by: Paula Pant, Jan 30th 2015 6:00AM
The average American spends about $17,000 per year -– or 33 percent of income –- on housing, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s doesn’t just include rent or mortgage payments; it also covers the many little costs, from repairs to supplies to decorating.
But there are plenty of tricks you can adopt to cut those costs dramatically. Here are 12 easy ways to save money around the house that everyone can do.
You may think you’re saving money by using that ancient washing machine or fridge from the ’70s, but when it comes to major appliances, sometimes using it until it gives out isn’t the best strategy.
Appliances that aren’t energy efficient can run up your utility bills and cost you more than you’re saving. More than one-third of refrigerators in America are more 10 years old, and these collectively cost consumers an extra $4.7 billion in energy costs, according to the Department of Energy. (Yes, “billion” with a “b.”) While it may seem counterintuitive to spring for something new when the old model is still “works,” investing in an Energy Star-rated appliance save you an estimated $35 to $300 over its lifetime as compared to your old model.
2. Ignore the Joneses
Don’t worry about keeping up with the neighbors; focus only on the home improvement tasks that you need to have a healthy, happy home. Who cares if the Joneses just put in a new swimming pool or Jacuzzi? If a certain home upgrade isn’t important to you, keep the money for things that do matter — like paying off your mortgage 10 years early.
3. Mind your heating and cooling costs
Bundle up in winter and keep the furnace down a notch or two. Use a ceiling or standing fan in the summer and save the air conditioner as a last resort. Get a programmable thermostat and set it to adjust the temperature when you’re away from home. You can probably also drop your water heater a degree or two without really noticing it.
You can save as much as 1 percent from your heating bill for each degree you drop the thermostat, if the reduction lasts eight hours per day (while you’re at work or asleep), according to energy.gov. That means a 10- to 15-degree drop in temperature could create significant savings. In addition, make sure you’re not losing excess heat by covering drafts, adding weatherstripping or insulation, and installing heavy thermal curtains.
4. Watch your water
Keep an eye not just on how much water you’re using (turn off the sink while you brush your teeth), but also on whether you’re using hot water when you could be using cold. Most clothes and linens will come out just as clean in cold water as they do in warm or hot. Washing laundry with a hot wash and warm rinse costs 60 cents per load, while washing with a cold wash and cold rinse costs only 4 cents per load. In addition, only run the dishwasher and laundry when you have a full load to get the most out your water usage.
5. Fix what’s broken
Deal with small problems as soon as you notice them, to prevent them from becoming bigger problems later. Patch that tiny hole in your window screen before it gets larger. Don’t ignore that annoying leak or running toilet.
6. Do preventative maintenance
A few dollars on prevention can save you hundreds –- if not thousands –- on costly cures. Clean the lint trap in your dryer, change the filter in your furnace and dust out those little vents under the fridge. Have your heating ducts and gutters cleaned annually. These tasks can be annoying and time-consuming, but they can save you from some costly repairs or replacements down the road.
As a broad rule of thumb, save 1 percent of your home’s value towards maintenance and repair costs each year. For every $100,000 of home, in other words, set aside $1,000 annually. That may sound like a lot, but once you consider the cost of replacing the carpets and appliances every decade, and the windows, siding and roof every 25 years, you can see how quickly costs add up. And the more you can offset the need to conduct major repairs (e.g. patching that small roof leak before rot and mold develops), the more you can lower your ultimate bills.
7. Clean smarter
Use reusable sponges, dusting rags or microfiber cloths rather than paper towels. Make your own green cleaning solutions from simple household products. Make sure you’re not using more than you need to, especially with concentrated cleaning products. Institute policies like “no shoes in the house” to preserve the lifespan of your carpet and rugs.
All that unused stuff you’re hanging onto could actually be turned into profit. Search through your closets, storage areas and shelves and weed out anything you haven’t used in a while. You may be able to sell it at a garage sale or online, but even if you just donate it, you’re still saving the time and money it would take to clean and maintain this extra stuff. Plus, your donation could turn into a tax deduction.
You know that you should turn off lights and appliances when they’re not in use. But did you know you’re also losing money if you leave appliances plugged in when they’re not in use? This standby energy drain (also known as “phantom energy” from energy vampires, and it boosts the average American household’s electricity costs by $100 each year. Unplug appliances when you’re not using them (even that computer you think is in “sleep mode”) or put them on a power strip to make it easier to turn off the whole room at once.
10. Keep your fridge and pantry organized
Food waste is a big budget drain. Guard against it by organizing your fridge and pantry by the expiration date of items-new cans of soup behind the old ones, older produce at the front of the crisper, leftovers front and center so you remember to eat them. Before you go shopping, review the items that are due to expire soon and develop a meal plan to use them while they’re still good.
11. Make the most of your garden
Fill your flowerbeds with perennials instead of annuals you’ll need to replace each year. Use cuttings from the garden to fill vases and make centerpieces. Plant a kitchen garden to save on the cost of herbs like basil, mint and oregano.
12. Do it yourself
Check out YouTube videos to learn how to handle small repairs yourself. Install your own wall sconces; repaint your living room; buff your hardwood floors. Watch home design shows to learn how to make your own curtains, storage solutions and built-in furniture. Find creative ways to reuse your old stuff, like turning that old set of floppy disks into drink coasters. Get creative and put in a little elbow grease, especially if you have a little extra time on your hands. You’ll save a ton of money on labor costs and learn a few new skills in the process.
Paula Pant ditched her 9-to-5 job, traveled to 32 countries, became a successful investor and runs a business from her laptop. Her blog, Afford Anything, is the gathering spot for successful rebels who know they can afford anything — just not everything. Visit Afford Anything to learn how to crush limits, create wealth and maximize life.
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