Dear Mary: A coworker had a programmable thermostat installed in her home. She says the temperature is always perfect, and her utility bills are lower. Her thermostat cost more than $200, plus installation. Is it worth it?
-- Martha, Vermont
Dear Martha: Programmable thermostats that control a home's central heat and air conditioning can return many times their original cost in lower electricity bills. You can set your timer to turn off the AC about the time you leave for the day and to turn back on a half hour before you get home.
Contrary to popular belief, this does not use more electricity than having the AC constantly maintain a cool temperature; it uses less. In the winter, you can program your heat similarly.
Programmable thermostats online or from your local home-improvement store, such as the Lux Products TX500E-010 Smart Temp Programmable Thermostat, start at about $40. All programmable thermostats come with installation instructions, but it's a quick job for an electrician if you're not comfortable doing the installation yourself.
Dear Mary: My sister and I are opening our own business. We have everything figured out except for retirement savings. We're used to contributing to our employers' 401(k) plans. What retirement plans do you recommend for small business owners?
Dear Tina: This is exciting news, and I wish you all the best in
Each of these four tax-favorable retirement accounts has different rules, requirements, advantages and contribution limits:
-- SIMPLE IRA (which stands for Saving Incentive Match Plan for Employees)
-- SEP IRA
-- Solo 401(k)
-- Defined benefit plan
The IRS Retirement Plans Navigator (RetirementPlans.IRS.gov) gives detailed information about each of these retirement accounts, which will help you, your sister and your tax adviser choose the one that is right for you.
Dear Mary: I'm a stay-at-home mom with a 1-year-old and a 3-year-old. Lately, I've been thinking about working from home to earn some extra money. How do I go about finding legitimate work?
-- Beth, Indiana
Dear Beth: Do you knit? Make jewelry? Sew? If so, there are lots of opportunities to sell handmade wares online. As a member of Etsy (Etsy.com), you will have your own online store to showcase your items. It's free to become an Etsy seller, but you will pay a fee of 20 cents to list an item with up to five photos for four months. When the item sells, you pay a 3.5 percent commission to Etsy. There is no limit to how much you can charge -- what you earn in a month is based on how sought-after your crafts are.
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