7 clever ways to cut the costs of buying your first home

Published: Wednesday, November 01, 2017 @ 9:32 AM

Here are seven tips to lower the cost of your first home Work on your credit score way ahead of time Crowdsource your down payment See if Uncle Sam will help Find a housing counselor Pick a real estate agent based on where you want to live Choose a home where you could stay five to seven years Don't get distracted

Being a first-time home buyer makes you a newbie, but it doesn't necessarily mean you have to be naive about purchasing a home. 

RELATED: House hunters, here are 5 secrets to getting the best home loan

While you might not be the “Property Brothers” your first time out, you can still have some clever tools and tips to reduce those costs.

Here are seven tips to lower the cost of your first home:

Work on your credit score way ahead of time. 

Reducing your mortgage interest rate by even a fraction of a percent point can save you thousands of dollars over the life of your loan, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

One key factor: your credit score. According to Kiplinger, a score of 740 or higher will set you up to obtain the best interest rates. Check your credit report months - or even years - before you're sold on the idea of buying your first home, giving yourself plenty of time to boost your score. "What you don't want is to have to address a bunch of mistakes on your credit report while actively looking for a home and trying to get approved for a mortgage loan," HSH.com vice president Keith Gumbinger told Kiplinger.

To see just how much impact this step could have, enter information on your current and target credit scores into the CFPB's explore interest rates tool.

Crowdsource your down payment. 

If you're comfortable accepting money from friends and contacts, House Logic suggests crowdsourcing to accelerate financing your down payment. Sites like Feather the Nest can walk you through the process.

See if Uncle Sam will help. 

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, or HUD, offers a number of home ownership programs for those who meet specific income or location requirements. You may qualify for assistance with down payment and closing costs, for example.

HUD also offers deep discounts for people in professions like law enforcement or firefighters when they buy in "revitalization areas." The Veterans Administration can guarantee part of a home loan, help veterans secure a competitive interest rate or waive down payment and private mortgage insurance requirements.

The city of Dayton is facing questions about its handling of money from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. FILE(Staff Writer)

Find a housing counselor. 

HUD-approved housing counselor can give first-time home buyers entirely independent advice on whether a particular set of mortgage loan terms is a good fit.

Pick a real estate agent based on where you want to live. 

A neighborhood expert can often find you the best house at the best price in a way your friend who's a realtor or the agent who lives where you do now can't. "You want people who have worked and have experience directly in the areas you're looking in," Mia Simon, a Redfin agent in Palo Alto, California, told U.S. News and World Report. When you're a first time buyer, never hesitate to use real estate agents, since it costs you nothing. The agent will help structure and present your offer and can troubleshoot any issues that arise.

Choose a home where you could stay five to seven years.

"You're going to spend thousands of dollars to get into the home. To get out of it is going to be equally expensive and may possibly cost more when you do it in less than five years or in a down market," Keith Gumbinger, vice-president of HSH.com, told Kiplinger.

Don't get distracted. 

Aspects of properties for sale that may seem important to you aren't always important to your bottom line. U.S. News recommends concentrating on home features that would be expensive or impossible to change, like not enough bedrooms, an undesirable location or a floor plan that makes it hard to get around. Don't get sidetracked by things you could easily and inexpensively change after the sale, like an odd decorating scheme, dirty carpet or cabinet hardware.

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Come clean: The truth about energy-efficient washers and dryers

Published: Monday, November 13, 2017 @ 5:39 PM

The average American family washes and dries about 300 loads of laundry each year ENERGY STAR doesn't rate dryers because their efficiency has been about the same for years Maintenance will not do much to make a washing machine more efficient Only products that have earned the ENERGY STAR are certified independently to save energy ENERGY STAR-certified clothes washers use about 25 percent less energy and 45 percent less water than regular washers You can save $490 over the lifetime of an ENERGY STAR-certi

The average American family washes and dries about 300 loads of laundry each year, according to Energy Star. So, you may think it would be wise to replace washers and dryers with newer models.

Yet dryers can last longer than washers since dryers have not changed much in recent years. Instead, they can be maintained just by cleaning the lint tray before or after every use. However, the story’s a bit different for washers.

In the case of washers, according to the Federal Trade Commission’s appliances guide, upgrading washers every 10 years or so can save you more.

RELATED: Is an energy-efficient dishwasher worth the money?

The EnergyGuide label can be a useful tool when comparing appliances. Here are a few facts about energy-efficient washers and dryers to consider before making your next purchase:

The truth about energy-efficient dryers.

ENERGY STAR doesn't rate dryers because their efficiency has been about the same for years, according to LifeHacker.com. The average cost of a new dryer is $550.

Regular dryer maintenance will keep your dryer from breaking and heat clothes a little quicker which can save you money. In addition to cleaning the lint trap every load, vacuum the area below the lint trap periodically to decrease the dry time and save a few cents every month.

Whirlpool Duet washer and dryer.(Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

The truth about energy-efficient clothes washers.

New models have become more efficient by switching to the front-load clothes washer, using around 50 percent less water and 37 percent less energy. The average price of a new ENERGY STAR washing machine is $750, also according to LifeHacker.com.

Maintenance will not do much to make a washing machine more efficient.

If your washer is over 10 years old or a top-load washer, you could save up to $135 a year on both water and electricity by buying a new or newer front-load washer.

The truth about HE vs. energy-efficient.


Beware of high efficiency (HE) claims since this designation is intended to match certain washer types (for example, front load) with specially designed laundry detergent.

With no standards for energy efficiency behind the HE label, only products that have earned the ENERGY STAR are certified independently to save energy.

Last word from ENERGY STAR

Clothes washers are the second largest water user in your home. If your clothes washer was manufactured before 1999, according to the federal government, you should consider replacing it with an ENERGY STAR-certified washing machine that uses four times less energy.

ENERGY STAR-certified clothes washers use about 25 percent less energy and 45 percent less water than regular washers.

Clothes washers and dryers that have earned the ENERGY STAR use advanced features, saving $490 over the lifetime of an ENERGY STAR-certified clothes washer and more with a washer/dryer pair.

Another cool energy-saving fact: If all clothes washers and dryers sold in the U.S. were ENERGY STAR-certified, the savings would be more than $4 billion each year and prevent more than 19 billion pounds of carbon pollution annually −equal to the emissions from 1.7 million vehicles.

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How to hack your Keurig 2.0

Published: Thursday, November 13, 2014 @ 1:08 PM
Updated: Tuesday, November 18, 2014 @ 6:00 AM

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More popular and trending stories

The cost of what you pay for a cup of fancy coffee at home is going up -- not down -- thanks to a tricky move by the dominant home coffee brewing company.

How your 2.0 Keurig is ripping you off

It recently came to my attention that the Keurig people are making a 2.0 version of their machine with DRM (digital rights management).

I know this sounds crazy, but Keurig is using the Digital Millennium Copyright Act -- a controversial law designed to protect the entertainment industry -- to force you to only use proprietary K coffee pods in their new machine!

My executive producer Christa likes to make individual off-brand K cups at home using her Keurig machine. That drives her cost down to around 6 cents a cup.

But as more and more people do what Christa does, Keurig has watched their profits go down. That's because their business model is based on them making money from all the different coffee manufacturers who pay them royalties to have their coffee in K cups.

More popular and trending stories

So Keurig came out with the 2.0 machine that has a computer chip in it to sense anytime somebody is trying to save money making coffee...and it will not let them make their coffee!

Even if you buy an off-brand refillable coffee pod, if it doesn't have the Keurig logo on it, it can sense that too.

I have never had a cup of coffee in my life and I'm upset for any coffee drinker over this DRM coffee. Clarkrage!

Watch this video for the hack:

http://youtu.be/BKZvRuS1xLo

If you don't want to go through all that work, you're better served right now with the older 1.0 versions of the Keurig machines to avoid this DRM ploy. They're available for $50 to $75. Buy one of the older ones if you are price sensitive.

How to eat healthy on a budget

Published: Sunday, April 16, 2017 @ 4:26 PM

Mornings can be rough so we want to make eating healthy easy. Here are 5 breakfast ideas that are extremely nutritious and delicious.

Ask anybody who’s shopped at Whole Foods: Adopting a healthy diet can test your will and your wallet. Proper planning and savvy shopping can help you overcome challenges on both fronts.

Armed with these tips, you can eat healthy, wholesome foods and stick to your budget.

Make your own meals

Cooking at home kills two birds with one stone. You eat healthier by using a fraction of the butter and salt that restaurants tend to use, and you spend less money.

Order salmon at a restaurant, for example, and you’ll likely pay at least $15. You can get a pound of frozen salmon fillets, enough for three 5-ounce servings, for the same price or less at your local grocer.

When you do eat out, order an appetizer or split an entree with your dining companion to save on money and calories.

» Your Good-Better-Best Guide to the Grocery

Plan your weekly menu

Meal planning is a great way to stick to a healthy diet without blowing up your budget. Map out your meals for the week — breakfast, lunch and dinner — and make a grocery list, taking into account what you already have in your pantry. This will keep you from over-shopping and helps guard against impulse purchases.

Planning will also help you maximize your grocery haul. Roasting a chicken one night? Shred the leftovers, add some salsa and toss it on a tortilla for lunch the next day. Or mix it up with some homemade mayo and a diced apple for a tasty chicken salad.

Buy frozen produce

Fruits and vegetables are a staple of any healthy diet. But fresh produce has a short shelf life and can be pricey, especially if the item isn’t in season. Opt for frozen goods to save money, without sacrificing nutritional value.

“Produce is flash frozen at peak ripeness, meaning flavor and nutrients remain intact,” says consumer savings expert Andrea Woroch. “Plus, frozen goods store longer than fresh and you can stock up during sale time.”

Opt for store brands

Generic products are often identical to their name-brand counterparts in ingredients and quality. Where they differ is price.

“Shoppers can save 30% to 50% when they buy generic or store brands of such healthy foods as whole wheat pasta, canned organic vegetables and more,” Woroch says.

A 16-ounce bag of frozen broccoli at Giant is just $1 if you opt for the store brand. Buy the Bird’s Eye brand instead and you’ll pay $2 for a 14-ounce bag.

» How to Grow Your Own Herbs for Cooking

Hit the tail end of the farmers market

The early bird gets the worm, or so the saying goes. But when shopping at your local farmers market, you can get the worm — or berries, greens and beets — for less if you show up late.

“I shop at farmers markets right before the market closes to get a discounted price on produce,” says Jerlyn Jones, a registered dietitian who works at a health center that serves low-income and homeless individuals. “Most times the farmers are happy to sell at lower price than take food back to the farm that didn’t sell.”

Many markets accept federal and state food benefits, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly referred to as SNAP. Some even offer matching dollar programs, helping your benefits go further.

» 4 Ways to Get Financially Healthy in 2017

Try cheaper cuts of meat

Think beyond boneless, skinless chicken breasts, which can run anywhere from $4 to $9 per pound. Instead, snag some chicken legs or thighs for less than $2 per pound.

Not hungry for chicken? Pop a pork shoulder or beef roast into the slow cooker. Either will yield enough to feed your family with leftovers to spare, and both are more budget friendly than steaks or chops.

Shop at discount grocers

Eating healthy doesn’t require shopping at Whole Foods. Discount stores like Aldi’s and Trader Joe’s offer healthy, organic eats for less than mainstream grocery chains. A bag of quinoa, a protein-packed whole grain, is $2.99 at Aldi’s, compared with $5.99 at Giant.

Hitting multiple stores can also help stretch your budget. Check weekly circulars and look for coupons to determine which retailer offers the best deals for the items on your grocery list.

Kelsey Sheehy is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: ksheehy@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @KelseyLSheehy.

The article How to Eat Healthy on a Budget originally appeared on NerdWallet.

Target recalls more than half-million water-absorbing Easter toys

Published: Thursday, April 13, 2017 @ 6:20 PM

(cpsc.gov)
(cpsc.gov)

Target is recalling 560,000 Easter toys after discovering that, if ingested, they can expand inside a child’s body and cause life-threatening health issues.

>> Read more trending news

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission issued a notice Wednesday for water-absorbent Hatch & Grow Easter Eggs, along with Easter Grow Toy and Hatch Your Own Dino, sold at Target stores nationwide from February through March for about a dollar each.

According to the CPSC recall notice, if the toy is ingested “it can expand inside a child’s body and cause intestinal obstructions, resulting in severe discomfort, vomiting, dehydration and could be life-threatening, requiring surgery for the toy to be removed.”

Parents should also be aware that the toy may not show up on an X-ray while visiting a medical professional for help, according to the CPSC recall notice.

The recall notice says no incidents or injuries have been reported.

Consumers must return the purchased items to Target immediately for a full refund. One can also call Target’s customer service number at 800-440-0680 for further assistance.