7 Ways to Help Dad Revamp His Space Without Ruining Your Budget

You don't have to go overboard to build your man cave.

When I was a kid, I made my dad a pencil sharpener in the shape of a baseball glove and baseball for Father’s Day. Knowing this, you’d think my dad was a big baseball fan, right? Not so. In fact, I think this is the only baseball related item he has (and it still sits on his desk at the office, all these years later). I guess it’s the thought that counts, right?

While it may not be as charming to make something like this for Father’s Day as an adult (unless you’re an artist, then by all means), you can still get creative with your gift.

Help Him Improve His Space

Whether it’s his game room, workshop in the garage or a different room, giving him something to build out (or upgrade) that perfect sanctuary may be just the ticket to let him know you appreciate all he’s done for you over the years.

Odds are, you won’t be building out an entire room — that’d be a bit pricey for most people’s budget. So, whether you’re thinking of getting him a TV, new work bench or an old school pinball machine, you don’t want to blow your budget. (He probably wouldn’t be too impressed to hear you went into debt for him anyway, now would he?)

So what do you do when you want to get dear ol’ dad something nice for the house without overspending? Well, we have seven ways to save on improving his perfect zen space.

1. Hit up Pinterest

If you have strong craft skills, you can hit up Pinterest and find all types of creative ideas for do-it-yourself projects. All you’ll need are the supplies and some time — perhaps you and dad can do this together and it’s like two gifts in one.

2. Use Seasonal Sales to Your Advantage

Whether dad is a sports junkie or loves movie night, a flat-screen TV isn’t a bad option. And you may be able to find one that doesn’t come with a price tag that makes your eyes pop. While prices won’t fall as low as they do in December (when retailers are looking to clear out their stock for the year) plenty of retailers offer Father’s Day deals on TVs so it isn’t the worst time of year to buy one. Consider shopping at stores that offer price guarantees, so you can get a price match or refund if the television you buy goes on sale for less shortly after you get it. This is a good reason to hold onto your receipt (and check the terms for restrictions on these offers).

3. Look Online for Deals

Many retailers offer seasonal deals on their websites, which Sarah Hall Weaver, the digital content strategist for Eight Oh Two Digital Marketing Strategies pointed out are “often separate from the general sale or clearance pages, but can offer great savings and promotions on well-stocked items you’ve been eyeing.” Stores like Sears, Home Depot and Walmart have online Father’s Day gift pages separate from regular sales with promotions on great gifts like smart speakers, TVs and sports gear from Dad’s favorite team.

4. Don’t Forget About Free Shipping

Shoppers shouldn’t overlook free shipping, especially if it’s on a big ticket item that isn’t easy to transport to Dad anyway. “Take advantage of making that purchase when there are free shipping promotions, especially if it’s a sizable item that might otherwise come with hefty fees,” Hall Weaver said.

5. Don’t Wait to Buy Furniture

Time to replace his workout gear? Perhaps he needs a new patio set? You’re in luck — June is typically considered one of the most ideal times to buy furniture, along with indoor workout equipment and summer sports gear, according to Consumer Reports. Consider using that clearance time to your advantage. Pro tip: Make sure you measure the space before ordering furniture. It would be disappointing to have the movers show up with furniture that can’t make it through the doorway.

6. Use Rewards

Using any credit cards points you’ve racked up can help you save on any purchases. And if you pay with your rewards card, you can reap some benefits too. Just make sure you don’t overspend in hopes of racking up more rewards — carrying a balance means you’re likely to lose out on the perks of these cards because of interest charges. (Want to see how your credit card use is playing a role in your credit? Take a look at your free credit report snapshot on Credit.com.)

7. Stock the Fridge or Cooler

Get Dad a mini fridge for his space and fill it with a collection of his favorite snacks and beverages. Enhancing a room without a fridge? Fill a cooler instead.

Any one of these tips should help Dad spruce up his space, just in case he isn’t in the market for more homemade pencil sharpeners, adorable as they are.

Image: monkeybusinessimages

Note: It’s important to remember that interest rates, fees and terms for credit cards, loans and other financial products frequently change. As a result, rates, fees and terms for credit cards, loans and other financial products cited in these articles may have changed since the date of publication. Please be sure to verify current rates, fees and terms with credit card issuers, banks or other financial institutions directly.

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11 Ways to Save If Your Heating & Cooling Bills Are Boiling Over

Heating bills can shoot up as the temperature drops. Here are ways to cut costs while keeping warm.

It’s one of the facts of modern life: Keeping your home the right temperature can get expensive, whether you’re in a studio apartment or a spacious house, you may be paying more than you have to in order to heat your home. Fear not! There are several ways you can cut back on how much you’re spending on temperature control in your home. Here are 11 ways to lower your heating or cooling bill. (And if you’re looking for more ways to save on your monthly home expenses, you can check out these seven easy ways to save on your cable bill.)

1. Seal Your Windows

Windows that are improperly sealed can leak air, losing energy and causing your heating system or air conditioner to work harder.

“Gaps around the window frame allow air to leak, so caulk any gaps in the seals to save on your heating bill,” said Richard Ciresi, owner of Louisville Aire Serve, a heat and air conditioning company.

2. Upgrade Your Windows

You can also upgrade your windows to more energy-efficient models.

“New windows are a big investment, but not one without substantial reward,” said Larry Patterson, a Glass Doctor franchisee. “Replacing your old windows with double or triple-pane energy efficient glass can save you up to 30% on your energy bills.”

3. Get a Programmable Thermostat

Programmable thermostats can cut energy costs by automatically adjusting the temperature while you’re away, reducing the energy wasted on heating or cooling an empty home.

“Investing in a programmable thermostat is one of the simplest ways to save money on your heating, as you set your heating to turn on and off at specific times throughout the day,” said Max Robinson of Turnbull and Scott Heating.

You can program your thermostat to turn off while you sleep or while you’re at work and turn back on when you wake up or get home, Robinson added.

4. Change Your Air Filter

Your furnace uses air filters to keep dust from clogging your vents and circulating through your home. When the filters are dirty, your system has to work harder to push air through. Air filters are affordable and easy to switch out, and doing so will help your heating system run more efficiently. You should swap out new air filters every few months.

5. Open Your Vents

Closed vents can waste a lot of energy. When you turn on your heat, make sure your vents are open.

“Blocked or closed vents and registers make furnaces work harder than they should,” Ciresi said. “Blocked vents do not allow for proper airflow. The furnace will continue to run but the rooms won’t heat up. Always unblock and open all vents and registers before running the furnace.”

6. Reduce Hot Water

The energy spent heating your water contributes to your heating bill. You can reduce your hot water usage a few different ways: Take shorter showers, avoid the hottest water settings and wash your clothes in cold water.

Water heaters are often set at a higher temperature than is needed. You can lower your water heater’s base temperature to 120 degrees, which is sufficiently hot for most household needs.

7. Use a Space Heater for Small Rooms

Smaller rooms can be heated by an electric space heater. While this method still uses electricity, it’s far more energy efficient than using gas heat.

“The rest of the house will be cooler, but this shouldn’t be an issue if your entire family is gathered in one room,” Robinson said.

8. Check Your Outlets

Even your outlets can leak air and reduce the energy efficiency of your home. Make sure to check your outlets for drafts.

“Electrical outlets in exterior walls are usually a major source of drafts, as it is rare for insulation to be used in these areas, and when it is it is often incorrectly installed,” Robinson said. “Luckily it’s easy to correct this. Use a simple foam sealant to fill any gaps around the outlet, and place a gasket over the front of the outlet.”

9. Check Your Insulation

Your walls, attic and other home areas must be properly insulated. If not, the temperature will be much harder to control. Make sure to check your insulation, or hire a professional if you’re not sure how.

10. Find an Alternative Payment Plan

Many energy companies provide alternative payment plans. Some will reduce your bill for reducing your energy consumption, while other plans might lower your payments based on income. Check with your energy provider to see what alternative plans they offer.

If you’re doing things yourself, you may want to consider funding these projects with a store credit card that offers you rewards for your purchases. (You can read our review of the Home Depot credit card here.) Before you apply for any new plastic, it’s always a good idea to review your credit so you know what types of cards you may qualify for. You can see two of your scores free, updated every 14 days, on Credit.com.

11. Change Your Attire

If you’re cold, you can always turn down the temperature a few degrees and bundle up. Don’t neglect your feet and head, areas that can lose a lot of body heat. Fuzzy socks and a knit hat should do the trick. And if you’re looking to escape the heat? Try a bathing suit and a cool body of water — You can see 28 ideas on how to save for your next big adventure here.

Inspired to do some renovations? Before you head out to your local hardware store, you may want to check out our 6 ways to save at Lowe’s and Home Depot.

Image: DGLimages

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7 Ways to Save at Home Depot

Want to do more around your house without spending a ton of money? Here's seven ways to lower your costs when shopping at Home Depot.

If you work in the home improvement field or love do-it-yourself projects, there’s a good chance you’ve spent some significant time and money at Home Depot, one of the country’s largest suppliers of home improvement merchandise. But enthusiastic Home Depot shoppers know that, even after hunting down great deals, the bill can quickly spiral out of control at the register.

Luckily, there are many tricks that can save you a lot at Home Depot. Here are seven ways you can cut costs on your next expedition. 

1. Discounted Gift Cards 

Websites like Cardpool.com and Raise.com provide discounted Home Depot gift cards that save you a percentage of the total gift card value. For instance, as of writing this, Raise.com had gift cards discounted with up to 5.1% off their total value. 

2. Hunt for Coupons & Deal Alerts

You can look out for Home Depot flyers and coupons in your mailbox or in the store, but you can also get alerted to special promotions, deals and offers by signing up for Home Depot’s email or text alerts. Signing up right now will also get you $5 off your next purchase of $50 or more. 

3. Work the Low-Price Guarantee 

Home Depot offers a low-price guarantee for both online and in-store purchases. For online purchases, Home Depot will match any competitor price, including the item price and shipping costs. For in-store purchases, Home Depot will beat competitor prices on identical items by 10%. You’ll have to bring the ad, printout or photo to the cash register when you check out. Several exclusions apply to this policy, including custom products, open-box merchandise and auction pricing. 

4. Rent Equipment 

For equipment you’ll only use once or twice, you might want to evaluate the cost of renting versus buying. Many items can be rented on an hourly, daily or weekly basis at a fraction of the cost. For instance, we found a $188 leaf blower that can be rented for $23 a day. If you only need to blow leaves once a year, this can be a much more cost-effective option. 

5. Visit the Clearance Section

Many Home Depot locations have clearance sections located throughout the store (although they can sometimes be hard to find). Check out the far reaches of the store for deeply discounted items. 

6. Consider a Home Depot Credit Card

Home Depot offers a credit card (we’ve got a full review here) to help their customers finance home improvement projects. Home Depot is currently offering an introductory 0% annual percentage rate (APR) for all purchases of $299 or more if you pay off your balance in six months. They also offer cardholders up to 24 months of interest-free financing for special categories such as roofing supplies or custom kitchen cabinets.

If you were already planning on charging your Home Depot purchases to a credit card, you could avoid interest by taking advantage of these offers (although you can also avoid interest by paying off your balance in full each month).

Remember, before applying for any credit card, it’s a good idea to check your credit scores to see where you stand. You can get your two free credit scores, updated every 14 days, right here on Credit.com.

7. Join the Garden Club 

Avid gardeners should take a look at the Home Depot Garden Club, an email and text alert club that delivers special garden promotions and offers right to your inbox or mobile device. Plus, Home Depot is currently offering $5 off your next purchase of $50 or more when you sign up.

Note: It’s important to remember that interest rates, fees and terms for credit cards, loans and other financial products frequently change. As a result, rates, fees and terms for credit cards, loans and other financial products cited in these articles may have changed since the date of publication. Please be sure to verify current rates, fees and terms with credit card issuers, banks or other financial institutions directly.

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9 Ways to Make a Small Kitchen Feel Bigger

tiny-kitchen

Image:Sarah Bossert

 

 

 

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12 Cheap & Easy Summer Projects That Can Make Your Home Feel New

home_improvement

Home maintenance is like housework, flossing and exercise: Work it into your routine, because the penalties are worse than the jobs themselves.

For example, cleaning the gutters costs nothing if you do it yourself, and roughly $100 to $200 if you hire a service.

Ignore the job, though, and you may face expensive repairs thanks to:

  • Leaky or overflowing gutters that rot fascia boards (the roof edge under the gutters), soffits and rafters.
  • Water that drips onto window trim, rotting it.
  • Leaky gutters that let water pool at the foundation, causing basement leaks, mold and even foundation damage.

Fortunately, summer gives you a chance to repair damage, protect your home and keep its face to the world — and to you — looking bright.

Following are 10 cheap and easy home projects that make your home feel new — and potentially save you a bundle in repair costs down the road.

1. Paint

Fresh paint doesn’t just make your home look great — it’s also a protective skin against UV light and moisture.

Earth911 reveals where to get free paint: Many household hazardous waste (HHW) facilities around the country have product exchange rooms, sometimes called swap rooms or swap shops. These rooms offer safe, unopened HHW items for public consumption, keeping them out of the landfill and letting you save some money.Call your city to ask about your local HHW facility.

Other sources for cheap paint:

  • Habitat for Humanity’s ReStores (find one near you) sell “gently used” tools and supplies for home projects at low cost.
  • See EcoBusinessLinks’ national directory of recycled and surplus building materials and suppliers.
  • Search online for a city’s name and “salvaged building supplies” or “recycled building materials.”

2. Mulch

Laying a 1- to 3-inch layer of mulch on garden beds will quickly spruce up the area around your home’s exterior.

Mulch has other benefits. For example, it spares you from having to do a lot of weeding. Mulch smothers weeds by depriving them of oxygen and light, and it holds moisture in the soil, saving water and giving plants a consistent source of moisture.

Free or cheap sources of mulch include:

  • Shredded wood or bark: Electric utility companies and tree services may have cheap or free wood chips or shredded bark. Also, some cities collect leaves and branches, chipping them for use by local residents.
  • Grass clippings: Let them cool down before mulching.
  • Raked leaves: Shred first with a shredder or lawn mower so air and moisture can reach the soil beneath.
  • Cardboard: Ask recycling centers and appliance stores for free cardboard. Wet it down, cut it to fit and place it around plants, covering with soil or bark mulch. This is best in wet climates where cardboard breaks down into the soil.

3. Seal Wood Decks

If your deck is looking a little tired, it might be time to seal it, and stain or paint it. Staining or painting your wood deck will make it look like a million bucks — and you’ll only spend a tiny fraction of that amount.

The cheap way to seal a deck is do it yourself. You’ll spend a couple hundred dollars on supplies and rented tools. Do it annually or every two to three years, depending on where you live. Ignore the job long enough and you’ll need to replace the deck, at a cost of thousands of dollars.

 4. Clean Gutters

You may be able to do this job yourself, and at little or no cost. Rent or borrow a solid ladder tall enough to do the job safely. Enlist someone to stand on the ground and steady it while you work.

Clean gutters once or twice a year, depending on how quickly they fill with leaves and debris. While you’re cleaning, check for leaks and breaks.

5. Shine Windows

Cleaning your windows is one of the cheapest ways to give your home a new sparkle. Here are three cheap, no-streak approaches:

  • Apply a vinegar-water solution to the glass and wipe it off with crumpled newspaper.
  • Use TSP (trisodium phosphate), an inexpensive powder degreaser found at hardware stores, mixed in water and squeegee it off for a streak-free finish. Make sure you read the instructions for proper handling.
  • Many people swear by a few drops of dish soap in a bucket of warm water.

6. Caulk

Caulking around windows helps cut heating and cooling bills by keeping indoor air in and drafts out. It’s an important preventative, too: Leaky window frames rot and allow water to seep into walls, causing rot and mildew.

A $5 tube of caulk goes a long way in sealing edges and small gaps. Spray foam is better for larger openings.

7. Give the Furnace TLC

Give your furnace a little attention on its summer vacation. Remove the furnace filter. If you don’t know where it is, check the instruction manual and follow directions on how to remove and replace it.

Hold the filter up to the light. If it’s dark and dirty, it’s time for a new one. Use a vacuum cleaner on openings throughout the system, including registers, ducts and vents.

8. Check for Irrigation Leaks

Your irrigation system and hoses can freeze and thaw in cold winters. In the summer, water pressure and UV light do damage. Leaks waste water and cost you money.

Turn on the water and inspect hoses, timers and irrigation systems for leaks, pooling water, breaks and clogged sprinkler heads. Replace hose gaskets and make repairs, or call a service company.

9. Banish Pests

Warm weather gives you a chance to circle the outside of your home and remove anything that could shelter wood-boring insects, rats, mice or spiders.

Remove yard waste, tools, ladders, toys and stacked lumber. Orkin recommends storing firewood at least 5 feet from your home’s foundation and on a rack off the ground.

Trim bushes and relocate plants so that none touches the home’s siding or foundation. Clear vegetation and debris under decks and steps.

Other tips include:

  • Pick up fruit as soon as it drops from trees and bushes.
  • Give garbage cans tight-fitting lids.
  • Drain pools, puddles and ponds and change bird bath water frequently to discourage mosquitoes.

10. Primp the Lawn

A nice lawn can make your home the envy of the neighborhood. If you want a great-looking lawn, stop scalping it. Instead, mow higher and more often.

Set mower blades at least 3 inches high. That will encourage grass to fill in bare spots and push weeds out. Grass roots will grow deeper so the lawn looks better and needs less water. Don’t collect grass clippings; let them drop on the lawn to nourish it.

11. Inspect and Clean the Dryer Vent

Do this job for fire prevention. Although you probably clean your dryer’s lint trap after each load, lint still builds up inside the machine and duct.

Remove the lint filter and use a long-handled vent brush (ask for one at hardware stores) to clean as much of the cavity as you can. Carefully clean behind the machine without disturbing the vent attachment or gas line.

Use the vent brush or a rag to reach into the vent from outside and remove all the lint you can reach.

When finished, turn on the dryer and go outside to look at the vent. Is exhaust air coming out? If not, look for blockage in the vent or exhaust duct. If necessary, disconnect the duct from the dryer to thoroughly clean the exhaust path.

12. Insulate Water Pipes

Uninsulated pipes carrying hot water through a cold basement or crawl space waste heat, costing you money. It’s easy to insulate these pipes with pre-slit, hollow-core, flexible “sleeves” made of polyethylene or neoprene foam. Find them at hardware stores. Before shopping, learn your pipes’ diameter to get the right fit.

As you start to plan your home improvements, it’s helpful to set a budget so you don’t overspend. If you can avoid going into debt to make necessary repairs and wanted improvements, all the better. Carrying a high amount of debt on your credit cards — relative to your credit limit — can have a negative impact on your credit scores. However, if you do access credit for your home improvement projects, be sure to come up with a plan to pay it off (and follow it). You can see how your debt is affecting your credit by getting your free credit report summary on Credit.com, and you can calculate how long it will take to pay off your credit card debt using this free calculator.

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9 Home Improvements for Your Best Summer Ever

eating_healthy_meal

Summer is just around the corner, so the time is ripe for thinking about some home improvements that can help you enjoy the longer, warmer days to their fullest.

Here are nine things you can do now that won’t break your bank account (or housing budget) and will ensure you get your summer off to a great start.

1. Buy Some Plants You Won’t Kill

Plants can add a ton of beauty to your yard, patio or porch, but they can also be expensive, especially if they die because you don’t have the right soil or you put them in too much or too little sun. If you don’t know a lot about what kinds of plants do well in your region or those that are easiest to care for, reach out to your local county Cooperative Extension Agent, a part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. They offer free services and seminars, soil sample testing, advice on plants that do well in your area and even Master Gardener certification.

2. Get Your Grill in Tip-Top Shape

Nothing ruins a good barbecue faster than a dirty or broken grill, so before you head to the grocery store for provisions, do a thorough clean and check of your grill. If it’s a gas grill, it’s a good idea to check the burners to ensure they haven’t corroded. They should light quickly and burn evenly. If they don’t, it might be time to buy some replacement burners. Same goes for your ignition switch.

If your grill looks a bit worse for wear, you might also want to consider sprucing it up with a fresh coat of high-temperature grill paint.

3. Make Any Needed Repairs to Patio or Lawn Furniture

If you store your furniture, now’s the time to dig it out and give it a good scrub. You’ll also want to make sure it’s still sturdy enough for a full summer of use. Are the frames rusting or broken? Are the joints fast? Are there any rips in the fabric and can it be replaced? How about your seat cushions? Check it all out so you’re not having to apologize to guests later.

4. Lighten Up

How’s the lighting in your outdoor living space? Replace any old melted candles with some fresh new ones and check strings of lights for any broken or burned-out bulbs. If you don’t have any outdoor lighting except for your porch light, consider adding some. Uplighting under trees can be a lovely accent.

5. Don’t Bug Out

Along with the longer, warmer days come mosquitos, flies and other critters that can make being outdoors less than enjoyable. And who wants to coat themselves in stinky bug spray every 10 minutes? Consider some citronella candles, bug zappers or, if you have the budget, a mosquito trap.

6. Get Your A/C Serviced

To avoid your air conditioning going out on the hottest day of the year, consider spending some money now on a service call to have a technician come out and check your unit, especially if it’s older and out of warranty. Spending some money now on preventative maintenance can save you the hassle and possibly bigger expense later on. (High credit card balances related to home repairs or otherwise could hurt your credit. You can see where you currently stand by viewing your two free credit scores, updated each month, on Credit.com.)

7. Check Your Insulation

How old is the insulation in your house? It’s just as important in the summer months as it is in winter when it comes to keeping your monthly utility bills in check, so if you didn’t take a look last fall, you might want to do so now.

If you know what you’re doing, take a crawl through the attic and check the depth of your insulation. Energy.gov has some tips for how much you need when it comes to different types of insulation. If you don’t know what you’re doing, or if crawling around in the attic sounds like your own personal horror movie, hire someone to come check it out for you.

8. Check Watering Hoses & Sprinkler Systems

If you store your watering hoses for winter, it’s a good time to check them for leaks and to see if any of the fittings or washers need replacing. It’s also a great time to have your sprinkler system inspected for leaks, broken heads and other issues.

9. Service Yard Tools

If you mow your own yard, now’s a great time to get a tune-up on the lawn mower and have the blade sharpened. While you’re at it, you can also have the weed whacker, chainsaw and leaf blower tuned up as well so they’re running smoothly all season long.

More Money-Saving Reads:

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How to Hire a Contractor You Can Trust

how to hire a contractor

It’s the time of year where we’re all starting to emerge from winter hibernation and head outside to enjoy the sunshine and warmer temps. If you’re looking to add a patio onto your house so you can host summer barbecues or if you were waiting until the snow melted to remodel the kitchen, it’s important to choose a contractor you can trust.

Before you decide which one to hire, it is a good idea to speak with several different companies to help you get an understanding of different prices and experience levels. Here are some other things you should consider when looking for the right team for the job.

1. Check Credentials

You can check with an organization like the Better Business Bureau to verify the contractor is accredited. If you’re considering hiring a contractor based on a recommendation from a friend or neighbor you trust, it doesn’t hurt to still check the companies out. You can also browse review sites like Angie’s List as well to see what others are saying about their experiences.

2. Ask Questions

Ask contractors about previous experience with the type of project you’re doing, as well as for references and if they’ll be using any subcontractors to complete the work. If they are, it is important to gather information about the subcontractors as well.

3. Licenses & Insurance

It’s important you hire a company that has all the required licensing and insurance. Licensing can be everything from being registered to work in the area to a detailed qualification process. Check with your local city or county building department or consumer protection agency to find out what licenses they require. Also, ensure all the contractors’ licenses and insurance are current and haven’t expired. A copy of an insurance card isn’t necessarily enough — the policy could have lapsed.

4. Building Permits & Bonds

Verify that a company has all workers bonded, as this can help protect you from property theft or damage expenses. It’s also important to find out what building permits you’ll need for your construction, as any violations could invalidate insurance or cause problems with the work that gets done.

5. Contracts & Payments

Create a contract that clearly outlines the work that needs to be completed, as well as start and finish dates. You should also include any warranty information, guarantees, costs and times of payment. Once this is finalized and agreed upon, all parties should sign and date the contract. Some contractors ask for a down payment, but a good rule of thumb is to avoid paying a large amount upfront. Instead, consider paying in smaller installments as work is completed. Once the project is finished, you can pay the contractor in full.

Hiring an affordable and reputable contractor is an important step, but so is making sure you have the money to do that job. If you’re considering taking out a home equity loan or line of credit to complete the job, make sure you understand the terms (here’s a quick guide to how home equity lines of credit work). And if you’re planning on relying on other forms of debt like your credit cards, make sure you understand the impact maxing out your cards can have on your credit scores. You can see how your credit card balances are impacting your credit scores for free on Credit.com.

More on Mortgages & Homebuying:

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5 Things to Do on New Year’s Day to Start Your Financial Year Right

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For many, New Year’s Day is time to take stock in the year that was and focus on how to make the coming 12 months even better. One way to do that is take a few minutes from the day and examine your finances. Here are five tips that can help you do the most to ensure a happier financial new year.

1. Make a Plan Pay Down Debt

If you’re among those carrying a balance on your credit cards, you may want to increase the amount you pay each month — especially if you’re only paying the minimum amount due. Credit card interest can add up quickly.For example, if you’re carrying a $5,000 balance on a credit card with a 16% annual rate and make only the minimum payment required to get out of debt eventually ($117 in this case), you will be debt-free in April 2021, paying $7,541 over the life of the debt. But by kicking in an additional $25 a month to that payment, you can be debt-free 1 year and 4 months earlier and pay roughly $750 less in interest (a total of $6,802 vs. the aforementioned $7,541). You can see how your current credit balances are affecting your credit scores by viewing your free credit report summary updated each month on Credit.com.

2. Review Your Retirement Savings Plan

If you have a 401(k) plan through your employer, consider increasing the percentage of your income you’re setting aside each pay period — especially if you recently received a raise. A 1% increase could help speed you toward your savings goal, and you won’t likely miss the funds. Also, take a look at how your funds are invested. If they’re in mutual funds with a high expense ratio, consider a lower cost option, such as an index fund or target date fund. If your employer doesn’t sponsor a 401(k) plan, consider opening a traditional or Roth IRA through a low cost provider. If you contribute to a traditional IRA before April 15, you may be able to deduct the amount of the contribution from your 2015 taxes.

3. Boost Your Emergency Savings

Scrambling to find cash when your car breaks down or the roof springs a leak is no one’s idea of fun. One way to alleviate the stress is to automate your savings. Ideally, you should have about six months’ worth of household expenses set aside, but, at first, you can start with a less lofty goal, say, $1,000. Then, set up an automatic transfer from the account where your paycheck is deposited into a savings account specially designated for emergencies. Alternatively, many employers allow you to deposit your pay into different accounts on payday, eliminating the need to set up a transfer. However you do it, you can start small and then increase the amount incrementally as you’re able.

4. Assess Your Regrets

Have a few? While it doesn’t pay to dwell in the past, taking few minutes to see how you could’ve better managed your money in the past year can help you think about better ways to manage your money in 2016. Changes could be something as simple as being better organized when you go grocery shopping. Compiling a list and searching for coupons, for instance, could help eliminate needless trips that waste both time and money.

5. Plan, Plan, Plan

We all have projects we’d like to complete in the new year, and now’s the time to think about which ones to get done. The beginning of the year can be a good time to find deals on any Do-It-Yourself supplies you may need for spring or summer projects. And it’s also a great time to reach out to home-improvement contractors for those plans that are beyond your skills — in a few months, they may be too busy to return your calls.

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