Read This and Be Stimulated!

You might also call this post, “How to Get Free Stuff From the Government”, but that wouldn’t technically be accurate…

I do want to share with you some things that have proved to be very beneficial for my family, and which I hope will benefit you as well. My wife I have wanted to purchase replacement windows for our home for a while now, and have finally made the decision to do so. After doing a little research, we’re going to be able to take on this relatively large home improvement project while spending almost nothing out of our own savings. So, unless you feel I’m a hypocrite for opposing our government’s “economic stimulus packages” while also working hard to take advantage of them (more on this later), read on!

First, a little backstory for those readers who don’t know us personally. We’re remodeling a house (our first), tackling projects as we can afford them (i.e. – cash only, no financing). One of the two biggest looming projects (the other being a new roof) has been the need to replace our windows. They are terribly inefficient, and we’re throwing away money each month as our home bleeds energy. However, with a national average of over $10,000 to replace 10 windows (we have 14), we’ve been hesitant to look into it very seriously.

Sure enough, the first company that gave us an estimate started with a quote of about $20,000! We knew we needed to keep looking. That quote proved to be an outlier, as most of the quotes we got were in the $10,000 range. Still, I hadn’t been comfortable working with any of the sales reps who’d come to give us their sales pitch, but they had also all been from national or regional chains. Always preferring to do local business, I’d waited on getting a quote from a local window company until I’d checked out the others, in order to have several reference points for comparison.

Not only was the quote from the local business (Crown Windows) much lower (about half of the next lowest!), their salesman was the most helpful by far in answering our questions. He explained that getting the highest priced windows he offered would not provide a full return on the investment when we sell the house (they’d be an over-development for our neighborhood) while providing only a marginal difference in energy savings over a more moderately priced window, since we live in a very temperate part of the country (“If you lived in Texas or Montana they’d be worth it,” is how he put it). This kind of honesty is exactly what I expect from someone who wants my business! What’s even better is that he agreed to sell us a new front door at cost (about 60% off the catalog price) simply because I asked if he’d give us a deal to package it together with the windows.

Researching for the best price (the only kind of “window shopping” I’d ever advocate!) is something anyone can do, though. What I really want to tell you about is how the government is paying for these windows.

There are a couple incentive programs of which many of you could take advantage. The first, for our Southern friends, is the Tennessee Valley Authority In-Home Energy Evaluation Program. We first learned of this from the husband of Laurie’s cousin, who works for TVA. It really is a “must-do” for anyone who owns a home. For $150, the TVA will send a representative to do an energy audit of your home. They test all appliances, lights, windows, doors, attics, crawlspaces, HVAC…. the works. After the audit, they will give you a list of all recommended improvements for making your home more energy efficient (which saves $$$).  If you spend at least $150 on these improvements, the cost of your audit will be reimbursed. They will additionally reimburse 50% of the installation cost of any upgrades, up to $500 (meaning you can get a maximum of $650 cash back for any work done). TVA will also return to inspect the quality of the installation, which is good for your peace of mind! The only caveat is that the work must be done within 90 days of the audit in order to receive the incentive money.

The second program is the Federal Tax Credits for Consumer Energy Efficiency. This program allows you to receive a tax credit (not just a deduction, meaning this becomes cash in your pocket) of 30% of the installation cost of any qualifying “Energy Star” rated windows, doors, insulation, water heaters, roofs, and HVAC, up to $1500. This credit is good for any work completed before December 31, 2010. Because our windows cost less than $5,000, we wouldn’t receive the full $1500 credit for those alone. However, since the water heater we installed last year also qualified for the 30% refund (our local utility company also gave us a $100 cash incentive for that project), we will have gotten the maximum refund amount available to us.

By having our taxes done professionally this year, we ended up with nearly a full thousand dollars more than I expected for our income tax return. She found all sorts of tax credits I wouldn’t have known about. Combined with the $1500 from selling a car I haven’t used in over two years, this adds up to more than enough to pay for the entire project! We will have to dip into our long-term savings for part of the amount on the front side, but we’ll get all of that money back on next year’s tax return.

Without wanting to get too political about all this, let me just encourage each of you to take a look through all of the incentive programs that the government has available. My more progressive friends will see this as government stimulus “working”. The way I  see it, the fact that the government provides so many ways for us to get our tax money back is the only thing that keeps our income tax from being legalized theft perpetrated by the State against its citizens.

Either way, though, this has ended up being a wash for our family in terms of our finances. Had we not been taxed, we would have been saving that money to spend on windows, and we likely would not have been able to afford them any sooner than now. As it is, we are receiving our own money back (interest-free, unfortunately) right when we need it, and making an investment that will only prove more valuable (and good for the environment as well) as we conserve money and energy with every day that passes.

The bottom line is that each of us has a responsibility to be good stewards of what God has entrusted to us. The Bible speaks more about managing finances than nearly any other topic. I refuse to allow any human institution or government policy to become an excuse not to exercise wisdom and discernment in how I invest my resources (whether they be time, money, talents, gifts, emotions, etc).

I exhort each of you to take an inventory of how your own resources are being used. Take responsibility for them, and don’t give in to the temptation to let the government absolve you of this responsibility.

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