Saving On Home Renovations

Is your kitchen in desperate need of a facelift? Bathrooms haven’t been remodeled sinceTwo men measuring boards Bush was in the White House? (And we’re not saying which one!)

With the warmer weather approaching, many homeowners are thinking of making minor and major household improvements. And for most, the cost will be prohibitive: The average kitchen remodel tops $60,000 and a bathroom overhaul can run $18,000.

No worries, though! With some careful planning and smart choices, you can shave thousands off the cost of renovations.

Here’s 7 terrific ways to save when remodeling.

1.) Don’t do a complete remodel

It’s tempting to want to go all out once you’re remodeling, but unless structural damage demands that a room or area be completely gutted, there’s rarely a reason to start from scratch. Instead of knocking down walls and hallways, try to envision the outdated area with a fresh coat of paint, new light fixtures and some minor décor changes.

Is your kitchen a total blast from the past? Instead of giving it an overhaul, consider replacing the drawer handles and knobs, staining the cabinets and refacing the moldings. Perfecting old cabinets can be a full 50% less expensive than putting in brand new ones.

Potential money saved: $30,000.

2.) Shop around for a contractor

Choosing a contractor is not a decision to take lightly. You’ll want to find someone honest, professional and reliable – and willing to give you a decent price.

Don’t hire anyone on the spot; check out at least three different contractors before making your decision. Ask for references and meet with each contractor in person to get a feel for their character and professional conduct. Take note of whether they show up on time and their willingness to answer questions. Doing these simple tasks will provide you with important clues about their reliability. Be sure to ask your prospective contractor if they generally stick to their schedules or tend to fall behind. In this business, time is money, and a delay in a project’s completion can cost you a pretty penny.

Finally, be sure to sign a detailed contract before making any final decisions. The contract should stipulate the final cost and estimated timeframe for the project.

Potential money saved: several thousand dollars.

3.) Consider long-term costs and benefits

You don’t want to choose the most expensive option for every remodeling decision you’re going to make, but it often makes sense to pay more now if it’ll save you big further down the line.

For example, if you’re installing clapboard siding, you’ll save in the long run by paying more for pre-primed and pre-painted boards. Using the more expensive prefinished claps means you’ll need half as many paint jobs in the future.

Money saved: $1,250 (for a 10×40 area).

4.) Pick decent but midgrade materials

Choosing the cheapest materials usually ends up costing more in the future. But that doesn’t mean go with the most lavish and expensive. in general, it’s best to go with the midgrade option whenever possible.

One significant area where you’ll see this at play is in carpeting. Basic olefin and polyester carpeting will run you $1 to $2 per square foot, while wool costs upward of $9 to $11 per square foot.

Money saved: $400 (for a 40-square-foot area).

5.) Bring in natural light without windows

Looking to add a splash of sunshine in your kitchen? Don’t cut that gigantic hole in the side of your house just yet! Adding windows is a major deal and there are other, less expensive ways of bringing sunlight into your home.

Instead, consider installing a “light tube.” This genius contraption slips between the rafters on your roof and works to funnel sunshine down and into the living space below.

Adding a double-pane window can run you $1,500, while a light tube is only $500.

Money saved: $1,000.

6.) Lend a hand

You don’t have to be super-handy to help out and save money at the same time. You can easily do some of the demolition work yourself, paint some walls or even sand the walls to prep them for painting. If you think you’re too clumsy for even these minor jobs, lend a hand with the cleanup at the end of a project. Why pay a cleanup crew $200 a day to sweep up sawdust when you can handle a broom just fine on your own?

Money saved: $200 a day or more.

7.) Increase efficiency, not size

If you feel like your kitchen is too cramped and you need to push out some walls to make it work, think again. You can easily reorganize your kitchen for maximum efficiency and save tens of thousands of dollars.

Replace large, clumsy shelves with pullout drawers that are equipped with racks for easy, aesthetic storage space. Upgrade your cabinets with lazy susans, dividers, pullout trays and more. Consider hiring a professional organizer to show you how to maximize the space you’ve got; the organizer’s fee and the money you’ll spend on the specialized cabinets will still fall way below the cost of an expansion.

Money saved: up to $60,000.

However you choose to go about your renovations, don’t forget to call, click, or stop by Destinations Credit Union today to learn about our fantastic rates on Fixed Home Equity Loans and Home Equity Lines of Credit (HELOC)!

Your Turn: Have you recently remodeled? How did you save money? Share your best hacks with us in the comments!


How To Use The Money Envelope System

If you’re like many of us, you’ve been trying to stick to a budget for a while, but by the man putting money in envelopetime each month is over, you’ve busted your budget – again.

Because of this recurring pattern, you’re probably wondering if there’s a better way. Fortunately, the answer is yes!

The money envelope system has been around for years, and it’s an incredibly motivating and powerful way to keep spending in check.

Destinations Credit Union is proud to bring you this handy guide to understanding and implementing the money envelope system in your household.

Note: If you already have a workable monthly budget, you can skip to step 2.

1. Determine your monthly income and expenses

For the next few months, track all of your expenses. Hold onto every receipt or record each purchase you make, being sure to indicate which category of expense it falls under. Hold onto every pay stub, too. When a three-month period has passed, you’ll sit down to figure out exactly how much discretionary income you’re left with each month. This will not include fixed amounts, like insurance premiums, mortgage payments, savings and investments.

2. Create a budget for every expense category

Now, divide your discretionary income into different categories. The categories you need and the amounts you’ll set aside for each will depend on your individual lifestyle and habits, but you’ll likely need categories for food, gas, entertainment, transportation and clothing costs.

Review the way you’ve been spending your money in the last few months for an idea of how much you’ll need to set aside for each category. If you see you’ve been overspending in a certain area, this is a great time to resolve to cut back.

3. Create your envelopes

This is where the money envelope system differs from a regular budget. Instead of having money set aside for each category in your head, or even scribbled on a paper somewhere, take one envelope for each expense category and mark it clearly. Now, put the exact amount of cash for this month in the envelope for each category.

Do this with every expense category, and voila! You’ve created your new budgeting system!

4. Stick to your budget

As in any budget, following through on a plan is the hardest part. With the envelope system though, it’s a whole lot easier.

Say you need to make a grocery run. You’ll peek inside your “groceries” envelope, take note of how much cash is inside, and figure out how much you can afford to spend. Take that amount of money to the store with you, and only use that cash. No cheating! There’s absolutely no card-swiping allowed and no sneaking money from another envelope to beef up a skimpy cash supply in another. You need to work with what you have.

Instead of walking out of the store with a dozen items in hand that weren’t on your list, you’ll be forced to stick to your budget. And, if you find yourself running low on grocery money one month, you’ll have to make do. You can take the pantry challenge and dream up a menu created around the ingredients you have on hand, or you can shop the sales and cook according to what’s cheapest this week.

Do whatever it takes – but no cheating!

5. Reward yourself!

If you find yourself with extra money in any category at the end of the month, it’s OK to celebrate. Dave Ramsey recommends rewarding yourself with a dinner out or an expensive drink. Alternatively, you can treat that money as “rollover cash” and use it to enjoy a roomier budget next month.

Tips and tricks

Here are some variations and different approaches to this ingenious system:

  • Use a small accordion file folder instead of individual envelopes. It’ll be easier to keep track of your envelopes when they’re all in one place, and it’s sturdier than paper envelopes.
  • Go cashless! Love the idea but hate the thought of only using cash? You can still use the envelope system with some minor adjustments. There are apps designed to create virtual envelopes for you to use, such as Mvelopes. You can also use a cost-free budgeting app that allows you to divide and track your spending into different categories, such as Mint, Quicken and Monefy.
  • Trim your fixed expenses. If you’re finding it difficult to stick to your self-created budget, try to cut back on your non-discretionary spending. Search for a cheaper auto insurance plan. Ditch your cable. Find ways to trim your electric bill and gas expenses. Use the money you save to add to the envelopes that never seem to have enough to get you through the month.
  • Create an emergency envelope. Set aside $20 or $50 to use in case another envelope runs out of money.
  • Use Destinations Credit Union “You Name It” accounts as your envelope for larger expenses, like emergency savings, gift-giving or vacations.

Congratulations! You’ve got the money envelope system down pat! Here’s hoping it helps you on your journey toward financial wellness.

Your Turn: Have you tried the money envelope system? Has it worked for you? Why, or why not?


6 Ways To Know You’re Using Your Credit Cards Responsibly

Credit cards are an important financial tool, but they need to be used responsibly. Here’s woman shopping online with credit cardhow to know you’re okay.
  1. You can easily pay more than just the minimum payment each month.
  2. You don’t rely on your credit card for everyday purchases.
  3. You are using less than 30% of your credit limit.
  4. You never take out cash advances.
  5. You use it mostly for large, necessary expenses.
  6. You read all the fine print in every letter you receive from your credit card company.
Your Turn: In what ways do you use your credit card? Share with us in the comments!

Energy Saving Tips – What To Look For When Buying New Appliances

There’s no getting away from the fact that our dependence on energy increases daily. Couple buying appliancesWith energy-dependent technology driving our lives, ecologists continue to search for ways to save our environment. Focusing on energy-efficient appliances is one way to do that.

Your monthly electric bill may not itemize the specific usage of each appliance in your home. If you are interested in a breakdown, though, you can ask your local electric company for a listing. But about 30% of the charges on your statement stem from your electrical appliances. That’s why the government, as well as the majority of appliance manufacturers, encourage consumers to replace standard devices with new energy-saving ones.

So, if your dishes aren’t coming out clean after a run in the dishwasher, or if the ring around your shirt collar has not disappeared after a hot laundry wash, you may be in the market for a new appliance.

There could be some good years left in that 10-year-old refrigerator or oven. But, generally speaking, prices for electrical appliances have come down across the board over the years. And once you consider the cost of a new part for your old apparatus, plus the charge for the visit, it just might be worthwhile to chuck the old and buy new.

It’s also worth keeping in mind that the new energy-efficient appliances save you money on a monthly basis because they use far less electricity. They also help the environment by cutting down on greenhouse gases emitted into the air.

What is Energy-Efficient?

So what does it really mean if an appliance is energy-efficient? In simple terms, it means the process used to make the appliance function – spin, clean, cool, heat, etc. is using less energy. This can be achieved in a number of ways, and manufacturers are always adapting new techniques, such as using renewable sources of energy like water or sunlight.

Now that you have decided that a modern and energy-efficient refrigerator is what you need, how can you be sure you’re choosing the best product at the most reasonable price?

Here are some tips to guide you in your search:

  1. Determine the total cost. Since the purpose of your new purchase is to save on monthly energy costs, the first thing to consider is the operating costs. That, along with the actual purchase price, should give you the real cost of the appliance.
  2. Look for the energy rating. There are several reliable rating services that provide information about appliance energy consumption. The federal government uses the yellow and black Energy Star Standard sticker to inform consumers about operating costs and annual energy consumption. This helps buyers compare one clothes dryer to another. Energy Star tests each item independently.
  3. Select the right size appliance. Running a large machine – even the most energy-efficient one – uses more electricity than a compact one, so don’t buy something bigger than what you need.
  4. Look for economy choices. Many dishwashers and washing machines offer a variety of different cycles. If you find one with an economy cycle, that will save you money when you need to wash only a small load of clothes or dishes.
  5. Stay Simple. When it comes to choosing a refrigerator, go easy on the add-ons. According to one independent rating service, a water dispenser or ice maker uses a lot of extra electricity. Also, top-to-bottom fridge/freezer models are more energy-efficient than side by sides. The auto-defrost feature uses heat to speed up defrosting and makes running the refrigerator less efficient.

This holds true for self-cleaning ovens as well, so consider the value in this upgrade.

  1. Contact your utility supplier for the latest ways to save on utility charges. With today’s smart devices, appliances can be programed to use less energy at certain times of the day.
  2. Check out your home. If you have the time and the extra cash, it may be worthwhile to call in a home assessor to help identify ways you can save on your overall energy and water costs. He or she may be able to tell you how to use your appliances at the most energy-efficient times of day.
  3. Comparison shop. Never buy the first model you see. Household appliances are not cheap, and to find the most energy efficient one at the best price, shop around. Well-known name brands are always more expensive than lesser-known companies. However, they don’t always offer a better product. If you check carefully, you may find that heating element in the name-brand laundry dryer is exactly the same as the one in a model selling for hundreds of dollars less. Compare the details. You might be surprised.

Your Turn: Do you own an energy-efficient appliance? How much has this purchase trimmed from your monthly electricity bill?


Saving as a Family

By Sarah M. Ellis, UF/IFAS Extension Citrus CountyFamily sitting in front of house

When you have a family, it seems like there is never enough money to go around and saving money frequently gets pushed aside. However, saving money can help stabilize your family’s financial life.

Saving is putting money aside for future use and requires discipline and, at times, denial. Therefore, it’s important to discuss the importance of saving with the whole family. Generally, people save with a goal in mind. Do you have an emergency fund? Do you need a new car? Would you like to take a family vacation?

If you do not have an emergency fund, establishing one should be your first goal. Life happens and you never know when a family member or pet might get sick or have an accident. Having money set aside in case of an emergency helps you avoid building debt if a crisis occurs.

How much money should be in your emergency fund depends on your family size, income, spending habits, and job security. It is recommended, if possible, to have three months of income in your emergency fund. Saving three months of income might seem impossible, but how much you save is less important than how often you save. Small, but consistent, savings add up over a period of time.

Once you have your emergency fund established you can start saving for other needs or wants!

For saving tips visit America Saves’ 54 Ways to Save Money.

Saving as a Family

By Elizabeth Kiss, Ph.D.; Associate Professor and Extension Specialist, Kansas State University/Kansas Saves

Sometimes when children hear their parents or other adults in their lives talking about cutting spending or saving money, they assume that the family is going through a rough patch. As appropriate based on children’s ages, family conversations about money goals, including saving and spending plans, reassure children. It is also a great way to introduce (or remind) children about the reasons we save.

Talking about family saving goals helps children understand that putting money aside for the future – whether to be prepared for unexpected expenses, for short-term goals such as summer vacation, or for longer term goals such as paying for college – is important to you. They will also likely be interested in knowing how they can help. They may even want to set their own savings goals and be motivated to work toward achieving them!

Get Your Family Involved

Get your family involved with your saving plan by brainstorming ways to cut expenses in order to free up money to put toward your saving goals. Explore low- and no-cost activities you can do together as a family. Consider selling rarely used books, toys, clothes and other items in a garage sale or other marketplace.

Involve children by:

  • Encouraging them to be aware of their energy and water use by turning off lights and electronics when not needed and by turning off the water when brushing teeth and taking showers
  • Thinking about things that the family regularly spends money on and talking about if the family stills wants or needs the items or if they can select cheaper alternative or perhaps do without them
  • Teaching them to comparison shop and choose generics or use coupons when it makes sense
  • Challenging them to suggest ways to enjoy time together as a family for less. Not sure where to start? Check out these suggestions

Including children in trips to your financial institution (or an ATM) to deposit or transfer money into a saving account helps them to visualize the process. Consider posting a running total of the dollar amount of deposits and the progress made toward a family saving goal on the refrigerator or a bulletin board.

Encouraging Children to Save

Saving money is a habit that is developed over time. In addition to letting children know that you save, help them begin to develop their own saving habit. Money as You Grow, a framework that links money-related activities to children’s developmental stages, is a great resource for conversation starters and activities for children of all ages at

Make Your Tax Refund Work for You!

By Justin Chu, Program Associate, Taxpayer Opportunity Network

Piggy bank on tax form

Filling income tax form with pen, calculator and piggy bank

Every year, the middle of April marks the end of the federal tax return filing season. For many Americans, that can mean seemingly endless forms, paystubs, and other paperwork. However, tax time can also be a unique opportunity for saving for your future! You can maximize tax time in three easy ways and have your tax refund work for you.

1. Put your refund into a saving account
For people claiming some of the unique tax credits that benefit hardworking families around the country such as the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit, their tax refund may be the largest sum of money they will see the entire year. By opening a savings account, you can deposit a portion or all of your refund and let the amount grow over time. Luckily, you can do this using the IRS Form 8888, which will divide your refund over multiple accounts.

2. Put your refund into a savings bond
As a part of the Form 8888, you are now able to easily and seamlessly purchase Series 1 US Savings Bonds as you prepare your tax return! These 30-year bonds are backed by the United States government and they will pay you interest yearly. Bonds are a great, low-risk option to grow your savings while receiving a little bit of money each year.

3. Get your taxes prepared for free
If you make less than $53,000 a year, you can your taxes prepared at no-cost by IRS-certified volunteers in your local community! The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program has served millions of Americans for more than 45 years. If you qualify, you can find your local VITA program using this tool; at these VITA sites, you can find expert information to help demystify the tax code and to prepare your taxes.

These three steps are only a small sample of how you can leverage this annual process! Tax time can be confusing but you can maximize your tax return to build for a more sustainable future. Don’t delay and be sure to start your own saving story today!