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Mind the GAP, Weatherize your home, & GPS Shoes

Mind the Gap 

How many times have your eyes glazed over while reading about the small cuts – three bucks a day on coffee, for example – you can make to brighten your retirement years? 

The challenge with such advice is that the how-to is all a bit murky and it’s simply too difficult for most to imagine just how minor spending adjustments can make a difference so far into the future. 

A tool, http://squaredawayblog.bc.edu/target, developed by Boston College’s Center for Retirement Research, makes the numbers game much more concrete by calculating the gap between your savings and the monthly needs you’ll have during retirement. 

That figure of just how much you’ll be short month in and month out can be stark. It may make you ask yourself whether you want to be faced with figuring out how to scrape together an extra $600 or an extra $1,200 every single month during retirement. 


That number also can be the motivator, especially if you’re in your 50s, for taking action while time is still on your side. 

And once you calculate your monthly shortfall between today’s savings and tomorrow’s needs, Boston College’s other tools, its “Pick Things to Cut” section at  http://squaredaway.bc.edu  can help you figure out just how to cut expenses to close that gap. 

The calculator asks you to check off some possible spending cuts and it illustrates how much closer you’ll get to your goal by making those small lifestyle adjustments. 

Some fairly painless tweaks can yield some impressive savings.  For example, find $200 in monthly savings (or a cool $2,400 annually) by: 

  • •    Ironing your own clothes instead of using the dry cleaners (Savings: $40)
  • •    Using public transit (Savings: $70)
  • •    Ordering appetizers as meals when eating  ($60)
  • •    Buying clothes at the end of the season or sale (Savings $30)

Then, of course, the key is to actually plow those found dollars into long-term savings and leave them alone to work for your future. 


Weatherize your home, save now 

A terrific way to make a dent in that retirement gap is by modifying some habits and slashing your energy consumption.

Sure, you could do a top-to-bottom home upgrade and incorporate the most cutting edge efficiency features. But, again, small changes this winter can yield long-term savings. Many are cheap and painless. Here are five. 

  1. 1.    Fuel savings. The site http://www.fueleconomy.gov offers tips on making your car operate efficiently as possible, including: 
  • •    Emptying your car trunk. Every extra 100 pounds in your car can reduce your miles per gallon by up to 2%. Roof racks reduce aerodynamic drag and kick up fuel costs. A loaded roof rack can decrease your fuel economy by 5 percent. 
  • •    Sticking to the speed limit. Consider that each 5 mph you drive over 50 mph is equivalent to paying an extra $0.24 per gallon for gas.
  1. 2.    Holiday lights. Those tiny twinkling lights seem innocuous, but they do chew up energy. As you do your holiday decorating, keep in mind that replacing old strings of lights with light emitting diodes (LEDs) can save money. 

According to NSTAR, a Massachusetts-based utility company, opting for ten strings of mini-LED lights instead of to ten strings of standard mini-lights can save you nearly $12 in energy costs in just a month. For more information, see NSTAR’s comparison of holiday lights at http://www.nstaronline.com/residential/energy_efficiency/holiday-lights.asp


  1. 3.    Water heating. Warming up water is the second largest energy expense in most homes and it typically accounts for about 18% of utility bills. Three free or almost-free ways to reduce your bill this season include: 
  • •    Setting the water heater’s thermostat to 120°F.
  • •    Using less water by taking shorter showers, using low-flow showerheads, installing aerators on kitchen and bathroom faucets, and washing clothes in cold water. For more water-saving tips, see http://energy.gov/energysaver/articles/reduce-hot-water-use-energy-savings
  • •    Insulating your water heater. The cost of a water heating insulating blanket kit is less than $30. For most, a DIY installation takes less than two hours. 
  1. 4.    Weather stripping and caulking. So they’re not the most glamorous projects, but spending a couple hours caulking (here’s a step-by-step how-to, http://energy.gov/energysaver/projects/savings-project-how-seal-air-leaks-caulk) will seal up air leaks, such as those around window and door frames. And doing some weather stripping projects can cut drafts, making your house cozier and your winter energy bills a little less pricey. 
  1. 5.     Vampire power. Those glowing lights from appliances and devices – your TV, DVR and microwave – that aren’t in use constantly suck small bits of power, known as vampire or phantom power, and cost you money every single month. The simplest way to reduce such waste is by plugging equipment into power strips that can be turned off with a single switch. 


Also disconnect cell phone and other battery chargers because they chew up energy even when they’re not powering up devices. For more about standby power, see http://www.standby.lbl.gov/faq.html and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=57Ctkd0Lwac



GPS shoes ease caregiver worries

We all love the power of a GPS unit when we’re lost in the car, but there’s an even greater good that has emerged from the technology. 

GPS-enabled shoes help caregivers keep track of loved ones who suffer from dementia and Alzheimer’s. 

Such shoes are embedded with a GPS tracking device that allows a loved one’s location to be sent to a website. It can alert caregivers when the shoe wearer has roamed past the boundaries of a preset zone, and there’s also an emergency tracking function to find missing people. 

Learn more at http://gpsshoe.com  and http://www.navistargpsshoe.com

Consumer Newsletter – December 2013

By Elyse Umlauf-Garneau