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 and read past columns at the Money Matters blog at



Small things can give big savings

This was originally published on Monday, January 16, 2017, in the Pacific Daily News.  Click here to subscribe to the PDN.

When your budget is tight, it’s hard finding ways to save. Sometimes, the simplest little tips can make a huge difference.

Start your new year off right and start saving money. To start, switch your thoughts from being a spender to being a saver. Through practice and persistence eventually saving will become natural and yield long-term results.

  • Pay for what you need. It is normal to want to live comfortably but rent or purchase a home that is within your price range. Paying for extra space is not practical.
  • Refinance your mortgage. Take advantage of lower interest rates. If you lower your percentage even by half a percent, you can save thousands of dollars over the life of the loan. If you have a $100,000 fixed mortgage for 15 years and change the interest from 7 percent to 6.5 percent, you can save $5,000 in interest charges. If you can handle higher payments, consider a 15-year mortgage versus a 30-year. Let’s say that same $100,000 at 7 percent is for 30 years. If you convert it to a 15-year mortgage, you can save more than $75,000. If refinancing costs will exceed the savings, keep your existing mortgage and pay more every month. This effectively results in savings as well.
  • Insurance. If you rent a home, be sure you purchase renters’ insurance. Know what you are covered for and pay only for what you need. Ask about discounts for which you may be eligible. Bundling your car, home and life insurance can also reduce your bill.
  • Weatherproof your home. Evaluate your home for holes and cracks that let warm air in and cool air escape. Talk to your local hardware representative for the best types of materials to plug the areas of concern. Spending a little more on the best grade material will save you more.
  • Window treatments. Living on Guam, we receive a lot of sun, which heats our homes. Purchase window treatments that block the sunlight and keep the house cool. Consider tinting your windows to keep UV rays out of your house as well. Many residents use their storm shutters not only for storm protection but to keep the sunlight out too.
  • Plant trees. If you put in trees on the sides that are most exposed to the sun, the shade they provide will keep the house cool.
  • Roof coating. There are all sorts of different roof coatings. When recoating your roof, choose one with good reflective properties and that’s guaranteed to last long. Keep your roof white by water blasting periodically.
  • Convert lightbulbs. Old incandescent lights may cost less to replace but overall they consume much more power and also create heat. Slowly convert your lightbulbs to CFL or LED .
  • Conserve water. Inspect your home for leaks and drips. Pay attention to the sound of running water, especially when no one is using water. Water leaks can become serious problems if not fixed immediately.
  • Cable, phone and internet. Pay only for what you need. If you hardly spend time at home, you probably don’t need all the premium channels. Many of the popular channels now have apps to watch on your computer, smartphone and tablet. If you call the U.S. mainland or other countries frequently, check with your provider to see if they have calling plans. Bundled plans are also a good way to save 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 and read past columns at the Money Matters blog at

Save lots of money by fixing little things

This was originally published on Monday, April 20, 2015, in the Pacific Daily News.  Click here to subscribe to the PDN.

We all want to save but sometimes finding areas to save can be difficult.  Most of the time our savings are small and seem insignificant.  But if you add it up over the year, your savings can be tremendous.

Utilities, especially power, is a major expense.  One of the largest electrical expenditures is cooling the home.  Weatherproof your home.  Caulk areas where air escapes.  Ensure that your door and window seals are still flexible and not cracked.

Use window treatments that keep out the sun and heat.  Many use storm shutters to block the sun and to add extra security.  Use trees to help shade the house especially on the side that is exposed when the sun sets.

Other appliances that use a lot of energy are the water heater, oven/stove, dryer, and the refrigerator/freezer.  Turn off the water heater when you are not home during the day.  You can purchase a water heater timer to keep your heater on when you need it and off when you don’t.  Try grilling outside to offset the use of the stove.  Dry clothes outside on sunny days. Replace the seals around the doors if necessary.  Also keep the number of times they are opened to a minimum.  The refrigerator/freezer work harder to keep the internal temperature cool every time a door is opened

Water is another bill that can sneak up on you.  If you have dripping faucets or running toilets fix them right away.  You can go online and find videos that can help you make these simple home repairs.  Many of the items you use to fix the problem are inexpensive.  If you have a major leak, turn off your home’s main water line and contact someone to repair it immediately.   Letting your water run can cost you several hundred dollars a month.

Take your average utility bills and compare it to the bill that you made a conscious effort to save. If you saved money, take that difference and apply it to your savings account.

Entertainment is a necessity, but how much is spent is a choice. We work hard for our money.  Take some time to enjoy it.  Bundling your entertainment and communications with one company could increase your savings.  Take a look at which television channels you use the most.  Do you pay for an add-on package in which you only watch one or two channels?  Can you get those programs online for free?  Many sports events can be viewed or followed online for free or for a small cost.  Many of the over-the-air channels show their programs free on their websites.  Also very popular are movie and television programing sites like Hulu and Netflix.  Can you live on these and remove cable all together?  Before deciding, go one month without turning on your television and using just the internet.  If you find that you can get by, maybe remove some of your premium channels or cable altogether.

There are also online companies that rent movies by downloading them to your computer or delivering them through the mail.  Purchasing video games can be quite expensive.  Try subscribing to one of the companies that rent games through the mail or purchase your games from the previously owned section.  Thrift stores have video games, DVDs and CDs that are donated and are resold for a bargain. One of my coworkers shops at thrift stores and it is amazing some of the things he finds.  A movie at home with the family can be a great treat.  Buy some microwave popcorn and cook some hot dogs.  Have a movie picnic in your very own theater.  Comfortable clothing and pillows included!

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 and read past columns at the Money Matters blog at

Save in every area of your budget for long-term rewards

This was originally published on Monday, March 18, 2013, in the Pacific Daily News.  Click here to subscribe to the PDN.

We work hard for our money, so why shouldn’t we enjoy it? Here are some tips that could save you money so you can enjoy more of what you earn.

Food. We all have to eat. Take time and look at circulars and compare prices. Coupons are great, but be aware that some require you to buy more than what you need. It makes no sense to spend more money to buy an extra item or two to save a few cents. Plan your meals in advance and make a grocery list. Stick to the list when shopping. Sometimes it is more economical to buy in bulk. If you find a meat that you use regularly on sale, purchase it because meats freeze for several months.

Entertainment. Consider how often you watch TV. Can you live without your cable or premium channels? I recently cancelled the high definition channels, the digital video recording and downgraded to the least costly internet service in my house and it saved me almost one half the monthly expense. The internet offers websites to watch your favorite TV shows or watch movies. Some are free and others may require a monthly payment which is usually cheaper than what you pay for cable. Eliminating cable service to your home is called “cutting the cord.” There are even certain websites dedicated to renting or downloading books. Public libraries are free to use as well.

Impulsive shopping. Before buying something you want think “Do I really need it?” Walk around the store and think about it or try giving it a week to decide. Many stores put little items by the registers just to encourage you to spend more.

Money vs. cards. If possible, carry cash instead of using your check or credit card. It’s easier for you to keep track of what you spend. Psychologically, it’s harder to spend the actual cash.

Bundling. It may be wise to bundle your phone, internet, cellphone and cable, if possible. Be aware of extra charges such as limited data usage or calling fees. Look at what your average talk time is on your cellphone. Are you going under or over? If your usage is under the amount you are paying, change plans.

De-clutter. Go through your kids’ clothes or toys and around the house. Find items that you no longer need and have a yard sale.

Homemade products. You may not notice how much you spend on cleaning supplies. There are websites that can teach you how to make homemade cleaning products. They cost less to make and are safe for you and the environment.

Laundry. Try to wait to do your laundry with a full load. Wash clothes in the coolest temperature your clothes will tolerate.

Turning off the water. When washing dishes, bathing, washing hands, or brushing teeth make it a habit to turn off the water when not in use.

These tips may not provide lots of money up front, but if you take what you saved and place it in a savings account, in a few months you will see it grow.

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

Figuring out the home you can afford

How much can you afford to pay each month for your future home?

This question helps you make a sustainable decision about how much to borrow as you start your housing search. Your mortgage may be with you for as long as thirty years, and protecting your credit means making those payments on time, consistently, throughout the life of the loan. In addition to your mortgage payments, you will also have maintenance and utilities costs. Factoring those costs in early can protect you from financial problems down the road.

To start answering this question, let’s take a look at your budget.

Update your budget.  You need a good, realistic starting point as you study your own financial behavior. Costs change, and financial habits change too. If you haven’t updated your budget in a while, now is the time.

Pay close attention to how your family’s spending habits have changed, or are expected to change in the near future. Are you spending more of your discretionary income than you realized? Sort your recent spending into different categories, so that you can determine which spending areas are growing, and which need to be cut down.

Take a look at your other goals. Which financial goals, besides home ownership, are you currently prioritizing? Do you still have room for them in your budget? Does home ownership come first at this point in your life? When you are clear on your choices, you can move forward on your home purchase with greater confidence.

Add or subtract goals from your family budget as you and your spouse see fit. What you have remaining in your budget, added to your current rental/housing costs, is what is available for your future home.

Plan for maintenance and utilities costs. Do you think that your power and water usage will drastically change once you move into your home? Will you be moving from a smaller housing situation to a larger one?  Talk to family members and friends who are homeowners, and ask them about their usage and costs for utilities and maintenance. Try to use the numbers from people who have a similar family size and habits, and figure them into your budget.

Remember property taxes and insurance. Monthly mortgage payments include not only the principal and the interest of the mortgage, but also property taxes and homeowner’s insurance. These costs will depend on the value of the home. It’s something to keep in mind as you look at the monthly funds available in your budget.

Adjusting your spending habits. If you know that you want more room in your budget for your future home, it’s time to review your spending habits. Look back at those categories, and start making small cuts to different categories in your discretionary spending. Target areas of your spending, and think about alternatives to those costs. Take some time to become acclimated to a new spending level, so that you don’t fall back on old habits when the mortgage payments come due.

Many factors determine the amount you can ultimately borrow: the quality of your credit, the amount of debt you have, your savings, and your gross income. But a firm understanding of your own household budget will provide you with an important starting point in talking to lenders about your home-buying dreams.

Michael Camacho is president and chief executive officer of Personal Finance Center. He has more than 19 years experience in retail banking and with financial institutions in Guam and Hawaii. If there is a topic you’d like Michael to cover, please email him at