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Summer days are longer and the kids are home from school, so that means your air conditioner is being used more, and it’s easy to increase the amount of energy you use every day. This can cause a big increase in your average electric bill, but it doesn’t have to be that way. By being more conscious of how you use the air conditioner, coming up with outdoor activities that require little or no energy, and making some changes around the house, you can lower your energy costs during the long days of summer. Consider the following energy efficiency tips to save money and have an energy efficient summer.

1. Try to keep your air conditioner off as much as possible.

Running your air conditioner is one of the biggest household energy expenses at any time of year, but it’s especially bad in the summer. Many experts in the prepaid electricity industry note that usage skyrockets because of  air condition use. You can cut down on those bills if you keep it off most of the time and make a few simple adaptations to your usage patterns. First, you can use fans more frequently, while keeping the windows closed and the curtains shut so your house will be cooler when the sun’s at its hottest. When it’s cooler outside, you can open the windows and try to create a cross breeze. If you have a two-story house, you can also spend more time downstairs or create a family center in the basement where it is cooler. Go outside for a few fun activities in the summer sun, including swimming and picnics. You can also go out to air-conditioned places like the movies, the mall, and other fun venues. Make sure you encourage your whole family to wear light clothing that they’ll stay cool. If your family is staying inside wearing sweatshirts in the summer because the air is too cold with air conditioning, you are simply wasting energy. Instead, use the air conditioning less and wear clothing appropriate to the season. When you are using your A/C try to keep it at 78° for optimal energy efficiency.

2. Make sure your air conditioner is energy efficient.

When you are using the air conditioner, make sure it’s running efficiently. It’s a good idea to look into this before the heat of summer is upon you. Check your home insulation and seals to make sure the cool air stays in and the hot air stays out. Change the air filter when it’s dirty to prevent the air conditioner from running longer and wasting energy. You might need to look into buying a newer, more energy-efficient air conditioner if you have an outdated model. Plus, do chores that cause heat, like drying clothes and using the oven, at night when it’s cooler so the air conditioner doesn’t have to work as much to keep the house cool.

3. Cut down on indoor cooking.

Use the grill for most of your cooking during the summer months. Grilling is a great summer activity and can expand your cuisine from winter comfort foods. You can grill meats and even many of the side dishes, including corn, vegetables and toasting buns. You can even cook some foods in baking dishes and pots on the grill, like baked beans and berry cobbler for dessert. If you decide to cook some items inside, try to keep it to only simple side dishes and do the bulk of the cooking on the grill. Another option is to make more lettuce salads and cold summer dishes like chicken salad and tuna salad that don’t require cooking. Cutting down on cooking inside will also prevent the house from getting as hot, so it can cut down on costs to keep the house cool. If you need grilling ideas, checkout this post on cheap and easy grilling recipes.

4. Take a break from electronics.

Kids and adults spend endless hours on the computer, on smartphones, watching TV, playing video games, and using countless additional electronic devices. But summer is the perfect time to enjoy some electronics-free fun. There are endless indoor and outdoor activities for kids and adults that can save on energy costs, including bike rides, reading, putting on a play, playing dress-up, playing board games and with toys, playing with water guns and water balloons, exploring the outdoors, fishing, camping, going on day trips, and more. Try to get the neighbors involved as well, so the activities can be more social. By engaging in more of these activities, you can save energy by not using electronics all day, plus you can unplug them during that time to prevent wasting energy through the standby functions.

5. Cut down on hot water use.

During the summer, it’s hot anyway, so it’s not so hard to cut down on hot water and save money on water-heating costs. Encourage your family to take cooler showers, which can be refreshing after a hot day in the sun. Practice shorter showers, no baths, and turning the water off when brushing teeth and shaving. Use cold water to wash the car and water the plants.

6. Cut down on the costs of your pool.

Pools take energy to run the filtration pumps, plus extra if you heat them and run lights at night. To cut down on energy usage here, consider going to a community pool instead, using a friend’s or neighbor’s pool, or going to the ocean or other natural bodies of water. If you want to continue to or start to use a pool at home, there are a few tricks that can help you save money. Use a cover on the pool when it’s not in use to cut down on cleaning, to prevent evaporation, and to keep the water warmer. Consider investing in a solar heating system if you need to heat the water. Also, specific filters, such as sand multi-layer filtration systems, can help you save money in energy costs by not using as much hot water.

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As our lives become increasingly mobile, it is little surprise that we are interested in taking more of our finances with us. And with smart phones, like the iPhone, Blackberry and G1, it is possible to keep track of just about everything related to your financial world.

Using apps on your smart phone is a great way to make sure that you are always up to speed with your financial situation — no matter where you are and what you are doing. Some of these financial apps are free, and others will cost between $1.99 and $25, depending on the company and the version that you get.

Here are six different types of financial apps that you can use on your smart phone:

  1. Banking/Personal Finance: It is easy to find apps that can help you with your banking and personal finance. Most of the major banks now have apps that allow you to check balances from your phone, as well as make balance transfers and pay bills. You can also find nearby ATMs. Personal finance apps let you keep track of your income and expenses remotely, and many of them can be attached to your bank accounts so that you get access to those as well. Mint and Pageonce are two examples of personal finance apps.
  2. Investments: If you are an investor, you can get the latest price alerts, stock quotes and financial news. You can also see if your brokerage offers apps for your smart phone. If so, it is sometimes possible to manage your account, buying and selling from your cell phone. Bloomberg Mobile and iStockManager are two examples of investment apps that can help you stay connected to your portfolio.
  3. Calculators: There are some really cool calculator apps out there. These do more than just help you add up numbers. You can can calculate tips, get the latest currency conversions and even figure out a pay-off rate for debt and a payment schedule for your mortgage. Some apps that fall into this category include Pay Off Debt, Mortgage Calculator and eCurrency.
  4. Shopping: You can even increase your shopping efficiency with the help of your cell phone. There are coupon applications that help you search for the coupons you want and then download them to your phone — no paper necessary. Additionally, it is also possible to use some applications to comparison shop with other places in town or online. Some great shopping apps include ShopSavvy, GasBuddy and Coupon Sherpa.
  5. Searching Real Estate: If you are interested in getting a little help with home shopping, there are a number of apps that can help you locate homes in the neighborhood you are in. Many of these apps use a mash-up with mapping technology to help you search homes via MLS. You can also do some research and find agents. Some of the real estate search apps you can try include Zillow and Homes for Sale.
  6. Add Money to Your Parking Meter: This is actually a really cool idea. In some 100 locations around the world, including Miami, Chicago, San Francisco, Vancouver and Dallas, you can sign up to pay your meter remotely from an account. This will work with any cell phone. All you do is call the number on the meter, enter the code, and decide how much time you want. You are billed later. Your cell phone will keep you updated with regard to how much time you have left. Verrus and Clancy Systems International provide these services.

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I was recently talking to a friend about how to add more vegetables to her family’s diet. She tends to feed her family a lot of rice, noodles and potatoes. As I was giving her some recipes, I also stated that she should include vegetables in her meal planning. She then admitted that not only does she not menu plan but she isn’t really sure how to do that.

Hence, this post.

How to Menu Plan to Save You Time & Money

Menu plans should be created for the same length of time you have between grocery trips. If you shop every two weeks, then you’ll want to create a two week menu. I shop every week therefor my menus are for one week at a time.

Menus should be created before you shop, not after you’ve gone to the store and bought a ton of food. This method will cause you to buy more than you need, stocking your pantry and fridge with items that may go unused and wasted. If you wish to save yourself money and prevent as much waste as possible, plan your menus before you shop.

1. Assemble your supplies.

You are going to need the flyers or websites for the stores that you shop at, your coupons and any coupon sites that you utilize (don’t forget your grocery store’s own site, you can find a lot of digital coupons there), your family’s calendar, a pen, a pencil, highlighter and a notebook. You will need to decide how you want to write out your menu out whether it is on a blank calendar page that you print off, a board hanging on your fridge or just a piece of notebook, find what works for your family and use that.

Organizational Tip: write your obligations in pen but write your menu in pencil, at least initially. You may make changes as you are working through it.

2. Fill out events and obligations on your menu.

What I mean by this is write down any days that you will be away from the house at dinner time or have to be somewhere late, making dinner difficult to cook. Some weeks this might be 3 or 4 days, some it may just be one. Planning ahead for times when you can’t spend a lot of time will save you from eating out or wasting food in the fridge.

3. Evaluate your schedule and plan accordingly.

For this step you are going to take a look at any days that you or your family is going to be busy during or close to dinner time. If you will be home but then have to leave around 6:30, maybe you plan for quick sandwiches for dinner. If thee’s a night when you know you’ll have a late meeting and won’t get home until 6:00, that may be a great night to have an easy “Breakfast for Dinner” or a Baked Potato Bar. Maybe you can make a casserole ahead of time and ask someone at home to pop it in the oven before you arrive. This is a good time to see when you can utilize your crockpot or a meal made in advance. Really evaluate your days and nights to decrease your desire to dine out and your frustration in the evening.

4. Shop your pantry.

Before you add anything else to your menu, look in your pantry, freezer and fridge to see what you have that can be eaten in the next week. Did you make a lasagna last week but ended up freezing it? Serve that this week. Maybe you bought all the ingredients to make a great Mexican dish but something came up and it didn’t get made, add that to the menu for the coming week. Is there any meat that you bough on sale a few weeks back that hasn’t been used yet? The key here is to reduce what you buy at the grocery store which will save you money (Tip: Any money you save under your weekly grocery budget should be moved into your Emergency Fund if you are building it or towards debt repayment if you are working on that.).

5. Check the grocery store sales.

Check for any great deals that you might be able to take advantage of. It could be a great deal on boneless-skinless chicken breasts and you’ll want to plan a night or two that utilizes those. The idea during this tip is that you don’t want to be buying something that is not a great deal when there are other things you can have that will save your family money. Save a beef night for when beef is on sale, roast a whole chicken when you can find it at a reduced price. Pair your menu with the places that will maximize your budget.

Just yesterday I was doing this and saw that pineapples were going to be $1 each. This is an amazing deal as I typically pay over $3 for a pineapple. If you have a recipe that uses pineapple (Teryaki Chicken, maybe?) this would be a great week to make it. For us, we LOVE fruit smoothies any time of day so we’ll be having breakfast for supper one night this week which will include smoothies that have pineapple in them!

6. Plan your menu based on the sales.

You have the days when dinner will need to be quick and easy filled in, you’ve filled in nights when you can use things from the pantry, it’s time to add in items that you will find on sale this week. Your menu should be pretty filled up by now but if it’s not, it’s time to check out Pinterest for some new recipe items. I challenge you to add in a Meatless Monday (or Wednesday, Friday, or heck go crazy and do it every day like I do!) Meatless meals will save you on your budget, especially if you make your meals with things like rice, dried beans, and potatoes which are very budget-friendly.

7. Examine your menu closely.

Now is the time to use that eraser on the pencil you’ve been writing your menu with. It’s time to evaluate what type of a plan you have in place. Are you spending too much time in the kitchen? Swap out a meal or two that has you in the kitchen every night. Plan for leftovers. I will generally cook two nights in a row and then call for leftovers. The rule in my house is that you can have leftovers that night like the plan says or you can make yourself a bowl of cereal. (Tip: This is a great plan for nights when you won’t be home until late.) Also, during this time you should be evaluating how much you are potentially spending during your menu. If you have too many beef nights planned, then you may need to make adjustments to accommodate your budget.

Organizational Tip: Use your highlighter here to draw your attention to any meal that needs advance preparation. If rice needs to be cooked the night before or beans need to be soaked, write that on your menu somewhere for the night it should be done.

8. Create your grocery list.

Check your pantry, your freezer and recipes then write down the items you’ll need. As you are doing this, check for coupons and pull them out for when you are shopping. I always put a star next to items on my list that have a matching coupon to make sure I don’t forget them.

9. Shop, cook, eat and enjoy!

You’ve created a great menu, you’ve planned, shopped and cooked. It’s time to eat dinner with your family and enjoy the reduction in stress and the decrease in your budget.

Congratulations, you are a now a menu planner!

What do you think? Could you do this? Do you menu plan? How would it work for you?

Image Credit (Before text was added) to: Liz on Flickr

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No wonder if you ask the question of “How to manage personal finances?” I am sure that majority of people will be left clueless about the answer. Spend less than you earn is easy said than practiced for most of the people but spending more than you earn is definitely an evil and it will bury you in debt in long term if you didn’t get control over your personal finances. Negligence over finances or not sticking to a budget is your type, you should rid of that habit and even for the rest it is important to adopt a budget strategy to take control over managing your finances.

I am not saying that you have to follow your budget plan strictly, personally even I would love to break the rules of the game but over long term it is important to follow a budget and make a financial plan that works for you. After all it is your personal finance and it should be personalized. If you are not confident enough on your financial strategy take help of a certified financial planner (better if he is a fee only planner, to avoid conflict of interest).

Log Your Expenses

Start logging your expenses no matter how small the amount is, it will help you in identifying the key areas where you are a spend thrift and if practiced for few months you will have a great idea and logging the expenses itself will give you a rough draft for your budget which you can further fine tune to make a solid budget plan that you can stick with for taking control over your expenses.

Tracking expenses is one of the major problem people face while managing their personal finances. Tracking your expenses will help you in identifying the loopholes you have in your personal finances and before you lost track and mess up things tracking would help you in fixing the potholes to great extent.

How to Log Expenses?

You can use any method that is convenient to you, be it an age old notebook where you can log your expenses, an excel program, or the modern age budgeting apps we have in mobile/web platforms. I will share the list of top mobile apps you can use for logging your finances and will update once I publish it.

Start Using Credit Card

The other way to skip logging your finances is to use your credit/debit card for all your purchases so you have a list of your expenses prepared automatically by your credit card company in the form of monthly statement and as a bonus you will be rewarded with bonus points which you can redeem for cash/gifts in future. Please note that this method is suggested only for those who have the habit of paying their credit card dues in time.
Tip: If you have more than one credit card then dedicate cards for specific purpose, for example dedicate one card for food, dining out & groceries and the other card for travel, fuel & maintenance.

Make a Budget

If you are one who wonder what is happening to your money at the end of the every month, it’s high time that you should watch over your spending habits and start tracking your expenses to draft a plan for budgeting. No matter which method you follow to log your expenses, evaluation of your finances at the end every month would help you to identify the categories where you are generous and if it is unnecessary you need to take steps to control your love. For example if you are the one who is fond of gadgets and have a habit of changing your mobile every few months, its high time that you should think once again about your love towards mobile phones as changing them every few months just for the sake of fancying newer technology will make a huge dent to your pocket and is not good for your personal finance. So make a budget that works for you and follow it religiously, breaking it once in a while shouldn’t matter if you have control over your expenses.

Plan for Recurring Expenses

If you have recurring expenses like paying tuition fees for your children, health/life insurance premiums that you should pay annually, etc, you should include them as part of your budget by considering each of these as very short term goals and plan a methodology you need to adapt to pay your dues. If done every month funding or allocating budget for these will be light on your pocket and you will be able to handle it with ease.
For example if you need to pay Rs. 75, 000 every year as tuition fee for your kid every year, it will be easy for you to allocate Rs. 6000 every month and invest the same in recurring deposit or the investment instrument that suits you for funding this rather than arranging Rs. 75000 in one shot.

Stop Living from Paycheck to Paycheck

Last but not least you should stop living from your Paycheck to Paycheck and start building emergency fund if you don’t have one in place. The importance of emergency fund is tremendous in a finance plan and it could you in many ways to cite few it can help you in handling an emergency situation where you need a huge amount beyond your salary, helps you in handling stress in case if you lost your job, etc. I will write a post on why you need to build emergency fund and with detailed use case in future.

Few other things that you need to concentrate for handling your personal finances:

  • Assume that you earn less than you actually do, for example if you are earning Rs. 50000 per month, think that you earn Rs. 40000 and allocate the same towards your goals/retirement in addition to your actual contributions.
  • Pay down Your Debt as soon as possible no matter how small it is, living debt free life is like living equivalent to living life like a king.
  • Plan for your retirement, don’t forget your future and start investing for your retirement today.
  • Consider downsizing and change your attitude towards money. If you are living in a place which is huge enough for you check out if it is really required and change to the place which is sufficient enough for you. Likewise revisit your cable, cellular, telephone, electricity bills and reduce the clutter wherever possible.

Between Us: In this post ‘How to Manage Personal Finances’ I have covered things which will work for majority of people but can few other areas which I have not touched here comment out to let me know about them and also let our readers and me know on how you manage your personal finances and what are the steps you follow to keep yourself motivated.

Happy Investing and hope you will take control of your finances today!