7 Money-Saving New Year’s Energy Efficiency Resolutions That Are Easy to Keep

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A lot of people make New Year’s resolutions every year. You’ve probably made some yourself over the years, like saving money or getting in shape. If you’re looking to save money this year, there are some energy efficiency resolutions you can make that can put money back in your pocket right away.

These resolutions don’t require you make big, expensive home improvements. Instead, they mostly require that you simply change your behavior. In fact, The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy estimates that simple behavioral changes can account for up to 15 percent of all energy savings.

Here are seven New Year’s energy efficiency resolutions that, unlike some other New Year’s resolutions, are actually easy to keep.

1. Turn off lights when you leave the room

If you have incandescent light bulbs, you should turn them off to conserve energy whenever they’re not needed. If you have compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs), you should turn them off if you’re leaving a room for more than 15 minutes. The way CFLs work, it’s more cost effective to leave the lights on if you’ll return to the room within 15 minutes.

2. Upgrade to energy-efficient lighting

Incandescent light bulbs are cheap, but only 10 percent of the energy they use actually produces light. The remaining 90 percent produces only heat. When your incandescent bulbs burn out, replace them with either energy saving incandescent bulbs, CFLs, or light-emitting diodes (LEDs). Compared with incandescent bulbs, energy saving incandescent bulbs are about 25 percent more energy efficient and last three times as long, CFLs are about 75 percent more efficient and last 10 times longer, and LEDs are about 80 percent more efficient and last 25 times longer.

3. Install a programmable thermostat

You can save as much as 10 percent a year on heating and cooling costs by turning your thermostat back 10 degrees for eight hours a day. And the easiest way to do that is to install a programmable thermostat. Once you install your programmable thermostat, or if you already have one, set your temperature to be 10 degrees cooler in the winter or 10 degrees warmer in the summer when you’re away at work. Set your temperature to return to where you want it right before you return home. For best results, set your at home/away temperatures to 68/78 degrees in the summer and 68/58 in the winter.

4. Use ceiling fans

Ceiling fans help circulate the air in a room and can help you stay cooler or warmer for pennies on the dollar compared with running your air conditioner or furnace. In the summer, run ceiling fans counter clockwise to force air down and cool you with a wind chill effect that can make the room feel 4 degrees cooler and save you 14 percent off of air conditioning costs over a cooling season. In the winter, run ceiling fans clockwise to force air up, which moves warm air at the ceiling down the walls and back to the floor where it does a better job of warming you.

5. Turn off your computer and monitor when not in use

Personal computers, especially desktops, can use a lot of electricity if they’re left on when not in use. Contrary to what you may think, a PC will reach the end of its “useful” life due to advances in technology long before frequent start ups and power downs affect their service life. Get in the habit of turning your computer and monitor off whenever you’re not using it. In case you forget, make sure to set your PC’s energy saving mode to put the monitor to sleep after 5 minutes of inactivity and your computer to sleep after 15 minutes.

6. Use power strips to slay energy vampires

Most home electronics and appliances continue to use electricity even when in “standby” mode or when you think they’re off. After all, anything with a clock — like a DVR for recording your favorite shows or a coffee maker for brewing a pot of Joe when you wake up — or an infrared receiver for receiving “on” signals from a remote control, needs continuous power to operate. To help slay the energy vampires that continuously feed on electricity, hook up all of the devices you can (minus maybe your DVR and coffee maker) to power strips that you can use to switch off your devices completely when you’re not using them.

7. Wash only full loads of dishes and clothes

About 60 percent of the energy used by a dishwasher and 70 percent to 90 percent of the energy used in a clothes washer goes towards heating the water. To save money, make sure to only wash full loads of dishes and clothes (most people tend to underload their machines, which wastes energy and money). If you have an energy-efficient dishwasher or clothes washer, make sure to set the appropriate load size if you have to wash less than a full load.

Have an energy-saving New Year’s resolution you’d like to share? Let us hear about it.

Sources

American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, “Dishwashing.”

American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, “Laundry.”

ENERGY STAR, “How Should I Use My Ceiling Fan?

LearnVest, “Save Energy And Save Money By Slaying The Energy Vampires In Your Home.”

U.S. Department of Energy, Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy, “When to Turn Off Your Lights.”

U.S. Department of Energy, Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy, “Lighting Choices to Save You Money.”

U.S. Department of Energy, Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy, “Thermostats and Control Systems.”

U.S. Department of Energy, Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy, “Ceiling Fans and Other Circulating Fans.”

U.S. Department of Energy, Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy, “When to Turn Off Personal Computers.”

Apps for Your New Year's Resolutions, Part 2

Thursday December 29, 2011
Posted at 11:20

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New Year’s resolutions are pretty popular statements of personal ambition that seem to pop up every year around the end of December. Millions of people, fueled by fresh memories of holiday gorge-fests and shopping sprees, take stock of the year that was and promise themselves that they’ll finally work on that part of their lives that needs some attention. There are lots of different kinds of New Year’s resolutions, but the two most popular ones involve getting in physical and fiscal shape. Unfortunately, the most common resolutions are also among the hardest to keep.

To help out, we’ve come up with a two-part list of the top smartphone and tablet apps for making sure you stick to your health and money goals. In part one, we covered the top five diet and exercise apps that can help you lose weight and get in shape. For part two, we take a look at the top five apps that can help you organize your finances, save money and get out of debt.  (NOTE: Spark Energy is commenting on the following apps and sites, but this should not be construed as a formal endorsement of any of them.)

1. Mint

Referred to as a financial aggregator, the Mint app, from the popular website Mint.com, helps people combine all their financial information in one location using one interface. Information on checking accounts, savings accounts, retirement accounts, home mortgage, car loan and more can be brought together. The Mint website and the Mint app can help you stay organized and manage your money by setting budgets and financial goals, tracking progress and running reports. The service is read-only so that it’s very secure, but you’ll have to use your normal online banking and other online financial resources to move money in and out of accounts.

Platforms: iOS (iPhone/iPad/iPod Touch), Android

Price: Free

2. Pageonce

Like Mint, Pageonce is a free financial aggregator that lets you pull information on all of your financial accounts into one app. It might not be as comprehensive as Mint, but unlike Mint, Pageonce allows you to pay all your bills as part of a subscription service that has become highly regarded by the app’s regular users. In addition to extended money management features, the app can also set budgets and run reports so you can see where your money is going.

Platforms: Android, Blackberry, iOS (iPhone/iPad/iPod Touch), Windows Phone

Price: Free, $4.99 per month for Pageonce Gold bill pay subscription plan

3. ClearCheckbook

For those who like the idea of managing all their finances in one location but don’t want or need a single app that talks to all their banks and financial accounts, ClearCheckbook might just be the app for you — especially if power and customization are what you need most. ClearCheckbook, along with its corresponding website, is a checkbook register that allows you to enter data about all your transactions, track bills, set reminders, create budgets and produce spending reports. Premium subscribers get access to running balances, custom and advanced reports, transaction histories, multiple users per account and many other extras beyond the free basic service.

Platforms: Android, iOS (iPhone/iPod Touch only), Palm

Price: Free, $4 monthly subscription for premium features

4. Pay Off Debt

The Pay Off Debt app helps users pay down their debts and become debt free using the debt snowball method devised by Dave Ramsey. In the debt snowball method, people pay off their debts from small to large in order to create the momentum needed to pay off larger debts. The Pay Off Debt app takes things a step further by allowing users to choose which debts they pay off first: lowest to highest balance, highest interest rate to lowest interest rate, or in any custom order. The app helps keep track of your debts and payments and calculates how long you’ll pay, how much interest you’ll save and when you’ll be debt free.

Platforms: Android, iOS (iPhone/iPad/iPod Touch)

Price: $2.99

5. Checkbook

Sometimes all you need is a simple, online checkbook register that helps you manually record your expenses and maintain a running tally of your current checking and savings account balances. If so, then Checkbook is for you. The goal of this quick and easy app is to serve as a replacement for you paper checkbook register so that you can keep track of your money — and avoid overdraft fees and other fees — no matter where you are. For many people, Checkbook may be enough. For others who want to track multiple types accounts, including checking, savings, investments, mortgages and car loans, Mint, Pageonce or ClearCheckbook would be a better choice.

Platforms: Android

Price: $1.99

If you have a suggestion for a money and finance app, share it with us and let us know how it worked for you.

Sources

Top Financial Apps for iPhone, Android, Blackberry, HTC and Nokia,” Chill Geeks, Nov. 11, 2011.

App websites: Checkbook, ClearCheckbook, Mint, Pageonce, Pay Off Debt

Top 5 Apps for Helping Keep New Year’s Resolutions, Part 1: Health and Fitness

Tuesday December 27, 2011
Posted at 17:46

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Each year, right around the end of December, millions of people take time out of their busy schedules to reflect on the past year and promise themselves to improve parts of their lives that could use more attention. New Year’s resolutions can vary widely but the two most popular resolutions usually have something to do with losing weight and saving money. The problem is that New Year’s resolutions are tricky things to keep.

To help out, we’ve made a two-part list of the top smartphone and tablet apps for keeping the two most popular kinds of New Years resolutions. First up is part one, which covers the top five apps that can help you achieve your weight loss and physical fitness goals. Be sure to check out part two, which covers the top five apps that can help you with your savings and fiscal fitness targets.

1. MyNetDiary

To lose a pound of fat, you need to lose 3,500 calories. That’s the mantra behind MyNetDiary, one of the most comprehensive diet apps and calorie counters on the market. There are countless versions of the app, from the free iPhone version to the MyNetDiary Maximum version, so there’s a combination of features and cost for everyone. The developers even offer a website that you can use to enter and sync your data with your smartphone or tablet. Use the app to track foods and supplements, customize recipes or scan barcodes for instant entry.

Platforms: Android, Blackberry, iOS (iPhone)

Price: Variable, depending on version (from free to $5 per month)

2. Calorie Tracker

Developed by LIVESTRONG, Lance Armstrong’s health and fitness organization, Calorie Tracker is a popular app for tracking your daily caloric, fat, carbohydrate and protein intake and matching it with a database of exercises and activities that customizes your calorie burn based on your personal measurements. The app also works as a companion tool for members of The Daily Plate at LIVESTRONG.com, which provides a large database of restaurant foods that you can track when you dine out. The app will also sync information to and from the website.

Platforms: iOS (iPhone)

Price: $2.99

3. AllRecipes

In order to lose weight, you’ll need to eat smart. AllRecipes represents one of the largest databases of recipes available in an app. For dieters, the free version of the app allows recipes to be searched by nutrition while the pro version allows specific ingredients to be included or excluded for highly customized recipe searches. The pro version also allows you to create, save and share shopping lists and to recalculate ingredients based on the number of servings.

Platforms: Android, iOS (iPhone), Windows Phone

Price: Free, $2.99 for Pro version

4. Gym Buddy

Exercising at the gym is a great way to lose weight, but trying to keep track of your exercise routine can be frustrating. Gym Buddy helps by allowing you to leave your notebook and pen at home and use your iPhone or iPod touch to keep track of all your exercises, including reps, time, weights and other notes, which comes in handy for recording things like how a weight machine is set up for a particular exercise. The app includes countdown timers, personal data tracking and calendars to help you get your exercise squared away. An optional Web service called Gym Buddy Central allows you to enter and manage data on your computer and sync it to your iPhone or iPod touch.

Platforms: iOS (iPhone)

Price: $2.99, $9.95 for optional Web service

5. iFitness

The iFitness app gives you the power of a personal trainer on your Android phone. Unlike Gym Buddy, which assumes you already know how to do the exercises, iFitness starts at the beginning with details of more than 200 different exercises, some of which include videos to help you do them correctly. The app is like an interactive book that allows you to select and save specific combinations of exercises for your own routines, including time, date and reps. The app also allows you to select predefined routines for specific sports, such as golf or basketball, or specific muscle groups.

Platforms: Android

Price: $1.99

Have a suggestion for a health and fitness app? Clue us in and let us know how it worked for you.

Sources

Top 10 iPhone Apps to Improve Your Fitness,” iPhone App Café, Nov. 10, 2011.

Top Five: Health and Fitness Apps for Android Smartphones,” Life of Android, Nov. 3, 2011.

Software for Shaping Up,” The Wall Street Journal, March 21, 2011.

App websites: Allrecipies, Calorie Tracker, Gym Buddy Central, iFitness, MyNetDiary