Do Your Part to Help Save a Tree

by Wade Barnes 27. April 2012

If you happened to see a greater-than-usual number of people out planting trees this morning as you were driving to work, and you’re wondering why, we’re here to solve your mystery…today is National Arbor Day.

Whether you plan to plant a tree in honor of Arbor Day or not, we thought it might be useful to remind you of some easy ways you can help save trees and reduce the amount of paper clutter in all of our lives.

Here a few simple things you can do to save a tree:

Use Online Banking

Online banking is a great paperless solution to managing your bank accounts – all you need is a computer with internet access (such the one you’re using right now to read this article).

Pay Bills Using Electronic Bill Payments

Once enrolled in online banking, you can initiate payments using the bill payment service.  Using an electronic bill payment service is simple, and it reduces your need to order checks, not to mention the envelopes and stamps you save.

Transfer Money between Banks Using External Account Transfers

Using external account transfers, also known as account to account transfers, you can move money electronically between accounts at various financial institutions.

Sign Up for eStatements

eStatements are delivered electronically to your online banking mailbox.  Not only do eStatements save trees, they also save you the time and trouble of filing your paper statements.  With eStatements, 18 months of statements are automatically saved electronically for retention purposes, so you don’t have to worry about keeping track of all your old statements.Mobile Banking Phones

Use Mobile Banking

With Mobile Banking you can see your account balances and transfer money between accounts on the go.  There’s no need to haul around a laptop, simply use your internet enabled phone to quickly access your bank.

 

In honor of the great White Oak (The official Maryland State Tree…but you knew that, right?), be sure to take advantage of ways to manage your finances without using unnecessary paper.

Ten Ways to Ease Your Pain at the Pump

by Wade Barnes 30. March 2012

Average Price per Gallon of Gas on the East Coast

 

Gas prices are on the rise yet again, though you probably don’t need us to tell you that because you probably already felt the pain the last time you were at the pump.  Since there doesn’t seem to be any end in sight and buying a new electric car might not be in the picture, we thought we would share some tips to help you conserve gas and save a little extra money.

♦ Plan trips.  It might seem simple, but by combining errands you can save wasted trips.  Similarly, traveling at less congested times will help limit the amount of gas wasted while sitting in traffic.

Don’t speed.  While this is probably a good overall tip, traveling in excess of 55 miles per hour significantly increases the average car’s gas consumption.

Don’t accelerate too quickly.  Agreed, it’s fun to be the fastest car off the line when the light turns green, but the quicker you accelerate, the quicker your car consumes gas.  Not to mention this might also be dangerous behavior which the police tend to frown upon.

Use cruise control.  Just like accelerating too quickly uses gas at a quicker rate, so does accelerating frequently.  If you can keep a constant speed, you’ll use less gas once the car is in motion.

Remove excess weight.  It’s estimated that an additional 100 pounds decreases your fuel efficiency by 2%.  So, if you can’t ditch your passengers, at least be sure you don’t have excess baggage that you’re toting around.

Have proper tire pressure.  Underinflated tires cause your car to burn more gas.  Be sure your tires are inflated to the recommended pressure.

Change your oil.  A well-oiled machine will run efficiently - it really is that simple.  Be sure all general maintenance on your car is up to date.

Wait to refill.  It may seem counterintuitive as prices keep going up, but gas is heavy, and the extra weight decreases your fuel efficiency – see number 5.

Close your windows.  There’s no better way to enjoy a beautiful spring day than to have your windows down and music up but the truth of it is that open windows makes it more difficult to propel you car forward, thereby requiring more fuel.

Buy gas when it's cool outside.  Gas is sold by volume, which is why we pay per gallon.  Gas, however, is most dense when it is cooler, and denser gas will get you a higher combustion rate which means more bang for your buck (pun intended).  For more information on this tip, consult a scientist, but for those looking for a simple gas tip, just go with it and buy gas in the morning or once the sun has set.

So the next time you find yourself doing 70 miles per hour down the highway with your windows down and golf clubs that you haven’t used for weeks in the trunk, remind yourself of these simple ways to make a gallon of gas last a little bit longer.

If you found this article helpful, be sure to check out these related articles:

Spring Forward With These 5 Energy Saving Tips

How to Stay Cool When Temperatures are Hot

Traveling Tips: keep the costs low and the fun level high

Spend It or Save It? What to do with your tax refund

by Wade Barnes 12. March 2012

Average Annual Tax Refund

It's that time of the year again, and if you haven’t already started working through the process of filing your taxes, now is the time.  While it likely isn’t the most favorite chore you’ll tackle this year, it might be one that pays off.  According to the IRS, the average tax refund this year is about $3,000.  Some might argue that getting a tax refund isn’t the best way to manage your money throughout the year, as you essentially gave the government an interest free loan.  Nonetheless, using your tax refund wisely can greatly benefit your financial position and might even help you get a bigger refund when you file your taxes next year.

Resist the urge to spend the money before it hits your bank account.  Most certainly avoid refund anticipation loans unless absolutely necessary to deal with an emergency, as these are expensive and might even leave you owing more money than you get back in your refund.  Consider having the money refunded via direct deposit from the IRS directly into your bank account.  Direct deposit isn’t only a safe way of receiving your money, it is also the quickest way of getting your refund from the IRS.

Once you know how much you can expect to receive in your tax refund, make a plan and consider spending the money in the following three categories to invest in your future.

Emergency Fund

Nobody wants to think that something bad might happen, but it’s always a possibility, and planning for an emergency in advance can help lessen the burden if it happens to occur.  Experts suggest you should have 3-6 months of salary tucked away in an emergency fund.  With this money in savings, you should be able to offset hardships that could come from illness, unemployment, or other unexpected events.  Another way to plan for an emergency is to stock up on nonperishable food items and household supplies that are not only good for natural disasters but can provide a source of stability if an unexpected event, such as job loss, was to occur.  While providing for an emergency isn’t a fun way of spending your tax refund, according to Maslow, by securing fundamental needs we can move on to talking about ways to maximize your full potential.

Invest in Yourself

There isn’t much in life more important than your future, so be sure to spend some money to ensure your future is strong.  Consider going back to school or taking a class that can help you learn new skills or techniques that will help advance your career and earning potential.  Attend a conference relevant to your industry – not only will you be exposed to cutting edge information, you’ll also be exposed to networking with people you may not have otherwise met.  Spend some money to update your professional wardrobe.  We all know first impressions are important, so be sure your professional attire is sharp.  Invest money in a retirement account.  Even if you love your job, the time will come when you want some time for yourself.  By investing in a retirement account, you can look ahead to life after work.

Tax Deductible Activities

Consult your tax advisor on this topic, but there are ways you can spend your tax refund that could potentially reduce your future tax burden.  Tackling home improvement projects like purchasing energy-efficient windows or doors, adding insulation, and installing energy-efficient appliances or solar panels are all good ways to improve your home and potentially lessen you tax burden.   Consider saving for or buying a house, as there are many tax benefits to being a homeowner.  Make a donation to your favorite charitable cause.  Not only will you feel good about making the donation, you’ll being doing good for the community.  Many self-investments that are career oriented might also help reduce your tax burden.  Again, consult a tax advisor to understand the details, but using your refund to improve your house, your retirement, or your community might mean less tax in the future.

While the above activities are all important, it is just as important that you treat yourself too.  Don’t blow it all on a weekend in Vegas, but make a smart plan to further your financial progress and after making smart investment decisions, do something to reward yourself as well.



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