Ask Me Anything: Programmable Thermostats, Column Archives, Retirement Plans, Cottage Businesses

As I write, it is very early in the morning. I just peeked out to see that it’s snowing! As you may recall, we are new to Colorado, having moved from Southern California. I must be still in that wide-eyed, child-like phase of transition because I am all giddy with excitement and wonder. Snow!

How fitting it is that our first reader question is right on-point with wanting to keep warm and cozy without breaking the bank.

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. Hers cost over $200, plus installation. Is it really worth it? Martha in 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 heat constantly maintain a warm temperature; it uses less. In the summer you can program your air conditioning similarly.

Programmable thermostats like the Lux Products TX500E-010 Smart Temp Programmable Thermostat are available online or at local home improvement stores and start at about $35. All programmables come with installation instructions, which I’m confident you could follow easily. Or it’s a quick job for an electrician if you’re not comfortable doing the installation yourself.

Dear Mary: I read your columns in my local newspaper (Pioneer Press). I’ve clipped them from the newspaper for years, but now I am wondering if they might be archived somewhere on the Internet. I’d love to know that I can go online to refer back to past columns. Frank

Dear Frank: Yes and no but mostly yes! The most recent 1,500 columns are posted chronologically at, which goes back about five years. There is a search box at the upper right corner where you can use a keyword(s) to search. Thanks for asking!

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’ 401k plans. What retirement plans do you recommend for small business owners? Tina, Hawaii

Dear Tina: This is exciting news and I wish you all the best in this new venture. The IRS allows self-employed workers, like you and your sis, to stash away retirement savings in tax-favorable accounts that work very much like the 401(k) plans you’ve become used to in the past.

Each of these four tax-favorable retirement accounts has different rules, requirements, advantages and contribution limits: 1) SIMPLE IRA (which stands for Saving Incentive Match Plan for Employees) 2) SEP IRA 3) Solo 401(k) and 4) Defined benefit plan.

The IRS Retirement Plans Navigator at gives detailed information about each of these retirement accounts, which will help you and your tax advisor choose the one that is right for you.

Dear Mary: I’m a stay-at-home mom with a one and three-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 (, 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.

Question: Do you work from home? What company or interesting business idea should Beth consider? Share in comments below.


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6 replies
  1. Gina Stevens
    Gina Stevens says:

    Mary, I’m in my sixties and the “first snowstorm excitement” continues, along with the first daffodil sighting in the spring, the first colorful leaf in the fall, etc. The changing seasons always gives us something to enjoy.

  2. Bill Shirley
    Bill Shirley says:

    But is the programmable therostat still sucjh a money saver for a retired person who is finished with his traveling, home most of the time with few needs to be changing temps throughout the day?

  3. Mary Hettick Dean
    Mary Hettick Dean says:

    I’d suggest Beth start a small in-home day care. I did that for many years and often commented that we paid off a house via diaper changes. I liked to stay home, have fun with the kids ( our favorite activity was baking days, which were often. A nice batch of bread dough would be divided up and kids were given little tools to cut, stamp, shape, etc, then I’d bake their little creations and we’ d eat them for afternoon snacks. Day care also gave my own kids friends to play with while paying me to watch the “visitors.”. Laws in some states require a license, but if you watch just one or two, a license might not be required. Be a baby sitter instead of working out and needing a babysitter!

  4. Kate
    Kate says:

    check with your utility company first! I called mine and had a technician come to my house and install one of their own programmable thermostats and it cost me exactly ZERO for the brand new thermostat and installation.


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