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5 Tips to Save Money on Utilities This Winter

December 20, 2016

The holiday season is the most wonderful time of the year — for everything except your wallet. With the average American spending $752 on holiday gifts and existing utility bills increasing as temperatures start to drop, the winter months can challenge even the most budget-conscious individuals. Luckily, there are several things you can do to prevent your bills from skyrocketing, so here are five tips and tricks for saving on utilities this winter:

  1. Lower the thermostat:

    Possibly the simplest way to keep your utility bills low this winter is by being mindful of what temperature your thermostat is set. This doesn’t mean that you have to walk around the house wearing a winter coat, gloves, and your thickest socks — but a sweatshirt or blanket could be manageable in exchange for the potential cost savings. Lowering the number on the thermostat by even a few degrees can really add up, especially if you’re leaving the house for an extended period of time.

  2. Fix drafty doors and windows:

    Repairing windows and doors with air leaks can save you up to 30 percent of money on your energy bill each year. Weatherstripping is easy to do — almost like applying tape — and can make a big difference. To see if your windows and doors need a little facelift for the winter, try the flashlight test — have someone shine a flashlight into the edges of windows and doors, and step outside to check if you can see the light shining through. For more information on how to install weatherstripping, reference this online tutorial.

  3. Seal off rooms you do not use:

    If you have rooms in your home that do not get used often, such as a guest room or extra storage room, sealing them off can be helpful. Keep the doors, windows, and heating vents closed will help you retain the heat in the rest of your home.

  4. Replace light bulbs:

    With the shorter days and fewer hours of light that come with the winter months, it can help to replace traditional light bulbs with more energy-efficient bulbs. Using compact fluorescent bulbs can cost more initially, but they can last up to ten times longer than traditional bulbs.

  5. Install a programmable thermostat:

    Programmable thermostats can save homeowners up to 30 percent on utility bill by allowing you to program the times in which you want the temperature in your home to go up or down. For example, you can set your heat to a lower temperature while you are at work, and then have it work on resuming comfortable temperatures an hour or two before you return home. If you like cooler temperatures while you sleep, you can program your thermostat to a lower heat during the night, and then turn it back up a few hours before you wake up. Just try not to turn to your heat completely off during the day, as large jumps in temperatures can cost more and, in extreme weather, could cause pipes to freeze. Before you set your system, learn more about the benefits of programming your thermostat — including a few key limitations.

Don’t let high utility bills break your budget

Ah, winter — holiday music, twinkling lights, cozy nights by the fire, snow…and higher bills. If you are resourceful, you can reduce the impact of that last one. By using these five simple tips (or these, if you’re really ambitious), you can manage — or even lower — the cost of your electric and gas bills! With a little effort and some minor home improvements, you will be surprised by just how much you could save.

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2019-12-11
Holiday Budgeting: Gift Ideas That Last Into the New Year

Unless you’re one of those people who had their holiday shopping done by December 1, you’re like the rest of us who spend 25 days scrambling around, balancing holiday parties, school finals, baking cookies, traveling, and shopping for gifts. Gift-giving is one of most festive-feeling and most stressful of holiday traditions. It’s also likely what brought you to this blog. As a recent college graduate, with an entry-level paycheck and mountain of student loan debt, it’s difficult to gift well without destroying your monthly budget. Check out our list of possible presents that are money-conscious and aren’t likely to get returned (or thrown out with the wrapping paper).

 

Give Experiences

It’s no secret the U.S. is a country of “stuff.” We fill our homes, garages, and eventually, storage units with items that we just know we’ll use again someday. While the newest iPhone® or New York Times® Bestseller might make your family and friend’s faces light up this December, once the next model comes out or the last page is read, those gifts become obsolete. 

 

 So instead of blowing your hard-earned income and monthly budget on more “stuff,” consider giving experiences: concert tickets, zoo memberships, or woodworking classes that your recipient will remember longer than they will the plot of that over-rated biopic. What’s even better: you can experience these things together. If you’re looking for more experiences to gift this holiday season, check out Huffington Post’s article, 21 Gift Ideas For People Who Value Experiences More Than Things. You can find a more holistic approach to experiential gift-giving for the mind, body, and soul in this ELFI blog.

 

Give Savings 

While not the most glamorous gift, receiving a contribution towards your student loan debt really is the gift that keeps on giving. Helping put a dent in student loan debt is more thoughtful than cash or a gift card snagged while checking out at the grocery store, and it can help you pay off those student loans faster. 

 

If your parents, grandparents or significant other made a student loan payment in your honor for the next two-three years for the holidays and your birthday, thousands of dollars could be shaved off of your student loans. Getting out from under student loan debt faster also means more fun money in your checking account to boost that monthly budget and buy the gifts you really want to give. 

 

If you’re like the many students who took out multiple federal and private student loans over the course of college, it may be a good time to consolidate and refinance student loans into one singular loan. Besides possibly scoring a better repayment term and interest rate, seeing the family contributions to paying off the debt could really jumpstart your 2020 goal of getting more financially fit. 

 

REgive Gifts

Re-gifting gets a bad wrap for being the lazy person’s way of shedding the unwanted junk in their house. However, with a little extra thought, re-gifting can be a fulfilling experience. Look past the junky toaster on your kitchen counter or clothes you hate and consider items that are in good condition, but no longer bring you joy or serve a purpose in your home. Maybe it’s an old CD that you and your dad listened to before you left for college. Maybe it’s an Instant Pot® that you really thought you’d use more of in 2017. Or maybe it’s a necklace your friend always compliments. Whatever it is, clean them up, wrap them nicely, and—whatever you do—be sure your friend or family member didn’t give you the item first. The secret to successfully re-gifting is to be upfront and honest about the gift being from your own personal department store and share why you did it.

 

Give Time

The holiday spirit is all about being with the ones you love and being generous to those in need. If you or your family are feeling stressed to maintain monthly budgets this year, consider scrapping gifting (in the traditional sense) altogether. There are countless organizations that take volunteers throughout the holiday season to distribute presents in hospitals, cook meals for the homeless, and even shovel snow or hang Christmas lights for the elderly. By giving time, you make connections in your community, spread cheer, and build karma for the new year. 

 

If you’re still feeling stressed about ruining your perfectly planned monthly budget this holiday season, consider student loan refinancing. Recent graduates have reported saving an average of $309 every month after their student loan refinance with ELFI*, which averages out to $20,936 in total savings.¹ And because this is the busy time of year, you can see your potential savings and see if you are prequalified for a student loan refinance in minutes. Happiest of holidays to you and yours!

 
 

*Subject to credit approval. Terms and conditions apply.

 

¹Average savings calculations are based on information provided by SouthEast Bank/ Education Loan Finance customers who refinanced their student loans between 8/16/2016 and 10/25/2018. While these amounts represent reported average amounts saved, actual amounts saved will vary depending upon a number of factors.

 

Notice About Third Party Websites: Education Loan Finance by SouthEast Bank is not responsible for and has no control over the subject matter, content, information, or graphics of the websites that have links here. The portal and news features are being provided by an outside source – the bank is not responsible for the content. Please contact us with any concerns or comments.

2019-12-10
Student Loan Repayment: Debt Snowball vs. Debt Avalanche

By Kat Tretina

Kat Tretina is a freelance writer based in Orlando, Florida. Her work has been featured in publications like The Huffington Post, Entrepreneur, and more. She is focused on helping people pay down their debt and boost their income.

 

To cope with the high cost of college, you likely took out several different student loans. According to Saving For College, the average 2019 graduate left school with eight to 12 different student loans.

 

With so much debt and so many different individual loans, you may be overwhelmed and can’t decide where to start with your repayment. If you want to pay off your loans ahead of schedule, there are two main strategies that financial experts recommend: the debt avalanche and the debt snowball.

 

Here’s how each of these strategies work and how to decide which approach is right for you.

 

The difference between the debt snowball and debt avalanche strategies

Both the debt avalanche and debt snowball methods are strategies for paying off your debt early. However, how they work is quite different.

 

Debt avalanche

With the debt avalanche method, you list all of your student loans from the one with the highest interest rate to the one with the lowest interest rate. You continue making the minimum payments on all of your loans. However, you put any extra money you have toward the loan with the highest interest rate.

 

Under the debt avalanche, you keep making extra payments toward the debt with the highest interest rate. Once that loan is paid off, you roll over that loan’s monthly payment and pay it toward the loan with the next highest interest rate.

 

For example, let’s say you had the following loans:

  • $10,000 Private student loan at 7% interest
  • $15,000 Private student loan at 6.5% interest
  • $5,000 Direct Loan at 4.45% interest
 

In this scenario, you would make extra payments toward the private student loan at 7% interest first with the debt avalanche method. Once that loan was paid off, you’d make extra payments toward the private student loan at 6.5% interest, and then finally you’d tackle the Unsubsidized Direct Loan.

 

Debt snowball

The debt snowball method is more focused on quick wins. With this approach, you list all of your student loans according to their balance, rather than their interest rate. You continue making the minimum payments on all of them, but you put extra money toward the loan with the smallest balance first.

 

Once the smallest loan is paid off, you roll your payment toward the loan with the next lowest balance. You continue this process until all of your debt is paid off.

 

If you had the same loans as in the above example and followed the debt snowball method, you’d pay off the Direct Loan with the $5,000 balance first since it’s the smallest loan. Once that loan was paid off, you’d make extra payments toward the $10,000 private loan, and then you’d pay off the $15,000 private loan.

 

Pros and cons of the debt avalanche method

The debt avalanche strategy has several benefits and drawbacks:

 

Pros

  • You save more in interest: By tackling the highest-interest debt first, you’ll save more money in interest charges over the length of your loan. Compared to the debt snowball method, using the debt avalanche method can help you save hundreds or even thousands of dollars.
  • You’ll pay off the loans faster: Because you’re addressing the highest-interest debt first, there’s less time for interest to accrue on the loan. With less interest building, you can pay off your loans much earlier.
 

Cons

  • You don’t see results as quickly: Because you’re tackling the debt with the highest interest rate rather than the smallest balance, it can take longer before you can pay off a loan.
  • You may lose focus: It takes longer to pay off each loan, so it’s easier to lose motivation.
 

Pros and cons of the debt snowball method

The debt snowball method has the following pros and cons:

 

Pros

  • You get results quickly: Since you’re targeting the loan with the lowest balance first, you’ll pay off individual loans quicker than you would with the debt avalanche method.
  • Frees up money to pay down the next loan: You’ll be able to pay off loans quickly and roll the payments toward the next loan, helping you stay focused on your goals.
 

Cons

  • You’ll pay more in interest fees: By paying extra toward the loan with the smallest balance rather than the highest interest rate, you’ll pay more in interest fees than you would if you followed the debt avalanche method.
  • It could take longer to pay off your debt: Because you aren’t targeting the loans with the highest interest rate first, more interest can accrue over the length of the loan. The added interest means it will take longer to pay off your loans.
 

Which strategy is best for paying off student loans?

So which strategy is best for paying off student loans: the debt avalanche or the debt snowball? If your goal is to save as much money as possible and pay off your loans as quickly as you can, the debt avalanche method makes the most financial sense.

 

Psychologically, the debt snowball may have the advantage. According to a study from the Harvard Business Review, the debt snowball method is the most effective approach over the long-term, as borrowers are more likely to stick to their repayment strategy. However, which strategy is best for you is dependent on your mindset, motivation level, and your determination to pay off your debt.

 

Managing your student loan debt

Regardless of which repayment strategy you choose, you could save even more money or pay off your loans earlier by refinancing your student loans. When you refinance student loans, you apply for a loan from a private lender for the amount of your current student loans, including both private and federal loans.

 

The new loan has completely different repayment terms than your old ones, including interest rate, repayment term, and monthly payment. Even better, you’ll only have one student loan with one monthly payment to remember.

 

Use ELFI’s Find My Rate tool to get a rate quote without affecting your credit score.*

 
 

*Subject to credit approval. Terms and conditions apply.

 

Notice About Third Party Websites: Education Loan Finance by SouthEast Bank is not responsible for and has no control over the subject matter, content, information, or graphics of the websites that have links here. The portal and news features are being provided by an outside source – the bank is not responsible for the content. Please contact us with any concerns or comments.

2019-11-29
So I’ve Refinanced My Student Loans – Now What?

By Caroline Farhat  

Congratulations! You just made the big step of refinancing your student loans. Your wallet is fatter and you’ve likely shaved off thousands of dollars from what you will have to pay on your student loans. That’s a huge achievement that will positively impact your financial life.

 

You may be tempted to use your new found moolah on brunches and vacations, but don’t start spending lavishly quite yet. While present you may be saying “yes!” to fancy dinners, future you would really benefit from spending this extra cash in a smarter way. If you’re feeling financially empowered, you’ll love these five financial tips for what to do after you refinance to maximize your money.

 

1. Reexamine (or create) your budget

Any time you have a change in your financial situation, such as a raise or a new recurring bill, it’s important to evaluate your current budget. If you don’t already have a budget, getting a little extra money each month can be a great motivator to start one. We’re fans of the zero-based budget system. With zero-based budgeting, you allocate each dollar you make to a specific expense or goal so it can help curb unnecessary expenses you may regret later. For example, say you bring in $4,000 a month after taxes. You spend $3,000 on fixed expenses such as rent, utilities, and food. Your monthly payment for student loans is $600, leaving you with $400 extra each month. Under zero-based budgeting, you would allocate the extra $400 to other goals (such as contributing to a savings account) or wants (such as a travel budget). Once you have figured out exactly where each dollar will go, you should set up an automatic transfer to a savings account so that you never get tempted to spend money that you should be saving.

 

Of course, budgets aren’t one size fits all. If you have a method that works for you, then use that! The important things to know and keep track of are:

  1. How much money you have (after taxes and health insurance payments)
  2. Your essential fixed expenses (such as housing, utilities, food, student loan payments)
  3. Your non-essential fixed expenses (such as gym memberships, Netflix, etc.)
  4. Your long-term financial goals (buying a house, saving for a child, retirement)
  5. Your short-term financial goals (dining out, travel)
 

2. Start or pad your emergency savings account

If you don’t have at least three months of living expenses saved up, you need to start right now. We don’t want to set off alarm bells, but an emergency savings account is the number one thing everyone needs to have on their financial to do list. Depending on your situation, you may benefit from stashing away six to nine months of living expenses, but start with at least three months and build from there. Be sure to have this money easily available, so put it in a savings or checking account that does not incur any fees or penalties for withdrawing money. For example, you do not want to put your emergency savings in a CD, even if it will yield you a higher interest rate, because getting your money out can be a costly and sometimes time-intensive process. That said, find a savings account that will pay you interest so you don’t lose all your earning power on that money.

 

3. Pay down other high-interest debt

After you have a healthy savings account, paying off high-interest debt should be your next priority. Just like how refinancing your student loans helped you save money in the long run, paying off debt with high interest rates such as credit card debt or a personal loan will help you shave off hundreds or possibly even thousands of dollars that you would have to make in interest if you just paid the minimum monthly payment. Even putting an extra hundred dollars a month to this debt can pay off big time in the future. Additionally, lowering your debt load can help bolster your credit score, especially if you are carrying a lot of credit card debt. Your debt-to-income ratio is critical if you want to get a mortgage or other big-ticket items so paying down high-interest debt can only work to your advantage.

 

4. Contribute to your retirement

Say you have a healthy emergency savings, you’ve paid off all of your credit cards, and you have enough to cover your living expenses with a little bit of extra fun money. First, congrats! That’s a big feat and you’re killing it with your finances!

 

Set your future self up for success is by starting or increasing your contribution to a retirement account such as a 401(k) or IRA. Retirement accounts benefit from compounding interest so the sooner you start, the better. Plus, many employers have matching programs that help you pad your retirement account. Remember the free money you can make from a high-interest savings account? This is similar, but your future self will be the one to reap the benefits.

 

5. Treat yourself, responsibly

If you have refinanced your student loans, it’s safe to say that you’re clearly on top of your financial game. Let’s be real -- there will always be a list of things you can and should do with your money. But it shouldn’t all be about the work. You deserve to treat yourself! Just be sure to do it responsibly. Should you suddenly move into a budget-busting luxury penthouse apartment? Probably not. But you absolutely should treat yourself to that nice dinner or new pair of sneakers you’ve been eyeing. The keys to a successful financial life are staying informed and staying balanced. Just like any other goal, providing little rewards along your journey can help you stay motivated. So take this as our encouragement to enjoy yourself! Just do it responsibly with an eye on your financial independence.