How to cut your electricity costs

This was originally published on Monday, June 19, 2017, in the Pacific Daily News.  Click here to subscribe to the PDN.

Electricity cost increases are in the news again, prompting some households to take a fresh look at energy consumption. The good news is there’s plenty you can do to lower your bills by changing how and when you use energy.

  • Light bulbs: Technology has revolutionized light bulbs. Have you ever stood next to a lamp with a conventional light bulb? You can feel the heat radiating from it. Newer light bulbs give off much less heat. Although the traditional light bulbs are not as expensive, they use more power and do not last as long.

CFL (compact fluorescent lamp) and LED (light emitting diodes) are more expensive, but use less power and last much longer. In the kid’s rooms and bathrooms, I installed light switches that automatically turn off after a set period of time.

  • Reduce the heat in the kitchen: Avoid using the oven in summer — try salads, smoothies or barbecue. You’ll reduce the heat in your home and save on your home cooling costs.
  • Laundry: Use the washer with a full load of clothes. Save even more power by switching from hot to cold water. The dryer uses more power than your washer. You can use the sun to help dry your clothes. Add a clean dry towel to your dryer to help absorb the wetness. If the clothes dry quicker the dryer will not need to run as long.
  • Prevent cold air loss: Add caulking or weather-stripping around doors and windows. It is costly to cool the air in your house. During the summer, be sure the kids do not constantly go in and out of the house.

Air conditioners are costly, so why let cool air escape between windows and door cracks? Installing weather stripping can keep your house cooler and lower your power bill.

  • Ceiling fans: These are a great way to circulate air in a room and keep you comfortable. A ceiling fan can save you about $15 a year per fan.
  • Paint: A great summer project to do before the rainy season is upon us again is to paint your house a color that is light and will not absorb heat. Concrete retains heat and will warm up a home. Your roof gets the most direct sun and can keep heat trapped in your house. Paint your roof with reflecting paint. This may cost a bit more than your typical white paint, but you will be able to feel the difference immediately.
  • Insulation: If your house has a drop ceiling, consider using insulation between the ceiling and the drop ceiling.
  • New appliances: If you are purchasing new appliances, look for Energy Star products. These products have specifications set by the Environmental Protection Agency or the Department of Energy. Many notable name brands carry models that fall under the guidelines of energy efficiency.

If purchasing a new air conditioner look for the Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio, SEER. The higher the unit’s SEER rating the more energy efficient it is. I recently replaced all major appliances and received a rebate from GPA. GPA may still offer energy efficient rebates for new energy efficient appliances.

Michael Camacho is president and chief executive officer of Personal Finance Center. He has more than 20 years of experience in retail banking and at financial institutions in Guam and Hawaii. If there is a topic you’d like Michael to cover, please email him atmoneymattersguam@yahoo.com and read past columns at the Money Matters blog at www.moneymattersguam.wordpress.com.

Tips to save on your power bills

This was originally published on Monday, June 12, 2017, in the Pacific Daily News.  Click here to subscribe to the PDN.

It’s summer time and the kids are home from school. It might be time for video games, hours on the computer and time in front of the television. Multiple trips to the fridge to get a drink or something to eat with the air conditioner running all day are typical.

When the kids are on vacation during the hottest days of the year, our power bill increases. Here are a few ways to get your power bill under control:

  • Hot water heater. Hot water heaters are one of the largest consumers of energy. Check your thermostat. Set it to a lower but comfortable temperature. Turn on your hot water heater 20 minutes before your morning shower. Turn it off when you are ready to leave the house. You can buy a timer to turn the heater off or on at times convenient for you.

You can purchase a hot water heater blanket that is fiberglass-filled for insulation to wrap around your heater. They can reduce energy loss by 25 percent to 45 percent.

You may also consider changing out your water heater to a tank-less heater. These heaters turn on only when hot water is being used. Another upgrade of your hot water heater is a solar heater. This heater is stored usually on top of your home to get direct sunlight and solar panels heat the water.

  • Air conditioners. Split and window air conditioners use less energy than central air conditioning. This is because you do not have to cool larger, unused areas. Instead, you can choose to cool the rooms being used. Also, set your air conditioner to a temperature that is comfortable. You also could use a fan to help circulate the air, creating a feeling of the room being a few degrees cooler.

Regularly clean air filters so that air flows effortlessly in and out of the air conditioner. With the kids home during the summer, ask them to keep the room to a comfortable setting and not on Niseko-in-the-winter cold.

  • Shade. Use storm shutters to block the sun from heating windows while you are at work.
  • Phantom/vampire loads. Electronics you have plugged in can draw electricity even when you are not using them — cellphone chargers, DVD/VCR players, gaming consoles, etc. By unplugging these items that use electricity without being “on,” you can reduce consumption equivalent to that of a 75-watt to 100-watt light bulb running continuously.

Michael Camacho is president and chief executive officer of Personal Finance Center. He has more than 20 years of experience in retail banking and at financial institutions in Guam and Hawaii. If there is a topic you’d like Michael to cover, please email him atmoneymattersguam@yahoo.com and read past columns at the Money Matters blog at www.moneymattersguam.wordpress.com.

 

Plan to fund your family vacation

This was originally published on Monday, May 22, 2017, in the Pacific Daily News.  Click here to subscribe to the PDN.

Next week is Memorial Day and that officially kicks off the summer travel season. Planning and budgeting the cost of your vacation can vary wildly depending if you are taking a week-long trip to Saipan or flying to Orlando for the whole month.

Once you know approximately how much you are going to spend, the challenge then becomes funding for all that fun.

Sacrifice today for fun tomorrow. Reduce how often you eat out to once a week or once a month. Pack your lunches to work and school. You will be surprised how much you spend on dining out. Cut back on how often you get your hair cut or instead of going to the movie theater wait till you can rent it and watch it at home.

Get everyone involved. Encouraging the kids to help by babysitting for friends or family, washing cars or cutting lawns for the neighbors is a great way for children to earn some extra money to help toward the family’s vacation goal.

 

Holiday spending. There is one time of year that could potentially harm your vacation budget and that is the upcoming holiday season. Talk to your family and remind them of what you want to do. Create a slimmed down version and agree to stay within a certain amount.

Do the same for birthdays and other occasions. For extended family or friends, be creative and make homemade gifts or offer your talents or services instead of material goods.

Tax refund check. If you received a refund you can use it toward saving for your vacation. You don’t have to save it all for the vacation. You can divide the check up many ways.

Extra income. This is a great way to increase your savings for that dream vacation. Extra income does not have to be a formal second job. It could be selling your talents. If you can bake, sell your baked goods to friends or during the holidays. If you are a good seamstress, offer to alter clothing for your friends. Maybe you’re a skilled mechanic and can help with oil changes.

Let others know. Let your friends and family know what you are planning. You may inform them that this year you would prefer money instead of a gift. There are several websites that you can use to ask friends and family to donate. Your friends and family can make a gift or donation to your cause directly online.

Don’t forget to keep track of who helped. While on your trip you can pick up little thank you gifts or create a thank you collage of all the wonderful places you visited.

Stay motivated. There will be days when you are tired of eating that same sandwich you packed for work three days in a row. But before you go out and regret spending the money you are saving, find ways to motivate yourself to keep on going. Put pictures of your dream vacation on your fridge, on your screen saver or even in your wallet next to your credit cards and money.

Michael Camacho is president and chief executive officer of Personal Finance Center. He has more than 20 years of experience in retail banking and at financial institutions in Guam and Hawaii. If there is a topic you’d like Michael to cover, please email him at moneymattersguam@yahoo.com and read past columns at the Money Matters blog at www.moneymattersguam.wordpress.com

Tips for saving for your vacation

This was originally published on Monday, May 15, 2017, in the Pacific Daily News.  Click here to subscribe to the PDN.

Another summer is just around the corner. Vacations should be fun and memorable. You wait all year for it to come around.

But going on vacation, especially if you plan to travel to far off locations, can put a good dent on your wallet. You may not be ready to fly off to your dream location this summer, but by saving a little here and there you can start getting closer to it.

Here are some tips on how to save money for that dream vacation.

  • Create a vacation account. This is just for vacation purposes. Just like buying a car or any other high-end purchase, you should always start saving money. The account should be separate from the account that you use regularly. Consider opening the account at a different financial institution from your regular checking account so it isn’t easily accessible or tempting to use.

Read terms carefully. You wouldn’t want to spend vacation money paying fees. If possible, have an allotment or payment directly from your paycheck to the vacation account. That way you aren’t tempted to use that money for anything else. Your vacation account can also be used during your trip as an easy way to track your spending while traveling.

  • Examine your budget. Is there something you can cut out or reduce? Maybe you can reduce your cable bill by removing premium packages, or cut your entertainment expenses. Create a special category in your budget just for your vacation.
  • The spare-change jar. This may sound a little old fashioned, but you will be surprised how much money you can save. How much change do you have around the house? After you purchase something, what do you do with your change? If you put just $2 in change in the jar every day, you will have $730 by the end of the year. Imagine what your total will be if everyone in the family participated.
  • Liquidate. We all have things we no longer need — an old game console, desktop computer or VHS player collecting dust. It can be earning you money instead. Place them on eBay or Craig’s List. There are even websites that will offer you money for your old cellphones. You can have a yard sale or take your stuff to a flea market. Get the kids involved by having them collect their outgrown clothes or toys to sell. Make it a game to see who can sell the most.
  • Pantry meals. One of our biggest expenses is food. How much do you spend on groceries in a week? Most of us never completely empty our pantry of canned or boxed goods. To help save some money, take a week out of the month and use only what is in pantry and fridge. This could save you hundreds of dollars and clean out old cans and food you may have forgotten about.

Tips for travel savings

This was originally published on Monday, May 7, 2017, in the Pacific Daily News.  Click here to subscribe to the PDN.

Relaxing and creating family memories on summer vacation is a lot of fun, but they also can carry a hefty price tag. Your dream vacation is not out of reach if you budget well in advance.

To know how much to budget you must plan your trip. Package deals, reward programs and being flexible are some great ways to start. Here are more budget helping ideas to consider:

  • Travel with a large group. Make it a family vacation or travel with friends. Invite along those you would love to spend time with. Large groups can get discounts and share costs. You can split the cost of food if you buy in bulk and cook. Many attractions, including theme parks, offer group rates. You can even rent out large vacation homes that have many rooms that are comparable to hotel rooms.
  • Lodging. Hotels are expensive, but there are some other options. The most inexpensive option is staying with family or friends. You can satisfy the obligatory visit and save on lodging at the same time.

If you are staying in a location for a while, find an extended trip hotel that offers suites you can rent by the week or month. They are usually cheaper than hotels and offer all the amenities of a home, including a fully functioning kitchen.

You may also look for a hostel, a budget-oriented dorm room, usually with shared amenities. You may also try camping in our nation’s parks like the Grand Canyon or renting a home or condominium. Look for kid friendly hotels that offer free lodging for children under a certain age.

  • Eating. Food is one of the biggest expenses while traveling. If you booked lodging with a microwave and refrigerator or kitchen, prepare your meals in your room. Going to the grocery store can be exciting, trying products that you can’t find on island. I’m always amazed at the freshness, variety and options when I go to grocery stores in the U.S. Look for a farmer’s market and get fresh produce. Some grocery store chains even offer meals at their deli which are usually priced much lower than going out.
  • Alternative transportation. If you are going to the mainland, Europe or any large state or country, why stick to flying from one destination to another? Consider taking a bus or train. What better way to take in the scenery than letting someone else drive? You may also consider renting a motor home. It has all the amenities of a house.
  • Use your privileges. If you belong to an organization such as American Association of Retired Persons or the American Automobile Association, go to their websites and look at what discounts and vacation packages they offer.
  • Military discounts. Many times the discount isn’t advertised, but you will be surprised to see how many companies will thank you for your service. Check local morale and recreation offices for discounted tickets. Some amusement parks even offer discounted tickets. If you plan in advance, you can use military lodging, which is available worldwide. Take a look at www.dodlodging.net/ to view all locations. You may also want to consider flying military space-available flights. It may take a little longer to get there, but it will save you a lot of money.
  • Remember the small stuff. Tips, fees and taxes all add up. Stay away from hotel, airport or amusement park stores, because they cost much more. Know how many bags each person can take and maximum weight to avoid extra fees. International and domestic flights differ on the number of bags and weights. Consult your airline carrier.

If you obtain clothes, toys and more during your travels, consider mailing it all home. Look for areas with free WiFi. Talk to your cellphone company about roaming rates. You may consider leaving your cellphone on airplane mode during your trip. You can also purchase prepaid cell phones from many of the large retail chain stores or cell phone carriers.

Michael Camacho is president and chief executive officer of Personal Finance Center. He has more than 20 years of experience in retail banking and at financial institutions in Guam and Hawaii. If there is a topic you’d like Michael to cover, please email him at moneymattersguam@yahoo.com and read past columns at the Money Matters blog at www.moneymattersguam.wordpress.com

A few financial rules

This was originally published on Monday, April 24, 2017, in the Pacific Daily News.  Click here to subscribe to the PDN.

As April comes to a close, so does Financial Literacy Month. In these times of economic uncertainty, money management is a necessary life skill. Many of us are not taught how to handle money or prepare ourselves for the future.

Most of the time, we learn as we make mistakes. Sometimes we bounce back, but sometimes it is a life of continuous hardship. Being prepared makes a huge difference when dealing with money management.

Here are a few rules:

Plan. You can’t go through life not having financial goals. The only bad plan is a plan not followed. You must plan for your future. Plan for all your major expenses like home ownership, a car, schooling and periodic expenses.

Goals. What are your short-term (less than one year), mid-term (one to five years) and long-term (more than five years) goals. Make sure your goals are specific and reasonable.

Develop a budget. Determine your living expenses, periodic expenses and monthly debt. Create a budget that can be realistically followed. Follow your budget as closely as possible and evaluate it at least twice a year.

Keep your expenses under control. Try to spend only the money you make and not use your credit cards. Do not incur other debt until you are able to manage the debt you have now. Know where your money goes by keeping a log of all your purchases.

Save. Save up for major purchases such as cars, homes, vacations and major appliances. Experts say that saving 10 percent of your paycheck will add up to a nice savings account. Create an emergency fund with about three to five months of your expenses. Start saving for retirement — the sooner the better.

Need vs. want. Sometimes we have a hard time distinguishing between the two. Needs are must-haves to survive and wants are things we crave. We may need a new car, but we may want a car that is beyond our financial means. Determine your financial priorities to guide your spending choices. Take care of your needs first. Then, if you have some money left over, you can use it for your wants.

Credit. If you must use credit, do so wisely. Use credit for planned purchases only. Determine what amount you can afford to purchase on credit. A golden rule is not to allow your payments to exceed 15 percent of your net income. Do not use one form of credit to pay another and repay the credit back as soon as possible.

Treat yourself. What good is working if you can’t enjoy your money? Even if it’s a little treat like ice cream or a dinner out, enjoy the fruits of your labor, or it will become very hard to follow a budget or stick to your goals.

Don’t get consumed by material things. Trying to keep up with the Joneses will only lead you to financial ruin. Live an enjoyable life but within your means. A 70- inch flat screen television is nice, but so is living debt free.

Michael Camacho is president and chief executive officer of Personal Finance Center. He has more than 20 years of experience in retail banking and at financial institutions in Guam and Hawaii. If there is a topic you’d like Michael to cover, please email him at moneymattersguam@yahoo.com and read past columns at the Money Matters blog at www.moneymattersguam.wordpress.com

Money obstacles most households face

This was originally published on Monday, April 17, 2017, in the Pacific Daily News.  Click here to subscribe to the PDN.

Whether you make a lot of money or a little, finances are an issue in most households. Many families don’t communicate about finances, leaving one person in charge. Discussions are a key to making families financially sound. Regular discussions on budgets and goal settings can make a huge difference.

Here are a few money obstacles households face.

  • Conflicting financial values. One of the main causes of divorce in America is money. Usually it’s not about how much they make but how the money is spent. Couples need to be on the same page and have the same money goals. Compromise and discussion is a must on a daily basis.

Create a budget and stick to it. Both individuals must agree and be aware of what the other person is spending. If you don’t communicate, you may overspend and not have enough money to spend on what is important. Keep a realistic attitude and hold each other accountable, in a friendly way.

If you have children, share with them what your financial status and goals are.

  • Health care costs. With the current uncertainty of what health care insurance will and won’t cover, one thing for sure is health care costs continue to rise. Health insurance is a necessity, especially for families with children. There’s a huge financial risk associated with going insurance-free that could jeopardize your family’s financial well being. Be sure to read exactly what your health insurance covers.
  • Lack of income. The cost of living continues to rise and unfortunately household incomes tend not to follow that trend. Some of the largest expenses households face are medical care, food, and housing — all of which have significantly outpaced income growth.

Most of the time a household’s debt increases because they use credit to cover necessities. Find ways to cut expenses and increase income. It’s not uncommon to have one or even both parents taking on a second job.

Not all jobs have to take you away from your family. If you have a skill that people are seeking, such as baking, repairing cars or gardening, take advantage of it and start a small business. A part-time job may not be ideal, but it may be exactly what you need.

  • Retirement plan. A survey done by the Federal Reserve states 31 percent of non-retired respondents reported no retirement savings or pension — that includes 19 percent of people ages 55 to 64. Social Security isn’t a guaranteed source of income, nor is it enough to cover your retirement expenses.

As you get older, you will require more medical care. Without your own nest egg to assist with those medical bills, you may have to consider working much longer than you would like.

  • Life insurance. Having life insurance will help ease the stress of losing a loved one. There are some affordable and very flexible life and supplemental insurance plans available.

Michael Camacho is president and chief executive officer of Personal Finance Center. He has more than 20 years of experience in retail banking and at financial institutions in Guam and Hawaii. If there is a topic you’d like Michael to cover, please email him at moneymattersguam@yahoo.com and read past columns at the Money Matters blog at www.moneymattersguam.wordpress.com