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Your money couples fight for control in battle of the thermostat


When Harvey Montijo first moved in with his wife Natalie, he remembers exactly how long it took to get into a tiff about household temperature."Right from the get-go," remembers the 31-year-old orthopedic resident in Charlotte, North Carolina. The problem: Florida native Montijo likes the house a relatively balmy 75 Fahrenheit (24 Celsius). Natalie, a grant writer who is also 31, prefers a cooler and comfortable 70F. So the parents of two came up with an elegant solution, one which might seem familiar to husbands everywhere."The house is set at 70," Montijo deadpans. "She won."On its face, thermostat control might seem like a trivial issue. But as any spouse will tell you, small issues can often turn out to have outsized effects - both on the marital relationship, and the family budget. Indeed, according to one recent survey by manufacturer Honeywell, 30 percent of respondents who live with at least one person admit they can never agree with housemates about temperature. And 27 percent take matters into their own hands, by changing settings without others' knowledge. That easily beats out other household flashpoints like control of the TV remote, cited by 16 percent of people as a frequent battleground. Younger Americans, in particular, seem persnickety about home temperature, with 39 percent of those age 18 to 34 fiddling with the thermostat dial on the sly. According to experts, though, thermostat wars might not solely be about physical comfort. They might be about other things entirely - like control over household decision-making, for instance, or about money matters."Make sure you're arguing about the right thing," says Mary Claire Allvine, an Atlanta financial planner and author of "The Family CFO: The Couple's Business Plan for Love and Money."

"You might be arguing about temperature, when it really comes down to stress about bills and cash flow," Allvine says. "So don't talk about 68 degrees versus 72, when the real issue is that you are spending more money than you have coming in."Indeed, there is no denying that the savings from lower energy usage can be formidable. In the summer, each degree you raise your thermostat above 72 can save between 1 percent and 3 percent on your energy bills, according to the California Energy Commission's Consumer Energy Center. ENERGY SQUABBLES David Sylvestre-Margolis knows about energy squabbles all too well. The 40-year-old publicist and his partner Georges enjoy a spacious Manhattan pad that can cost a whopping $1,000 a month, or more, to heat during the winter.

David likes to set the thermostat around 70F, but Georges prefers to kick around the house in a T-shirt with temperatures in the mid-70sF. "He wants to have a warm apartment, and then he complains about the electric bill," Sylvestre-Margolis laughs. "And he doesn't want to wear a sweater, which I find ludicrous."Thankfully, there are some practical fixes that couples can implement. Programmable thermostats such as Nest, which is a unit of Google Inc, can help solve the problem, by automatically adjusting temperature depending on which partner gets home at what time. They also tend to save users about $180 a year in energy costs, according to Energy Star, an energy-efficiency program of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Just make sure you are using them correctly. "Technology is only as good as the user," says Amy Matthews, a licensed contractor and host of multiple shows on the DIY Network."One can purchase a $30 thermostat and have it programmed correctly, and save more money than the $200 thermostat that is wifi-enabled and not used correctly."If you suspect the issue goes much deeper than haggling over a degree or two, couples can also adopt more drastic measures. Allvine suggests swapping bill-paying duties for a few months, which can help drive the point home on energy costs.

"If the real issue is that one partner is a saver and the other is a spender, then it's usually the saver who is always getting stressed out," she says. "So switch the roles of bill payment for a while, and have the spender be the one to write those checks. Then they have to take on that responsibility about how tight money can get."As for Harvey Montijo, he is at peace with the outcome of his household's Battle of the Thermostat. Since he works the long and erratic hours of a medical resident, and his wife is home much more, "she is the one who gets to make that decision," he says."But it does mean our bills are a little higher. And it means I have to wear a sweater."

Your money raid your kids college savings sometimes it is ok


(The writer is a Reuters contributor. The opinions expressed are his own.)By Chris TaylorNEW YORK, July 23 Lauren Greutman felt sick. She and her husband Mark were about $40,000 in debt, and were having trouble paying their monthly bills. As recent homebuyers, the couple from Syracuse, New York, were already underwater on the mortgage and getting by on one income as Lauren focused on being a stay-at-home mom."We were in a really bad financial position, and just didn't have the money to make ends meet," remembers Greutman, now 33 and a mom of four. There was one pot of money just sitting there: Their son's college savings, about $6,500 at the time. That is when they had to make a decision that no parent ever wants to make."We had to pull money out of the account, in order to keep the electricity on and pay the water bill," she says. "We thought long and hard about it and felt almost dishonest. But it was either leave it in there, or pay the mortgage and be able to eat."It is a moral quandary faced by parents in dire financial straits: Treat your kids' college savings - often housed in so-called 529 plans - as a sacred lockbox, or as a ready source of funds that may be tapped when necessary.

Precise figures are not available, since those making 529-plan withdrawals do not have to notify administrators whether the funds are being used for qualified higher education expenses, according to the College Savings Plans Network. That is a matter between the account owner and the Internal Revenue Service. TIAA-CREF, which administrates many 529 plans for states, estimates that between 10 percent to 20 percent of plan withdrawals are non-qualified and not being used for their intended purpose of covering educational expenses. It is never a first option to draw college money down early, of course. Private four-year colleges cost an average $30,094 in tuition and fees for 2013/14, according to the College Board. Since that number will presumably rise much more once your toddler graduates from high school, parents need to be stocking those financial cupboards rather than emptying them out. Joe Hurley, the so-called "529 Guru" and founder of Savingforcollege.com, has a message for stressed-out parents: Don't beat yourselves up about it.

"The plans were designed to give account owners flexible access to their funds," Hurley says. "I imagine parents would feel some guilt. But I don't think they should. After all, it is their money."PENALTIES ON EARNINGS Keep in mind, though, that there are often significant financial penalties involved. Lauren Greutman managed to avoid them, since at that time she was using a simple savings account to stash her son's college funds.

With 529 plans, though, it is another story. With non-qualified distributions, in most cases you are looking at a 10 percent penalty on earnings. Withdrawn earnings will also be treated as income on your tax return, and if you took a state tax deduction on the original money, withdrawn contributions often count as income as well. Not ideal, of course. But if your other option for emergency funds is to raid your own retirement accounts, tapping college savings is a last-ditch avenue to consider. Not only because you do not want to blow up your own nest egg but because it could make relative tax sense. As the saying goes, you can borrow money for college, but not for retirement."If you think about it, a parent who has a choice between tapping the 529 and tapping a retirement account might be better off tapping the 529," says James Kinney, a planner with Financial Pathway Advisors in Bridgewater, New Jersey. If the account is comprised of 30 percent earnings, then only 30 percent would be subject to tax and penalty, Kinney explains. And that compares favorably to a premature distribution from a 401

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