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YOUR BOTTOM LINE
Money-Saving Tips for Summer
Aired July 10, 2010 - 09:29 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
POPPY HARLOW, CNN HOST: Well, good morning. I'm Poppy Harlow. And this is YOUR BOTTOM LINE.
How to protect your home from the heat and score the very best energy rebates, and shopper stimulus, retailers offering never before seen promotions. Also, how to spot an on-line job scam.
It's the show that saves you money, and it starts right now.
Well, it is hot, record-breaking temps for dozens of U.S. cities this week. Folks, look at those temperatures, over 100 degrees. And the three-month forecast from the National Weather Service shows more of the same is unfortunately on the way.
The summer's scorching heat's also taking a toll on your biggest asset, your home. But there are plenty of things that you can do to protect your home from the high temperatures and the unfortunate blackouts and brownouts.
Alex Bandon is with "This Old House" magazine and joins us now with some tips. Thanks for being here with us, Alex. Appreciate it.
ALEX BANDON, "THIS OLD HOUSE": Thanks, Poppy (INAUDIBLE)
HARLOW: You think the heat is hard on your body, but it's also really hard on your house. You want to keep temps down...
BANDON: Absolutely. And it's good for your self, too. You want to be as cool in your own home...
HARLOW: Cool and comfortable. Some things you can do -- I know you talk about switching light bulbs?
HARLOW: That's really going to make a difference?
BANDON: You'd be amazed. Regular light bulbs, incandescent light bulbs, and halogens especially can get very hot and bring heat into the room. So if you just get some compact fluorescents, you know, those ones that look like little springs...
BANDON: ... those don't get hot. So you can actually keep your room cooler by just using those -- or turning off the lights, too. HARLOW: And in terms of watering your plants, you say do that in the morning, not at night.
HARLOW: Why does that make a difference?
BANDON: Well, you don't want to do it in the middle of the day because that's inefficient. You will -- the water will evaporate before it can get to the plant's roots. You don't want to do it at night because that can promote mildew. Just do it in the morning, before 6:00, if you can, and then you'll keep them cool (INAUDIBLE)
HARLOW: And you know, we were just talking about our air- conditioning bills, even in the -- even in our apartments. So for homes, it can be very, very expensive. But you say the biggest air- conditioner is not always your best bet?
BANDON: Yes, you know, in this kind of heat, you might be tempted to buy bigger is better. But it's not a good idea. You should get something that's sized for your room. And you can see that on the tag.
The reason is, if you get something that's too big, it'll turn on, fill the room with cold air, which -- then it goes off right away because it's already done what it's supposed to do. And then you've just got cold, wet air because none of the humidity has had time to get out of the air. You want something that cools slowly so that it dehumidifies as it cools.
HARLOW: You said if you get it too big, it can cause mold?
HARLOW: Is that true?
BANDON: That's true. There -- there -- it doesn't dehumidify. That's one of the things that air-conditioners do.
BANDON: So if it just turns on, gets cold, turns off, no humidity's left the room. So you really need to get it the right size.
HARLOW: And for people that are painting their homes, redoing their homes in the summer, you talk about specific times when you should paint...
HARLOW: ... and specific times when you really shouldn't, like when it's way too hot.
BANDON: Yes, I think it's not the time when it's -- when it's this hot to be painting because if it's humid, especially, there's some water in the wood, and if you paint over that, it'll try to evaporate, and then you'll get bubbling and cracking. It's not the time to paint. Do it when it's, like, 80 or so.
HARLOW: And you know, especially here in New York and across the country, people have dealt with blackouts or brownouts even. In terms of your air-conditioner, this is a very important time you want to unplug it?
BANDON: You want to at least turn it -- if there's a brownout or a blackout, at least turn it to the off position because if it comes back -- the energy comes back on right away, you could damage your air compressor, the compressor in the air-conditioner.
BANDON: So make sure it's off for about five minutes before you turn it back on.
HARLOW: And they can be expensive. Finally, you know, let's say you have a brownout, you're worried about a blackout. What are some of the preventive things you can do? I know you want flashlight close by.
BANDON: Yes, you want a flashlight with fresh batteries. Make sure they're all ready. But also get some water ready. Put some in buckets. Fill the bathtub with water because then you've got the water that can keep everybody cool and clean.
HARLOW: I wouldn't have thought of fill the bathtub.
BANDON: Well, you also can have water to keep the toilets flushed...
BANDON: ... because they don't need water to -- I mean, they don't need electricity to flush, but they won't fill up without electricity. So if you get it out of the tub...
HARLOW: Always -- always important to flush the toilets.
HARLOW: Alex, thanks for the tips. Appreciate it.
BANDON: Thank you.
HARLOW: Thanks for being here.
All right, well, 20 percent of your energy bill is from your air- conditioner. That's according to the EPA. But you know what? There are energy rebates out there that can actually save you a lot of money. Donna Rosato is a senior writer with "Money." She's here to tell us about all the money we can save. Thanks for being here. Appreciate it.
DONNA ROSATO, SENIOR WRITER, "MONEY": Great to be here, Poppy.
HARLOW: A lot of people want to trade in their old appliances, their old air-conditioner for those rebates through Energystar.gov. May be a good idea, but sometimes there's a catch, right?
ROSATO: That's right. That's right. There are actually a lot of programs out there. As we're running our ACs this time of the year...
ROSATO: ... we want to think about getting things that are more energy- efficient. There are programs out there. There's a federal appliance program called Cash for Appliances, where you can turn in your gas-guzzling ACs for something that's more energy efficient. You can get anywhere from $50 to $500 back.
But the money is going fast. Some of the state programs that administer this, the money's already gone.
ROSATO: Yes. So you have to make sure. For the federal appliance program, you can check at Energysavers.gov to see if you can still take advantage of that. But the federal program, the money's already going fast.
HARLOW: Really. So it's a first come, first served basis. What about the state programs? Because sometimes you can get money from both federal government and from the state.
BANDON: That's right. That's the beauty of it. There are more than 100 state programs that will give you a rebate if you turn in an older refrigerator, an old air-conditioner for something that's more energy efficient. And there are more than 600 utility companies that also provide rebates and tax breaks for -- for more energy-efficient appliances.
HARLOW: You know, it's also interesting, people may want to buy a new snazzy energy-efficient fridge, but they can run thousands and thousands of dollars. So if you're deciding, all right, What new appliances do I want versus what's going to save me the most money, it's not always the best to buy all energy-efficiency appliances, right, because it might not save you that much.
BANDON: That's such a good point. Being green can be very costly. And while it's great to have that snazzy new refrigerator, you really need to do the math first. Sometimes doing things that are a little bit more basic, say, looking at your home's insulation or how well your windows are caulked...
HARLOW: It's not as much fun as buying a new refrigerator! BANDON: Definitely not. And you might consider -- you know, how do you know what's going to pay more or not? Think about having a home energy audit.
ROSATO: It can cost $400, but some states give you a break on that. They the tell you what's going to be worth it for you to do or not.
BANDON: I went on one of those home energy audits in Minnesota, where I'm from, and one of the power companies there will do it for $25. They will give you a break, so it's worth looking at what kind of discount you can get there.
You know, finally, if you don't have the cash to splurge on new appliances, et cetera, or pay for an energy audit, what can you do around the house that's not going to be expensive?
BANDON: There's a lot of little things that you can do. And some of the things you might already think about -- putting more energy-efficient light bulbs, replacing those -- the ones that suck all the energy out. You can turn your thermostat down or put it on energy efficiency when you're not at home.
HARLOW: That saves a lot, turning the thermostat down.
BANDON: It saves a lot. And you know, a lot of people keep an extra refrigerator to keep drinks cool in their garage. You can save $700 a year getting rid of that old refrigerator!
HARLOW: Seven hundred dollars!
ROSATO: Seven hundred dollars.
HARLOW: For cold soda.
ROSATO: That's right.
HARLOW: No thanks! All right, Donna, thanks so much. Appreciate it.
All right, coming up, retailers trying all sorts of new tactics to get you in the door, but should you take the bait?
HARLOW: Retailers going on the offensive. They're tired of waiting for additional government stimulus, so stores are getting pretty creative with their incentives and their promotions to try to get shoppers in the door. So the big question that we have -- which deals are worth buying into and which ones, folks, are clearly just clever marketing tactics?
Here with the answers, Todd Marks from "Consumer Reports." Thanks for being here, Todd. Appreciate it. TODD MARKS, SR. EDITOR, "CONSUMER REPORTS": Good morning, Poppy. My pleasure.
HARLOW: All right, I want to start first with this really interesting move that Sam's Club is making. They're offering these -- up to $25,000 in small business loans. What do you make of it?
MARKS: Well, you know, times are tough for the warehouse club segment, just like it is for other forms of retailing. And if you think about it, Sam's old slogan, they used to say it prominently, "In business for small business."
MARKS: And that's how the club concept started. And they provide a tremendous amount of services to the small business community. And look, given the realities of the difficulties of getting small business loans today, with the credit crunch, it's a brilliant marketing strategy.
But remember, you don't just get -- it's not just a matter of loans. When you sign up for a membership at Sam's, you can get -- as a small business and also for individual membership, you qualify for discounts on, you know, FedEx shipping, on check printing, on payroll services, all kinds of businesses.
MARKS: When you go to Costco, it's the same thing. They offer 401(k) plans. I mean, it's all over the place. So it doesn't surprise me. It's a brilliant marketing strategy.
HARLOW: You've got a lot of deals being offered by Target, Toys "R" Us, Staples, Home Depot. I want to start with Target. They're -- starting in the fall, they're going to offer 5 percent off total purchases for customers that use the Target card. Is that a good move or bad move when it comes to interest rates on those cards?
MARKS: It's a good move, but you have to remember, this is nothing new. It's move from Target's perspective. We just did a big story here at consumer reports, it was a survey-based story rating the major big box retailers. And we looked -- and as part of this story, we did a big study as who what are the various savings vehicles that are available.
And one of the most common things today is kind of what Target's doing, and you see it in a variety of stores. Kohl's, 15 percent to 30 percent off if you use a Kohl's charge card. You can also build up points towards free shopping days, towards additional discounts. The down side, of course, is that you may spend more money than you have because the incentives are so great. And you want to be sure to be disciplined.
These deals are very good if you're a loyal shopper or frequent shopper at any particular retailer.
MARKS: However, if it causes you to buy more than you need to or spend more than you want to, then you have to look twice at your behavior.
HARLOW: Yes, and you have to look out for interest rates, which can be very high on those store cards.
HARLOW: Toys "R" Us -- they're offering a holiday fund, essentially sort of storing away some money from your card. The more you spend, the more you get for the holidays. Just a merchandising -- just a real tactic here? Or what is this?
MARKS: Well, I think it's parlaying on the success or the high- profile publicity surrounding the return of the lay-away that was such a big deal through vendors such as Kmart -- you know, the old traditional lay-away plan.
Instead of buying on credit, you put money in a Christmas club account. That way, when the holidays come, you saved for a specific item, a little bit every week, and therefore, you don't get stuck with those recurring interest fees from credit card purchases. It's a great idea. I don't know how many people will take advantage of it, but I think it's a great idea.
HARLOW: You know, one thing that you do have to watch out for is anything that's free or almost free. If you look at Staples and Office Depot, what they're offering is some items for literally pennies or for free, but do you have to look at your total bill, the volume that you buy when you go in those stores? Because some items might be more expensive, right?
MARKS: Oh, sure. It's the traditional high-low game.
MARKS: Every kind of retailers play it. What I mean by that is you price some items at or below cost to get you into the store. Supermarkets are famous for this, but they do it with things like mattresses, where they charge you a lot for the mattress and then give you the boxspring or foundation for a penny or free. It's same thing here. You got to watch the mark-up on the other items you're buying, not just the item that they're "giving away."
HARLOW: Nothing in this world is free, is it, Todd!
MARKS: No. No.
HARLOW: Thanks for being with us. Appreciate it.
All right, well, do you think that maybe you should be making a little bit more money at work? Up next, we're going to tell you ask for a raise the right way.
HARLOW: Well, you know, slashed budgets are enough to make anyone nervous to ask their boss for a raise. So when is it safe to ask, and how can you go about doing it? Leigh Gallagher is a senior editor at "Fortune" and joins us now. It's a tough question, Leigh..
LEIGH GALLAGHER, SENIOR EDITOR, "FORTUNE": It is a tough question. You know, there's the thought that, My gosh, everybody's so lucky just to have a job in this environment...
GALLAGHER: ... how dare I think of actually asking for a raise? But you know, the issue is, if you wait -- you don't want to wait for a rebound because you could be waiting forever. So you know, the time is now. It's all about how you do it and when you do it.
HARLOW: I mean, you've got to think what your company has gone through, right? I mean, you have to be strategic about this and really make a case, lay it out before you walk into your boss's office and say, Give me more money.
GALLAGHER: You do. You better have tangible reasons, proof that you deserve the raise. And it's kind of this age-old premise we use in journalism, Show, don't tell. Don't say, you know, I've been working really hard. Say something like, you know, That project I've been working on for the Web site drove traffic by X percent, or, This new special project I created has done a lot for the company, or, I created an intern program. Show the things that you've actually done for the company.
HARLOW: You want to write this down for yourself. Do you want to present them with a list or not really?
GALLAGHER: You can just go -- it really depends on the relationship with the manager, but I think you can just go in and have a conversation. Another great thing -- it's also about the phrasing. If you say, you know, I want a raise, that's tough in these days.
If you go in and say, Can you tell me what I need to do to get a raise? I mean, that does a couple things. It says, I'm engaged, I'm here, I want to do more, I want to make this a bargain for you, I want to give you more than I'm already giving you. And you're already probably doing four jobs because your company may let go of so many people...
GALLAGHER: ... you're doing -- you're doing a lot already.
HARLOW: That's expected now. I mean, it's expected...
GALLAGHER: That's expected.
HARLOW: ... after this recession, you're going to do more work than before probably.
GALLAGHER: It is expected. But at the same time, you know, prices are rising. The Consumer Price Index is rising. I mean, it's not outrageous to be asking for this. It's just all about when you ask for it.
It's also important to not ask on a Friday in the summer. It's important to not ask -- you want to wait -- you want to ask before the annual budgets are done so that there actually is room to make decisions. And in a way, you want to make sure you do this before your company starts hiring other people because resources are going to go there, if and when that day ever comes.
HARLOW: I think a lot of people don't understand that, really, divisions within companies have these strict budgets and the decisions of how they're going to allocate them have to be made before the final budget is approved. So you have to ask earlier rather than later.
HARLOW: Finally, what if you don't get that raise? What if what if your boss says, I'm sorry, I just can't do it now? How do you cope with that? How do you deal with that?
GALLAGHER: You walk away gracefully. And just know that it's likely that no is going to be the answer. But if you just say, That's fine, I respect your decision, I'm going to keep -- just know that I'm going to keep trying at this and let's reassess. Maybe suggest that you reassess in six months or three months or a year.
HARLOW: That's a good point. That's a good point because it's not always that you're not valuable to the company, they just might not have the have the money.
HARLOW: They might not have the money. Leigh, good tips. Thanks.
GALLAGHER: Thanks so much.
HARLOW: Appreciate it.
All right, you have seen the ads on Web sites, Work for home, earn cash, or, Fill out this survey and get paid. But come on! How do you tell a scam from a real opportunity? Our Christine Romans recently spoke with tech guru Mario Armstrong for more on that.
CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: So Mario, all of these offers to work from home, some are legitimate, but some are scams.
MARIO ARMSTRONG, NPR TECHNOLOGY CONTRIBUTOR: Right.
ROMANS: How do you tell the difference? ARMSTRONG: That's right. It's very hard, Christine. I mean, it's a really tough time right now for people to really figure out because they want work. And many people have skills. They've been unemployed now. They have a great contribution that they can make. And they don't know if they're getting scammed or not.
So number one is to do your research, do your homework. And what I mean by that is use tools like Google to search the Web site and search the company. And also, if you get an ad from a company that you're interested in, put their company name in Google, but also put the word "scam" in the Google search so that you can also kind of see, are they showing up? Are other people complaining about these same exact things?
ROMANS: You also...
ARMSTRONG: So that's a big problem. Another one...
ROMANS: ... make sure the company's name is in the e-mail address because that is a dead giveaway.
ARMSTRONG: Yes! A dead giveaway, but you'd be surprised how many people click on offers. I mean, we're in a tough time. We're bouncing back from this recession, and people are looking for opportunity. And so you're absolutely right.
When you get an e-mail from someone, make sure the end of that e- mail has the legitimate Web site name. It should be the name of the Web site dot-whatever. It should be John Doe @ name of the Web site.com or .net or whatever. And a lot of people, or a lot of crooks and a lot of scam artists don't put that in, and so that's a dead giveaway.
ROMANS: You say also check to make sure there's a market for your work because, I guess, if you're getting some offer and you think, Wow, why would anybody pay me to do that? Probably because they wouldn't pay you to do that.
ARMSTRONG: That's right. But it only takes 1 percent of people to click through on these things for it to continue as a pervasive scam. So you're absolutely right. Do your research on the market. In other words, if you really do want to work from home and you really do want to try these opportunities, look for companies that are already legitimate, that have maybe job openings for call center type of activities at home or other administrative support that you could do from home.
So yes, those are dead giveaways. If it really sounds like, Why would anybody need this, that's not good.
ROMANS: You mentioned call centers. What are some of the kinds of things that you can do, legitimately do from home on your computer that are the good jobs that people are looking for? ARMSTRONG: So much! So much today. I mean, you don't have to be in a physical location. That's what makes the Internet and the opportunity that we have right now so special.
And I really want to speak to those that are unemployed right now that are frustrated, that can't find a job. Look, stop looking in the traditional way. What I want you to do is use the Web differently. You want to put your skills on line. And so you want to use Web sites like Elance.com.
Elance.com is a Web site, Christine, where they can share what their skills are, what they're good at, and then people can hire them based off of their individual needs. So Elance.com, and another one is called Guru.com -- G-U-R-U.com.
ROMANS: And the last important piece of advice here is if they send you money up front or they want you to send them money to start...
ARMSTRONG: Yes! Great point.
ROMANS: ... and get the kit or whatever, run screaming for the hills.
ARMSTRONG: Don't even bother with it. Absolutely -- Christine, I thank you so much for putting that out there because it's happening way too much. And it's a very clever scam. So I understand why people are getting duped. But if anyone's asking you, You have to buy our materials, buy our curriculum first, buy our equipment first and then we'll rebate you or we'll reimburse you, don't fall for that. That is a dead giveaway. That is not a real job offer.
HARLOW: Great, great advice coming from him there.
All right, well, do the scorching sun and overpriced tourist traps sound unappealing? I think so. Coming up next, we're going to show you how to make a summer "staycation" something you're going to remember for a long time.
HARLOW: Well, 64 percent of Americans say they just don't have the money for a vacation this summer. That's according to the National Foundation for Credit Counseling. But you can save money, of course, with a "staycation." You can stay at home and do a lot of good at the same time.
Robert Rosenthal is with Volunteermatch.org and joins us now from San Francisco. Thanks for being here. What if you just have a few days off, three days, four days? Can you really make a difference there?
ROBERT ROSENTHAL, VOLUNTEERMATCH.ORG: I think you can. Lots of organizations are actually looking for people to be extra sets of hands for events, for park clean-ups, for things like fund-raising competitions, runs and bikes and things like that. There's no reason why you couldn't find something either on the weekend or on a long weekend.
You know, the main thing really is to ask yourself a couple of key questions. Where do I want to volunteer? Is it going to be right around my community or a little bit farther out? How much time do I have? Is it just one day or a couple of days? And most importantly, I think, for the staycation, Am I going to be alone or am I going to be with my family?
ROSENTHAL: The family opportunities present some other logistical challenges.
HARLOW: Talk about that. What's the best way to get the whole family involved, get the kids, maybe even the grandparents, everyone involved? But you said some logistical challenges there?
ROSENTHAL: Yes, I think it's important. You know, we want to make volunteering something that everybody enjoys. Studies show that what brings people back to volunteer again and again is when they've had a great experience. Of course, juggling the different needs of members of different ages isn't the easiest thing in the world. The good news is, you have a lot of help from the organization.
So one thing we always counsel families to consider doing is make sure that the organization that they want to volunteer at has experience working with kids.
ROSENTHAL: You know, make sure, as well, that they've got somebody on staff who's trained to do that. So I think the things that families like to do is -- a lot of outdoor stuff tends to have better success rates for families.
HARLOW: So let's say you do have your whole family, or it's just you looking for this volunteer work during your staycation. Tell us the best places to go, probably on-line, to find the really reputable non-profits to help out?
ROSENTHAL: Yes, you know, the Web has really transformed how people find volunteer opportunities. And it's not just what's available today, but it's really what are the reputations of the organizations that are out there. At Volunteermatch, we spend a lot of time vetting the organizations.
There are some other services you can go to that we respect. Greatnonprofits.org is a great place to start. Charitynavigator is another reputable source. These are really the Yelp model of finding out what's good based on what other people who have volunteered have to say about their experiences.
HARLOW: All right, Robert, thanks. We appreciate the tips. Thanks so much.
And you know, folks, of course, a lot of help needed in the Gulf Coast. You can go on line, and if you're going to travel, you can find some ways to help in the gulf right now.
Well, we will see you right back here next week for the show that saves you money. And don't miss Venus Williams today on "YOUR $$$$$" with Christine Romans. It's at 1:00 PM Eastern.
But up next, a check of your top stories in the CNN NEWSROOM. CNN Saturday continues right now.