'll make that fee back and then the rest is free money from the government!  

Lastly, an important part of the MCC rate is that it varies by how much your home costs in Texas, so lets see what the limits are: 
  • 30% of the annual interest paid on mortgage loans under $115,000 
  • 25% of the annual interest paid on mortgage loans between $115,000 and $140,000
  • 20% of the annual interest paid on mortgage loans between 140,000 and $210,375

There is also a cap on the program so I highly recommend applying for it as soon as possible, so that you'll be able to receive the funding, because once it's out of funds, it's out!


Let's say you want to buy a home in the medical district of San Antonio, TX.
1. I googled apartments near the medical district of San Antonio, and found the Villas of Oak Creste. 5315 Fredericksburg Rd 78229
2.  I went to and typed in an address 5315 Fredericksburg Rd 78229 and found the MSD, Tract code, and most importantly, their demographic data:

3. I took their 2010 Est. Tract Median Family Income: $57,627 * 0.80 = $46,101.60 so everyone who lives under your new roof would have to have a combined income of less than $46,101.60 per year.
Therefore, lets say you and your wife combined make $45k, great, you've never owned a home and you're preapproved for an FHA loan. Great! You'll probably qualify for this credit!

Now how much will you get from this credit?
Lets say your mortgage is $140,000.00 with an interest rate of 4.75% (you after all have an amazing Credit Score right?), with 25% from the MCC Credit, you'll probably have an additional $1,662.50 yearly added to your salary or $138.54 per month!
Mortgage Amount:
Interest Rate:
Total Interest Paid First year:
$ 6,650.00
Mortgage Credit Certificate Rate:
X .25
Tax Credit Amount:
$2,000 (max)

The major disadvantage to this program is that it counts everyone's income. My wife who isn't even a citizen, currently working as a student on an F1 visa, her stipend counted placing us just a couple of thousand dollars over the income required. I was disappointed. 

Readers, have any of you applied for the MCC? Received it? Tell me about your experience with the MCC, I'd be glad to hear about it!