Right now, your biggest concerns are the bills you have to pay, not the future of our earth’s energy sources. So, understandably, you’d rather hear what we can do right now to change what you spend, than what you should be doing with money you don’t have to replace that energy use.
To start with, understand that cutting your bills is not as easy as waving a wand and waiting for meters to run backwards. It takes hard work and sacrifice to reduce the bills you currently have. And if you have a family, cutting down on expenses is going to be even harder. Children and spouses are not always amenable to giving up their refrigerator gazing habits or their superhot showers. So, put on your gauntlets and buckle down because we’re about to do some serious slashing of your budget.
Before You Get Started
Before you invest any time into cutting back your bills, I want you to do something very important. Call a family meeting, sit down with your kids and spouse and discuss what’s about to happen. Many times, a backlash occurs because you don’t consult everyone before making changes. Putting up signs, unplugging appliances and canceling services can be frustrating for a family. So, instead of thrusting major changes into your lives without notice, sit down with everyone and ask them their opinions.
It may not change your decisions, but just by discussing it, you can layout clearly why the changes are being made and how they will benefit everyone in the long term. Mention what the savings will be spent on, how you’re helping the environment and why you feel it is a necessary step. If properly communicated, your family should understand why these changes are being made.
- Replace Incandescent Bulbs – Old fashioned, incandescent bulbs are a huge money waster, both in energy and in the cost of the bulbs. Modern fluorescent bulbs can last up to 5 years and use a fraction of the energy. If you’re aiming for even bigger savings, go with LED light bulbs, which can last twenty-five times longer than incandescent bulbs and use even less energy than fluorescents.
- Unplug Your Devices – Most people figure that when they hit the power button, their appliance or electronic stops sucking juice from the wall. Unfortunately, it doesn’t really work like that. Electricity may not be flowing and getting consumed, but it is very much being used. So, don’t just turn your devices off, unplug them when not in use.
- Turn Off Lights – This is a simple one that you’ve likely heard since you were ten years old. Turn the lights off when not in the room. I’ll do it one further. Turn them off at all times unless you specifically need that light to do something.
- Buy Energy Star Appliances – The Federal Government has a program that rates and labels appliances that are considered high efficiency in terms of energy use. Look for the Energy Star label and specifically the energy use statistics that must be labeled on all major appliances.
- Wash Clothes Smartly – Washing machines and dryers make up a huge chunk of your monthly energy use. First off, cut down how often you do laundry. Only run the machines when you have a full load, and use cold water whenever possible. Additionally, check your exhaust vents and have your washer serviced to make sure it is working properly.
- Change the Thermostat – In the winter, drop your thermostat to a bearable temperature around 68 degrees or so (60 degrees at night) and in the summer, raise it to 78 degrees. The small difference in temperature from the standard 72 degrees can save you hundreds of dollars a year, especially if you live in an extreme climate.
- Turn Off Your Computer – Computers leach tremendous amounts of electricity, even when in hibernation modes. If you’re not using a computer, turn it off – simple as that. Additionally, make sure it is attached to a power strip that you can turn off whenever the computer is off.
- Check for Leaks and Improper Insulation – Homes with poor insulation or leaks in air vents can bleed energy. Have an inspection done to check for thin walls, poorly sealed doors, leaking air vents, or other issues that can cause energy loss. In some cities, there are public programs for low income families and the elderly to provide free insulation. If nothing else, home insulation is a big tax write off.
- Plant Trees Carefully – Trees around your home can provide much needed shade in the summer and sun in the winter. Southern and Western exposures are best, and you should plant deciduous trees so that the leaves are gone in the winter to let winter sun in. You can also install awnings each summer to reduce direct sunlight into your home.
- Prewash and Load the Dishwasher – Dishwashers suck energy to heat water. To cut back on that energy use, scrape and pre-rinse your dishes, then use a lower cycle for your dishwasher.
- Use Smaller Appliances for Small Meals – If you’re only making a small meal or feeding one or two people, avoid turning on your oven or stove. An energy star Microwave or toaster oven will provide plenty of heat to warm up a bowl of soup or cook a cheese sandwich.
- Hang Your Clothes to Dry – If possible, avoid using your dryer altogether. Hang clothes lines in your basement and backyard. As long as it is not below freezing outside, wet clothes will dry in nearly any temperature.
- Seal Windows in the Winter – Leaky windows can lead to a tremendous amount of lost heat in the winter. Make sure you install storm windows, and that the seals around your windows are properly caulked to avoid leakage.
- Use Shades in the Summer – Instead of letting all that sunlight into your house and fighting it back with an air conditioner, use shades that can let in the cool air but block the sunlight. Again, you should also consider installing awnings to block direct sunlight.
- Use Power Strips to Control Use – Use power strips on every outlet that you can. They not only reduce direct energy use, they allow you to turn off the power being used without having to unplug every appliance individually. It’s also a good idea to have power strips to avoid surges that can harm your devices.
- Don’t Idle Your Car Unnecessarily – Idling a car wastes gasoline. Most cars can be warmed up by driving them. Instead of sitting in your car and idling without moving, drive it to warm it up while not on the highway. Additionally, avoid city streets whenever possible to improve gas mileage.
- Tune Up Your Car Regularly – Regular tune ups and oil changes in your car will improve gas mileage and reduce the need for costly repairs. Even if you have a new car with no problems, make sure you stick to your regular maintenance schedule to reduce potentially massive bills.
- Reduce Weight in the Car – Take out any unnecessary weight from your trunk or back seat. Extra weight reduces gas mileage and slows your car down, also putting a heavier burden on the engine which can cost you later.
- Have Your Home Inspected – Have someone take a look at your home to find any leaks, insulation problems, old wiring, or other energy wasting issues. Many times, energy draining issues can be masked by walls, flooring, or a simple lack of knowledge. Look for an impartial third party that won’t try to sell you on unnecessary repairs.
- Go Outside Instead of Watching TV – The more time you spend inside, the more electricity you use. So, instead of constantly watching TV, surfing the Internet, and playing video games, go outside and enjoy a sport or read a book.
Special Phone Bill Tips
Most of what we’ve discussed relates to your energy bills – the utilities that vary depending on use and energy rates. Another utility that can really add up and that many people don’t think about is the phone bill. It may not be related to renewable energy, but these tips can help you cut back a very hefty expense in most households:
- Reconsider Long Distance – If you have a mobile phone with free long distance or you simply don’t use your long distance very often, you likely don’t need long distance service on your home phone.
- Remove Package Features You Don’t Use – Other package features you don’t use like caller ID, offsite voicemail, 411, or voice activation are all unnecessary features for most people and can add up quickly on a phone bill.
- Consider VoIP if You Have Internet Access – VoIP phone service costs as little as $25 a month without any taxes or fees and works directly over the Internet access you already pay for. It also has free long distance and all the other package features you are used to.
- Review Your Mobile Bills – If you have a mobile phone or a number of phones, consider reducing your spending. Take a look at how many minutes you actually use, the text messaging you pay for, and the data plans. Children under 12 likely don’t need a mobile phone except for in emergencies either.
- Get Unlimited Plans When Necessary – If your family regularly goes over the limit on certain features, such as text messages, minutes, or data use, upgrade your plan to include unlimited packages. Unlimited text messaging for a family of four is often far less than the overages a single teenager can rack up in a month.
- Set Limits for Your Family – Be realistic about what you want to spend and communicate it to your children and spouse. If they are using hundreds of minutes and text messages each month, it’s likely not necessary. Set limits, check the bills often and make sure you follow through on the limits you set.
The average family spends between $100 and $300 a month on phone bills when you include mobile bills. That’s a LOT of money – enough to dwarf all other utilities combined. If you are smart about what you need and what you actually use, you can cut it back significantly and boost your energy savings almost two fold.