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Entries in money (2)

Sunday
Jun142015

Save Money & Energy with Free Mass Save Service

Take advantage of a service (you already pay a monthly fee for) and get some energy-efficient light bulbs on the spot and tips on bringing down your energy bill

 

 

Every month Massachusetts families are paying an energy efficiency charge on their power bills, but not everyone is taking advantage of the free benefits the monthly fee delivers. 

  Founded in 2010, Mass Save famously advertises its free home energy assessments, which in many cases result in a variety of on-the-spot, no-cost improvements for home owners, like new LED bulbs in every fixture in a home, upgraded thermostats, and water-efficient showerheads.

  “One hundred and six lightbulbs! My house has 106 lightbulbs!” exclaims Ashland’s Jed Dineen with unbridled enthusiasm. “All of them were the traditional, old-style incandescent bulbs dating back to Thomas Edison’s era. Now, my home has new energy efficient LED lighting for free.”

  Dineen and his family recently had Mass Save perform a no-cost energy assessment. An assessor came to the house and spent two hours doing a top-to-bottom inspection of the home, including:

• Attic & wall insulation

• Airflow

• Siding

• Thermostats

• Doors

• Windows

• Appliances

• Heating and cooling systems

• Hot water

• Surge suppressors

 

  Mass Save in-home assessments result in a personalized report outlining recommended energy efficiency improvements along with an estimate of the energy savings and low/no cost financing plans. In Dineen’s case, at the time of the assessment, Mass Save installed 106 LED light bulbs (replacing simple screw bulbs) and programmable (heating/cooling and time of day) thermostats for free. Had he done these improvements himself, he estimates the cost would easily have been hundreds of dollars.

  The payoff? The Dineen’s electric bill dropped $35 in the first month compared to the prior year.

  Prior personal attempts to try energy-saving approaches yielded mixed results for Dineen. For example, lighting improvements were unimpressive. “We tried compact fluorescent bulbs and they always fell flat,” he says. “The early versions had a rather harsh light we just didn’t like. And it always took too long for them to ‘warm up’ to full brightness. For example, when going to the basement to get something, the 2-minute warm-up time often exceeded the needed time in the basement, and we were not happy they had mercury in them. We have none of those issues with the LEDs.”

  Mass Save left Dineen with specific energy-efficiency improvement recommendations so he could make subsequent decisions on his schedule. He looks at the home energy assessment as a way to “prioritize” expenditures. “I have a Sub-Zero refrigerator-freezer. The Mass Save program will help fund a replacement refrigerator, and nothing like a Sub-Zero,” he says. “We need to decide if we want to keep the Sub-Zero (with its accompanying aesthetics) or replace it with a more energy efficient version.”

  Available Mass Save rebates and incentives vary over time.  Currently they include:

• 75% up to $2,000 toward the installation of approved insulation improvements

• No-cost targeted air sealing

• Rebates on qualifying energy-efficient heating and hot water heating equipment

• The opportunity to apply for 0% financing for eligible measures through the HEAT loan program.   

  In 2013, 9,000 heat loans were provided in Massachusetts.  Under this program, customers can apply for a 0% loan from participating lenders assisting with the installation of qualified energy-efficient improvements in their home.

  “The Commonwealth of Massachusetts has made energy efficiency a top priority to help people manage their energy costs and improve the comfort of their homes,” says Dan Burgess, Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources acting commissioner. “I always recommend homeowners, renters, and business owners explore Mass Save’s Website to see what’s available for them at home and work.”

  The Massachusetts Energy Efficiency Advisory Council’s 2013 annual report supports Burgess’ statement in a compelling manner: “Mass Save helped customers save the same amount of electricity as all households in Lowell, Springfield, Taunton, and Waltham collectively use in a year. The natural gas savings are equal to heating nearly every single household in Framingham for a year. In 2013, the efforts generated $2.8 billion in benefits, slightly greater total benefits than projected, while spending 12% less than budgeted.”

  This pace was continued in 2014, according to Susan Kaplan, director of marketing and stakeholder engagement for the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources. “The 2014 savings were the equivalent of a 172 megawatt power plant, and this is ongoing. Massachusetts has been ranked #1 in energy efficiency for the past four years.”

  Kaplan points to the impacts being seen at ISO New England, the independent, not-for-profit company charged with grid operation, market administration, and power system planning: “Our Massachusetts programs are actually bending the demand curve down. You can see the benefits in action.”

  “Mass Save started as a program in 2010, without a headquarters or staff,” notes Jake Navarro, spokesman for National Grid US. “The programs are funded by the energy efficiency charge on energy bills across Massachusetts overseen by the Department of Public Utilities. For a typical 500 kilowatt-hour-per-month customer, the energy-efficiency charge is currently about $5 per month (1 cent per kilowatt-hour).”

  Navarro is quick to point out companies like National Grid do not generate power, they only provide transmission lines. Programs like Mass Save help companies such as National Grid plan better for infrastructure improvements.

  Everyone wants lower energy bills, which was evident in recent months. “This past winter drove a huge uptick in interest in these programs,” Navarro says. “November and December 2014 had a 69% increase in assessment requests over the same period in 2013. People saw large electric bill increases and this drove increased interest in conservation.”

  The increases in power generation costs are attributed to constrained natural gas, and “will be a regional issue going on a few years,”  Navarro notes.

  The Mass Save Website, masssave.com, is a common entry point for energy assessment programs. The Website also includes an Online Home Energy Assessment, giving a quick assessment of your energy efficiency and an improvement plan.

 

Article originally published in baystateparent magazine - June 2015

Sunday
Mar012015

How to Keep Money from Wrecking a Marriage

It’s February, the month of love. Are you feeling the love or have your finances taken away your loving feeling? Many find the mid-winter doldrums particularly challenging as the holiday end and increased heating bills arrive.

“Money is funny,” mused Scott Post, vice president of Strategy and Delivery, Hanscom Federal Credit Union in Bedford. “It makes the world go ’round and is the root of evil. And while love is blind, marriage is an eye opener!”

Scott sees marriage beyond just a coming together of emotions, and he recommends conversations before the ceremony establishing an understanding around money. He even offers to have couples come into his office to review each party’s credit score.

“Understanding the elements and contributing factors of the credit score can often be the starting point in a financial conversation,” he said. “In the end, communicating to each other is very important.”

Once in a relationship, it is a matter of understanding the inflow and outflow of money to the relationship. Post recommends couples maintain separate checking accounts for personal expenses and establish a joint account for paying common expenses, with contributions to the joint account based on proportional income.

“Having your own account lets you save and spend for items of your personal interest, without building resentment for the other person,” he said.

Technology is a resource for better finances, with a myriad of financial tools available to consumers today, including those such as Quicken and online banking from your financial institution. Even simple things like balance alerts and identity theft protection are easy, effective ways to oversee your financial transactions. More sophisticated resources can be used to aggregate accounts providing a consolidated view of the entire financial picture and general health.

“Even with a wealth of tools at your disposal,” Post cautioned, “don’t move money without talking first. It really becomes a model of trust and verify.”

At the Northampton Center for Couples Therapy, Director/Founder Kerry Lusignan cautioned that money can be a manifestation of other issues in a relationship. The issues around money are often really around values, freedom, autonomy and power, and thus the reason some couples sign a pre-nuptial agreement.

Both Post and Lusignan agreed that getting ahead of issues is important.

“Talking openly about specific issues around money [like debt and income challenges] is almost a taboo of society. Couples often have tensions for six years before getting professional assistance. Frankly, they wait too long. All couples have perpetual and solvable ones,” according to Lusignan, a licensed mental health counselor

For example, a couple may have one person who is conservative and a saver, while the other spouse believes in spending it all before they die. Those opposing views may never be reconciled. However, during open discussion, couples can gain a better understanding of each other’s viewpoint.

“In a perfect world, we would all receive a partner’s manual…just like an owner’s manual….helping us understand the other person better,” Lusignan said.

Children up the ante and further stress financial resources. “Couples have less money due to paying for daycare, often causing couples to work more and making seeing each other even harder. Little things can become major items quickly!” she added.

In some counseling sessions, Lusignan even uses heart-rate monitors and works with couples to have “soft startups” to conversations. “The first three minutes of a conversation will often determine the outcome,” she said. “When issues are brought up harshly, 96% of the time an argument ensues. We encourage questions to seek clarity and encourage short breaks if the discussion is too intense. Often, one partner simply wants to be heard and validated, and we help make it happen.”

Mark Fantasia, vice president/financial advisor of Retirement Planning & Investment Center of Workers Credit Union in Fitchburg, echoed these sentiments and uses a financial plan or budget to foster communications and get a couple to align their thinking.

“Couples should develop a financial plan for both short- and long-term needs,” he said. “Before investing for the long term or making big purchases, they should have three to six months of living expenses in an easily accessible account. This safety fund may be needed for unexpected emergencies.

“Couples should also design a realistic budget for both short and long term needs both parties agree upon,” he continued. “Early warning signs can be seen in the budgeting process. If both parties strongly disagree on what items are important, a plan will never get developed.”

Most people don’t know exactly what they spend on a monthly basis for various items — important knowledge for developing realistic budgets. Couples should save all receipts for a few months to identify what they are spending on food, clothes, entertainment, transportation, etc. First they need to look at securing their basic living needs, such as what percentage of income they allocate to housing. (Fantasia recommends no more than 25% of gross income be spent on housing.)

Once a couple has identified what disposable income is left, they need to agree upon what will be saved for long-term needs such as retirement and childrens’ education savings. These figures vary greatly for each couple depending upon what is already saved and what employer pension plans may be in place.

“Once all the basic living needs and long-term savings have been secured, we can identify what disposable income is left for discretionary items such as vacations.”

“Couples should also take 30 minutes a month to review income and expenses,” Fantasia added. “Review credit card and bank statements together so both are well aware of what is being spent and where it is going. Don’t wait until it is too late to have these discussions with your spouse. If you find one spouse is not agreeing to the budget plan or is just not good at finances, agree to have the more financially capable spouse in charge of the budget.”

With planning and ongoing communications, it’s clear couples can brighten their financial outlook and keep the loving feeling year round.

Tips for successfully navigating challenging financial times:

• Communicate early and often.

• Set common goals.

• Have a common checkbook for shared expenses.

• Let technology be a resource.

• Make a budget and stick to it.

• Monitor progress along the way.

• Keep the conversations upbeat.

• Make this fun.

• Get professional help along the way as needed  (for an unbiased opinion).

• Stay engaged in the process —understand where your money goes.

 

Originally published in baystateparent magazine - February 2015