Week 2: Credit Cards

Credit cards- you can't live without them, but make sure you are living with them intelligently. Take a look at what's in your wallet:

1) Call each of your credit card companies and ask for an interest rate decrease. You don’t have to give any reason. The worst they can say is NO, but if you have decent payment history, often they will say yes.

2) Try to have at least one credit card that you pay off each month. That way, no interest will accumulate.

3) If you carry a balance, try and pay more than the minimum payment. It will take an impossibly long time to pay it off if you pay just the minimum.

4) Make sure your card has no annual fee. If it does, see if they can waive it. If not, maybe you should cancel it.

5) If your card offers rewards, are you claiming them? I like to get cash applied to my account, but sometimes they offer gift cards to stores at better values than straight cash. Sometimes I get the Home Depot card, because I know I'll use it on things I actually need instead of an Orange Mocha Frappuccino splurge on a Starbucks card.

6) Get a free annual copy of your credit report from each of the three credit reporting agencies by calling 1-877-322-8228 or online at www.annualcreditreport.com Check for any discrepancies and report them immediately.

7) Close any credit cards you don’t use. You don’t need the hassle of losing the card or getting it stolen, and too much open credit can negatively affect your credit score.

8) Try and see what benefit you are really getting from your credit card. I found that my DiscoverCard, with no annual fee, was a better deal than my Citibank AA card where I received one mile per dollar. Here was my logic: If I put $25,000 per year on either card, I would receive a minimum of $250 cash back from Discover. With the Citibank card, I would get one round trip in the USA, but the dates were restricted, I had to pay an annual fee, and I wouldn’t earn miles on my actual flight. I found I could just buy a round trip ticket for around $250, if I shopped wisely.


Week 1: Utilities

I can't think of a less fun way to part with money than by throwing it away on utility costs. And you already know the basics: turn off the water when you brush your teeth, use low-flow shower heads, only run dishwashers & washers when they are full, and something about if it's yellow... Feel free to add more at the end!

1. If you have a tank-type water heater, lower the setting to as low as you can bear. You don’t need to pay to keep that water scalding! (If the water heater goes out, look into Bosch's tankless water heaters.)

2. Change out your light bulbs for energy-saving bulbs. LEDs have come a long way to give out warm white light, and use almost no energy.

3. Re-evaluate your washing machine. Sometimes buying a new energy saving washer will pay for itself within a year with water and electricity savings.

4. Clotheslines rock. And getting your clothes “clothesline fresh” is free! You can even set up a clothesline indoors.

5. Do you have a utility deposit with the utility company? Sometimes, they make you put down a deposit when you start service. If you have been paying your bills on time for two years, you can get it back. This is YOUR money they are holding interest-free!

6. Check for water and irrigation leaks. That’s literally money going down the drain.

7. Look into grid-connect solar panels. There are some serious state and federal incentives expiring at the end of this year. The panels could be earning you money in as little as three years.

8. Fake grass. There are many companies doing this, but good fake grass looks good all year, requires no water, requires no landscaping, and stands up to dogs like a champ. Some of it is even made from recycled plastic.