Dollar Stretcher: Buying your first house

Marco Eagle

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House key on a house-shaped keychain on wooden table.

Cooler sleeping

We've cut back on our air conditioning this summer, but that's made it hard to sleep at night. I have a ceiling fan, but it doesn't do enough. The last few nights I've misted my top sheet before getting in bed. The circulating air from the ceiling fan on the sheet is just enough to get me off to dreamland!


More:Dollar Stretcher: Summer road trips

Restaurant treats

My wife and I like to go out to eat, but only can afford to do it about once a month. One trick we've learned is to sign up for email alerts from our favorite restaurants. Some send out 10-15% discount coupons. Others offer free desserts for birthdays. It doesn't cost anything to register. We get a lot of junk emails, but these are among our favorites!


How much electricity does my slow cooker use?

I plugged my slow cooker into a Kill-a-Watt to check its usage, and noticed that it fluctuated from 234 watts to 161 watts to 75.4 watts. I also observed that the exterior temperature (checked with an infra-red thermometer) read 235 degrees. Now, I place it on the stove with the exhaust fan running on low to get rid of the heat. In South Florida in July, it's nice to not have the oven heating up the house and making the A/C work harder.

Jeff E.

Buying your first house

We purchased our first house late last year. We had saved plenty for a down payment and thought that we had things covered, but we discovered some surprises. We used a mortgage calculator to estimate our monthly payments, but we didn't include anything for taxes and insurance. Taxes alone are over $400 each month where we live! We also didn't have anything set aside for unexpected expenses like the fridge that died in March. The one we really wanted was close to $2,000. Since we were forced to put it on our credit card, we settled for one at $950. I'd advise anyone thinking of buying their first home to save up three to six months' worth of mortgage payments, insurance, taxes and emergency fund.

Alisha K.

The little things

I have found many ways that I have overlooked waste out of habit. The one I realized this morning is the need to measure cooking ingredients instead of eyeballing. I can't tell you how much most of us probably add because we just pour without measuring. I grew up cooking this way and just using products in general. I definitely think that if we make an effort to pay closer attention to this (those of us who do not,) we will see a big difference in the amount of time our purchases last. A while back, I made this change with dishwashing detergent and saw an unbelievable amount of savings.


Protect your rental deposit

Getting your rental deposit back when you move out can be difficult. Some landlords claim all kinds of damage. The only way to protect yourself is to take pictures or videos of the apartment or house before you move in. Send a copy to your landlord to let him know that you have photographic evidence of how things looked when you moved in. When you move out, you can take similar photos/videos. If you get into a dispute, it'll be easy to provide evidence that you didn't do the damage that the landlord claims.


A free vacation day

With theme parks running $100+ per person per day, our vacation was getting very expensive. This year, we're planning one day a week where we'll be doing free things. We've been searching for ideas and are considering free city parks, recreation areas, historical landmarks and factory tours. We are open to anything that could be interesting that doesn't have an admission fee!


Help getting organized

With the lovely lazy days of summer, it's nice to have time to get a bit organized. My kids are tweens and teens now, and they are competitive with each other. We have been doing daily challenges, such as "Sort Your Sock Drawer" where all five of us spend five minutes cleaning out one small space in our own bedrooms. I put on music and make it fun, and we all found some sock matches and things that belonged in other family member's rooms. It is definitely a frugal win to find "free" socks in our own house. Tomorrow we will tackle our t-shirt drawers and see what fits and what is ready to be passed on. Doing a little bit every day or so will make back-to-school shopping easier since we will know what we have and what we need.

Jen in Aptos, CA

Protect your valuables

Everyone knows that you need to have home insurance, but working for an agent, I also know that if you have any valuable collections, you should consider a separate rider to cover them in case of fire or theft. Most policies only cover to $500 or $1,000 for collectibles. I've seen people insure collections of baseball cards, figurines and even gas station maps that they said were worth more than that. If they have a fire or burglary, they'll be properly insured!


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