For us, the less thinking and less work involved in saving that money, the better. These are just a few of the passive saving tactics that have helped us cut our budget and continually save money (and also happen to be pretty eco-friendly.) Most of them you only have to perform once, with a time investment of anywhere from 5 minutes to an afternoon.
1. We installed a programmable thermostat...and actually SET IT! Programmable thermostats are a great thing because they allow you to have the best of both worlds--lower/raise the temp while you're away to save energy and money, while still being comfortable while you're home. Pick one that will suit your family's needs and schedule--you can even set totally different schedules for every day of the week if your thermostat has that capability. But, you have to take the time to set your desired schedule and temperatures and use the programmed settings!
Obviously there is an upfront cost for the thermostat itself. Comparison shop online at sites like Shopzilla or Pricegrabber and be reasonable about the features you need and will use so you're not spending more than necessary. Prices start around $20 for a basic model and go up to $150 and above for a high end touch screen version.
One tip, though...be realistic about your temperature settings. Don't set the temp to drop to 60 degrees at night if you know your kids will kick their covers off and freeze or the whole family will get the sniffles. Just set it to drop (or raise) a few degrees and you still will see some savings. I sometimes make the mistake of bumping it up or down a degree or two temporarily, then forgetting to put it back on schedule later that day. Leave yourself a bright colored post it note if you do that!
2. We *try* to use our slow cooker as often as possible. In learning how to utilize your slow cooker, you save money three ways. First, slow cookers use a fraction of the energy than that of a microwave or range. Second, when you are exhausted or short on time, knowing you have a meal prepared and waiting for you helps you to avoid the temptation to grab something quick on the way home. And lastly, you can use less expensive cuts of meat in a slow cooker and they still come out tender and super tasty. You just have to remember to get your ingredients prepared in the morning (or preferably the night before, so all you have to do is assemble quickly in the morning.) If you need recipe ideas, check out Crockpot 365.
3. I wear some of my clothes twice (or more) before washing or dry cleaning. I realize this is a novel idea. Some of you may even think this is disgusting. But do you really get that dirty on a normal basis? I'm not talking about socks, or sweaty workout clothing, or clothes that are stained or smelly. I'm talking about those dress clothes you only wore to church or those jeans you put on just to go out to dinner. I routinely wear cardigans on top of t-shirts--they don't get sweaty or stained, so there is really no reason to wash them after wearing one time. This practice saves on laundry costs (water, energy, and detergent, plus fabric softeners and whatever else you may use) plus wear and tear on your clothing. And you won't be constantly doing laundry!
4. We use kitchen towels and rags for cleaning instead of paper towels. We try to only use paper towels for really greasy messes and cooking, and have a special stack of cleaning towels in a drawer for cleaning. Cut up old t-shirts, or pick up some inexpensive kitchen towels from goodwill or a discount department store, and designate those for cleaning only. Get in the habit of reaching for these when you need to clean your counter or wipe up a spill. Taking your paper towels off your countertop will help. You can wash and reuse these over and over with your regular laundry. The savings created from not buying paper towels will outweigh the costs of soap and water and energy for washing, and you will produce less waste.
5. We insulated and air sealed everything. You name it, we did it (at least, what we could afford.) We wrapped an insulating blanket around our water heater, we insulated our basement ductwork, we sprayed foam insulation inside every outlet and light switch on an outside wall, we put weather stripping around all of our doors. We have a newer house with really good windows which don't seem to be leaking any air, but we would've done those too if necessary. We stuffed extra insulation in the corners of our basement ceiling, wherever there seemed to be cold air penetrating. This allows us to keep our water heater turned lower, and our thermostat set lower in the winter and higher in the summer, thereby keeping our bills more manageable.
6. We put CFL bulbs in every light fixture. You could also do LED bulbs--these are the most efficient over the life of the bulb but the most expensive. Yes, another initial outlay of cash, but you could do one at a time and just replace each bulb as it burns out with a more energy efficient one.
7. We installed a low flow showerhead in our master bathroom. These start just under $10 on Amazon.com and are available in a variety of finishes to match your decor. Compare the "gallons per minute" between the different models and try to find one that has the features you want with the lowest gallons per minute. You can find many with adjustable flow or massage settings so each person can have the water pressure they desire.
There are countless other ways to save money, but I think these are the low hanging fruit with the smallest time and financial investment. Some additional, more expensive options are:
- Convert all toilets, or your most used toilet, to a dual flush model to save water.
- Upgrade to a high-efficiency washer and/or dryer.
- Add blown in or spray insulation to your attic.
- Install ceiling fans to regulate the temperature of your home during all seasons.