Seven Monthly Bills Most People Have, and Seven Ways to Reduce Each Bill

The other day, I opened my mailbox and what I found inside was painful.

I found an energy bill and a mortgage statement and a phone bill and a water bill and an insurance statement and an internet bill. As I looked through them, I could just see the money leaving my accounts, floating through the ether, and winding up in the pocket of some company somewhere.

That experience stuck in my head that entire day. Why did I really spend that much money all at once? Did I really need to?

It was only in the evening, as I was talking to my wife about this experience, that it really clicked: almost every household in America has something of the same experience.

I sat down at my desk that very evening and made a list of all of the bills I have and all of the bills my parents have, figuring that the two lists would make it very clear what bills are common for many American families. I came up with a list of seven.

To keep it all symmetrical, I came up with seven money-saving tactics for each of these bills. Most of these tactics are one-time things you can do to reduce each of these bills – do them once and your bill will go down for the foreseeable future.

This might just be a checklist for the remaining winter weekends.

Energy
Air seal your home. This simply means reducing the air flow in and out of your home so that you’re losing less heat to the outdoors in the winter and less cool air to the outdoors during the summer. This can be a weekend-long project and can involve a bit of expense, but it’ll help your energy bill all year round. Check out this guide on air sealing your own home.

Put devices on a timer. There’s no need to allow devices to eat up phantom energy while you’re in bed, such as your television on standby mode or your cable box. Put them on a timer that causes them to lose power at a certain time each night, saving you money by eliminating the phantom energy drain.

Install energy-efficient lighting in some areas. I don’t think CFLs or LEDs are the answer for all outlets (yet), but I do think that they can be incredibly valuable options. Use these types of bulbs in out of the way places and areas where you don’t need intense lighting, such as closets and hallways.

Turn down your hot water heater. Lower the heat level on your hot water heater to the point that the full-on heat in the shower is the temperature that you prefer when you bathe. This way, you’re not wasting tons of energy keeping your water hotter than you would ever typically use it.

Rewire things for outlet switches. Outlets that operate on a switch are a wonderful thing. Change the cords of your electric devices so that as many of the devices as possible are attached to switches, making it easy to power down lots of devices just with a flip of the switch.

Make your ceiling fan more efficient. Hacking your ceiling fan use can go a long way towards reducing the energy you spend on heating and cooling your home. The key move is to make sure that the blades are running in the correct direction for the season so that you’re actually helping with heating in the winter and cooling in the summer.

Install a programmable thermostat. A programmable thermostat allows you to set a nighttime temperature and a daytime temperature for your home so that your furnace and/or your air conditioner are not running while you’re not at home or when you’re sleeping, automatically. These devices are easy to install and generally easy to set up as well.

Mortgage/rent
Don’t buy more home than you need or can afford. The biggest mistake that homeowners make is purchasing more home than they can afford, using a mortgage to cover it. Later on, they find that the monthly payments are crippling. If you’re looking to buy, avoid this mistake. Buy something small, build up some equity, and buy something bigger later if you find that you need it.

Cohabitate. Share a home with other members of your family. Have a boarder live in your basement. In either case, you’ll be bringing in some extra income to help offset the cost of the mortgage. Splitting that mortgage bill with someone or collecting a few hundred dollars each month from someone utilizing your otherwise-unused basement can make a huge difference.

Refinance. The interest rates on home mortgages right now are near all-time lows. This is a perfect time to look into refinancing your mortgage, particularly if you can shave a full percent (or more) off of your interest rate. A reduction of your interest rate from 6% to 4% can knock 30% off of your monthly house payment.

Make biweekly payments. Instead of paying $2,000 a month for a mortgage payment, pay $1,000 every two weeks. This not only helps you by getting payments in a bit earlier (thus reducing the number of days your higher balance will accrue interest), but it also results in a single extra payment at the end of the year made to your mortgage. You’ll pay off your mortgage far more quickly by moving to this type of system.

Automate the payment. Being late on a mortgage payment can lead to some real devastating problems. Your best move is to automate such payments. Have your bank automatically pay your mortgage bill for you at a certain time each month (or each week, even).

Use the Making Home Affordable program. Many people who have a mortgage payment that’s devouring half of their income can get some serious help from the federal government thanks to the Making Home Affordable program. This program helps you to modify your mortgage in such a way that you’re able to make payments without sacrificing your life for them.

Utilize payment holidays. Some mortgage systems offer payment holidays that can be particularly useful in times of hardship, helping you to avoid late payments during a job transition period, for example. Find out whether there are such holidays available for your mortgage and put them to work if you’re ever in a pinch.

Water
Install low-flow showerheads. A good low-flow showerhead uses several tricks to make you not even realize how much less water the showerhead is providing you in the shower. If you can reduce your water usage by a gallon per minute and your household sees eight ten-minute showers a week, you’ll save eighty gallons per week – forever. That will gradually have a significant impact on your water bill.

Install faucet aerators. These are perfect for faucets where you do things like wash your hands or brush your teeth, because they reduce the water flow by putting some air bubbles into the stream. It doesn’t help if you’re trying to fill a pot with water, but in a bathroom sink, it can certainly help improve your water efficiency.

Put a full plastic water bottle in your toilet tank. Put three or four stones in a empty water bottle, then fill it with tap water. Put this bottle in your toilet tank in an out-of-the-way corner. This way, you’ll use a bit less water each time you flush, putting money right back in your pocket.

Do only full laundry loads. Washing machines are designed to handle a load of a certain size. Using less laundry than that means that the washer runs inefficiently, wasting both water and energy. Always try to make a full load whenever you’re considering using the washing machine.

Similarly, do only full dishwasher loads. A similar logic exists for the dishwasher. The device is optimized for a full load, so it runs inefficiently when you don’t fill it up. Use your dishwasher optimally and you’ll use less water and energy per clean dish.

Water your lawn less frequently. Rather than just watering your lawn on a set schedule, use your own eyes and water it when it genuinely looks dry. This can save a tremendous amount of water. For example, I have a neighbor that waters his lawn daily during the summer (when it’s not pouring) and his lawn doesn’t look any greener than anyone else’s.

Water your lawn and garden in the late evening. This reduces the heat level and direct sunlight hitting your garden, reducing the evaporation of the water and improving your chances of having your garden and lawn actually utilizing the water. Never water things during the middle of the day when the sun is beating down.

Internet
Share it. When my wife was in college, she lived in a large boarding-style house with several other college students. All of them shared a single internet connection. If you live in such a situation, don’t pay for your own connection. Instead, seek out a shared arrangement where all of you can benefit.

Facilitate your television needs through your internet connection. By this, I mean services like Netflix and Hulu which provide television-like service straight into your home. We watch Netflix on our own television (through our PlayStation 3) and it provides the vast majority of our television consumption needs.

Cancel it and utilize other internet sources. If you don’t use the internet much, cancel your service and utilize internect access at the library, at work, or at the home of friends. The need for internet access varies a great deal depending on your own uses and on how you communicate with others.

Handle your own wireless. Rather than paying your internet provider for wireless access, buy your own wireless router and hook up the line to that router. This way, you can get wireless service without paying the extra $10 a month that your provider may charge you.

Utilize it to access low-cost resources. Because of the internet, I can use services like Craigslist and PaperBackSwap at home as a first line of defense for shopping. Services like these have saved me a great deal of money over the years.

Bundle it. You can often bundle internet access with your cell phone bill, your landline telephone bill, your cable bill, or your satellite bill and save a significant percentage by doing so. Ask your other providers if they have any internet access packages and how much you would save by using them.

Utilize it for comparison shopping. Whenever you buy anything of significance, use the internet for comparison shopping purposes. Making this your standard routine means never overpaying for something in a store ever again. I won’t buy anything over $20 without spending some time researching and shopping around.

Cell phone/telephone
Get your phone service through your internet connection. There are many services that piggyback phone service over your already-existing internet connection, from Skype to Vonage and MagicJack. For me, Skype has outright replaced the need for a business line.

Cut down on your total minutes and text count. Keep careful track of how much you actually use your mobile phone. Review your bills and keep a running average, plus a “maximum” (the largest amount you used in a month). Use those numbers the next time you’re shopping around for a new phone.

Shop around as soon as your contract is up. Usually, the promotional benefits of your contract are long gone at this point, so shopping around is almost sure to benefit you greatly. It’s well worth considering a jump to another company, as they often offer incredibly good deals to entice you to jump.

Look at pay-as-you-go phones. If you’re a very low user, a pay-as-you-go phone might be the best option available to you in terms of monthly cost. I’m actually right on the cusp of this, as I’m a fairly low mobile user (I keep mine turned off intentionally quite a lot).

Use Skype. If you’re just chatting with a friend while you’re both near a computer, use Skype instead of a phone service. It’ll save minutes, plus it’ll enable you to video chat if you so wish. Not only that, it’s free.

Ditch your land line. If you’re consistently using your cell phone and rarely pick up your land line, close it. The only reason we still have a land line is that our provider has made a basic land line incredibly cheap for us to have, amounting to literally a couple of dollars a month. Which leads to another tip…

Again, bundle it. If you can get free or nearly free phone coverage (cellular or land) with an internet and cable package, there’s no reason not to dive right into a bundled package (after shopping around, of course).

Insurance
Raise your deductibles. This is always a good option for saving on your monthly bills. All it really does is somewhat increase your need for a healthy emergency fund, as you’ll be responsible for more of the cost in an actual emergency. However, if your emergency fund is strong, a higher deductible is almost always a net win.

 

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Don’t overinsure. When considering how much insurance to get, remember that insurance is there to cover just the worst case scenarios, not minor things that you could handle yourself. Find a package that takes care of you when the chips are really down and don’t overpay for something you could easily do for yourself.

Keep only liability insurance on older vehicles. If your vehicle is more than six or seven years old, don’t carry comprehensive insurance on it. The amount you’d get from such insurance in the case of a total loss is likely not worth the amount you have to pay each month. There’s a decent case for comprehensive insurance on a newer model, but not on an old one.

 

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Shop around. There’s nothing stopping you from shopping your auto insurance and homeowners insurance regularly. My wife and I do this annually, seeking out the best deals on each of the things we insure. We often find that there is no “best” company for these insurances and the one with the best “bang for the buck” changes regularly.

Bundle your policies. Shop your homeowner, renter, and auto insurance together and see what kind of rates you can get as a bundled package. Again, this almost always ends up with you taking home significant savings on the deal.

Keep your credit strong. Insurance companies take your credit into account when considering what rates to give you when you’re shopping around. Sometimes, they even adjust your rates depending on recent changes to your credit score. Keep your nose clean and keep your bills paid.

Improve your home security. Installing a few smoke detectors in your home (if you don’t have any) can drop your homeowners insurance rate by as much as 5%. Installing a burglar alarm can drop your rate by 10%. These types of improvements can quickly pay for themselves.

Car payments
Buy used. Never buy a new car unless you can write a check for it. If you’re going to have to go into debt to afford a car, buy used. Avoid leases like the plague unless they’re for a business.

Make car payments to yourself. Instead of making car payments and celebrating when they’re finished, keep making those payments straight into a savings account. In the long run, this will make a huge positive difference in the cost of the next car you purchase, as you’ll be paying the cash you saved plus the interest you earned. Without it, you’ll be paying interest to whoever finances the car loan.

Do the research yourself before stepping onto a lot. Know exactly what you’re looking for before you ever visit a car lot. Figure out what you need/want, research cars that match those requirements, and know what you should be paying for those vehicles. All of this can easily be done online. Consider alternative cars — you’ll save money on fuel and possibly insurance.

Shop in alternative places. We purchased our 2004 Honda Pilot off of Craigslist and got a bargain much better than what we were seeing at car dealerships. The seller undercut the dealership but got much more cash for his car than they would have ever given him. We both won.

Trade down. If you’re having difficulty with your car payments, sell it and get something lower end. Even if you have to sell the car you have now as a break-even or even as a small loss, you’ll be ahead in the long run by having a car you can actually afford.

Carpool. The best way to extend the life of your car is to reduce the miles you put on it. Most of the miles that people put on a car are due to routine driving, such as the work commute. A carpool can drastically reduce the amount of commute driving that you have to do. Not only does a carpool save on gas, it extends the life of your car and slows down the maintenance schedule on it.

Keep up with the maintenance schedule. Speaking of maintenance schedules, most car breakdowns occur because people ignored the maintenance schedule printed in the car’s manual. Follow it faithfully. The small costs incurred by following the maintenance schedule are much lower than the huge costs of a major car repair if you ignore them. Try DIY car repairs.

Seven bills, seven ways to save on each one. Good luck!

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56 thoughts on “Seven Monthly Bills Most People Have, and Seven Ways to Reduce Each Bill

  1. Money Beagle says:

    I’d also recommend getting a Kill-A-Watt device. This is something you plug into a wall plug, then plug your appliance/lamp/whatever into, and it will tell you exactly how many watt’s it’s drawing and even put a running total on Kw, which is how the electric company bills you. This can be a real eye opener to identify energy hogs.

  2. Leah says:

    A lot of people can’t rewire their switches . . . but everyone can use power strips. I put lots of stuff on power strips, including my entertainment center and my microwave. If the switch on the power strip would be somewhere weird, you can buy power strips made by the company practecol that have an extension on the switch. Then, turn off the power strip when you’re not using something. I’ve got a really low electricity bill, and I owe that to regular use of the power strip.

    One thing about cars — rather than go by how many years old your car is, talk to your insurance company. Figure out what you would get in terms of replacement value if your car were totaled (for example, see if your insurance uses the Kelly Blue Book value). Then, do your own math. My car is 6.5 years old, but it’s still worth enough versus my premiums that it is completely worth it to carry comprehensive coverage. I’ve only got 90k miles on that car — it will keep going for a long time, and I want to make sure I’m covered in case of an accident. I only pay $60 per month (paid as $360 every 6 months), so the amount I’d save versus the value of my car doesn’t add up to a smart decision.

    If you do decide not to carry comprehensive insurance, automate the savings from that — make sure you are putting away what you’re saving each month OR MORE into a special account to replace your car in case of an accident.

  3. Bill says:

    I’m concerned about the tip to lower the water temperature to that used when showering. Don’t washing machines and dishwashers require a certain minimum temperature to effectively clean?

  4. Ash says:

    All great ideas, problem for me is staying disciplined and also remembering to stay disciplined and not letting my good intentions fall by the wayside. Thanks again Trent and keep up your trojan work.

  5. emme says:

    Question on comprehensive insurance…I have a 2003 540 BMW with 65,000 miles that we have kept comprehensive coverage on. Is there a more specific analysis for deciding whether to keep the comprehensive coverage? The car is paid for. Interestingly, the insurance cost for this 2003 vehicle is only slightly less than on a 2011 X5. My rationale is that it would be difficult or impossible to replace this car because of its good condition and low mileage.

  6. Melissa says:

    Regarding paying your mortgage biweekly vs. monthly, you need to make sure that your lender is applying those payments in the way you wish, i.e. to cover the next payment due. Many times if a lender receives a payment less than a full monthly payment, it simply holds the payment in suspense, rather than assume that the borrower wants it applied to the next payment due OR as extra to principal. You may need to expressly indicate in writing with each check how the money is to be applied to the loan.

  7. Liz says:

    Please, please, if you value your lawn and garden, don’t water at night. Water from night waterings sits on the plants and leaves, allowing disease and fungus to develop.
    Water your garden in the early morning before the heat has risen.
    Actually, mulch to cut down on how much watering you need to do. The mulch — whether composted leaves, wood chips, grass clippings, or rubber chips — will keep the moisture in the soil where it can actually be absorbed by the roots of the plants.
    Also, use climate appropriate plantings, which means you won’t spend a fortune watering that beautiful green golf course-like grass in the desert. Use native plants, which are used to the climate and local water availability, and will thrive in your area.

  8. JJ says:

    “Hot water” heater?

    If the water is already hot, why do you need to heat it?

  9. Josh says:

    Ya again, coupling bills can help tremendously. However, one thing I would add is taxes. Are there ways to lower taxes? I would say so…

  10. Kathy says:

    re: watering the lawn…

    I’ve heard (sorry, can’t remember the source!) it’s better to water early in the morning rather than in the evening, as evening waterings may lead to fungus/mold issues.

  11. krantcents says:

    I saved a lot by using a cold water wash with my laundry. The laundry looks fine and my gas usage went down.

  12. IBC says:

    Also, a great way to save money is to begin to save now for purchases like a car, then set yourself up on an amortization schedule when you do make a purchase…

  13. Thomas says:

    I love these tips, especially the ones that create behavior change like buying a house you can afford, cutting out some services you don’t use and my favorite, buying a used car with the money you have SAVED.

    One more tip: ride a bike! I live in Denver and even on winter days, if I’m dressed right and it’s not snowing, I can bike to work. I even run errands on it. -And I’m not even a hippie!

  14. Annie says:

    I was one of those people who purchased more home than we could afford. What a nightmare. Every time the mortgage came due I would cringe. We would have been much happier had we purchased a smaller home. Our dream home became something I dispised.

    Buy a home that is priced well below what you can afford. Had my Husband and I done that maybe I could have kept it after he passed away.

    I know a lot of people want to keep up financialy with their friends and family but please take it from me, Don’t. You only see what is on the outside.People can really put on a show, we did. Buy only what YOU can aford or less. You will be so much happier and have so much less stress in your life.

  15. prodgod says:

    @Josh: “Are there ways to lower taxes?”

    Earn less and spend less. It may sound facetious, but once I have the house & other debts paid off, that will be my plan. I’d love to hear other suggestions.

  16. valleycat1 says:

    Energy – if you own your home, do some cost analysis to be sure you’re using the appropriate forms of energy that will save you the most. Where we live, electricity is extremely expensive compared to gas – so we installed gas for our dryer, stove & water heater. Since we don’t have an air conditioner or central heat, our energy bills are minimal now. [We cool with a swamp cooler & heat with a wood stove & occasionally a space heater (we are fortunate to have access to free or extremely inexpensive wood, which more than offsets the price of the wood stove over time).]

  17. Kristine says:

    Sorry to gush, but it’s posts like these that remind me why I love your blog. Simple but relevant to everybody!
    Thanks Trent.

  18. Tara C says:

    #7, that is exactly my plan, to earn less and spend less. I think it’s the easiest way to lower taxes, and after years of rampant consumerism, I sure don’t need any more stuff.

  19. Pam says:

    With regards to watering your lawn and plants at night, I would suggest watering first thing in the morning as evening waterings could lead to increased mold, fungus and slugs in your garden. Watering before or just as the sun rises will allow the water to sink in and really get to the roots before the sun gets too hot in the sky while avoiding the too much moisture problem of night waterings.

  20. Kacie says:

    For energy: If you live in a state where the industry has been deregulated (Iowa is not), you can shop around for different energy suppliers to save money.

    I’m blogging about this tomorrow, actually. It’s new for Pennsylvania where I live.

  21. Rebecca says:

    One really simple way to cut your energy costs is to use less hot water. up to 75% of the cost of a load of laundry is the price of heating up the water. Wash on cold unless absolutely necessary. We do and I have 3 messy kids. Unless someone throws up on something, it gets washed on cold.

    And if you have a newer energy efficient washer, it may not make a difference doing half a load or a full one. Our machine knows how much is in the washer and uses only the amt of water needed.

    Cut your shower times in half. I take 3 minute showers during the week, and give myself one longer one on the weekend as a treat.

    Put on a sweater and slippers and turn the heat down. Wear minimal and loose clothing in the summer and turn the AC temp up or off.

  22. krantcents says:

    Great ideas! I would add using col water wash for laundry.

  23. Maggie says:

    I’ve been using a prepaid cell phone service for some time now (Tracfone), and it’s been a real money-saver. With Skype as our home phone, and tracfone as my emergency phone when I’m on the go, I’m able to pay for phone service extremely cheaply. It’s something I never would have considered a year or two ago, but the one-size-fits-all cell phone plans are becoming a thing of the past. Good suggestion!

  24. These are definitely all tips we can use. One thing with electricity is see if you qualify for lower income electricity. That’s helped us tremendously. Our 1 bedroom apartment, which has an electric stove, only has a $25 electricity bill every month.

  25. Diffus says:

    We got an electric blanket for Christmas and can now set our thermostat much lower at night than before while sleeping comfortably.

    Unfortunately, we don’t have gas in our neighborhood, so our water heaters are electric. We have two, and both have Intermatics timers on them. The water is warmed between 6 and 7:30 a.m. for morning showers and 8 to 10 p.m. for the dishwasher and the wife’s evening bath.

    We also regularly shop electricity prices. We’re currently locked in for another couple of months at about 8.6 cents/kWh. I figured I wouldn’t be able to get much lower, so I signed a six-month agreement. When it expires, I’ll see what else is available. Last year, I got 1 $100 signing bonus credited to my child’s 529 plan.

  26. Sandy says:

    Hot water cylinders should NOT be set at below 60 degrees C, as you run the risk of getting Legionnaires Disease – nasty!

  27. ospreyy says:

    Do NOT use Low Flow shower heads. Medium flow is OK, but Low Flow is very noticeable and obnoxious. Low flow is a terrible way to start your day and saves you money only by making your shower so terrible that you cut it short.

  28. R Miller says:

    Actually, there are some awesome low flow shower heads available now. Some of them even perform better than many high flow ones used to.

    Signed,

    A Master Plumber

  29. ChrisD says:

    @13 ospreyy

    Low Flow shower heads… saves you money only by making your shower so terrible that you cut it short.

    Sounds like a win win situation to me. :-)

  30. CindyD says:

    You can save money on property taxes by appealing your assesment, which will lower the amount you have to pay. My township charges a fee of $25 for an appeal, and I just had to do my own internet research on homes that actually sold in my area that are comparable to my home and property and went for less than my assesment. Thanks to the dropping property values, I was able to get my assesed value lowered for a savings of $400 a year every year going forward. It was well worth the fee and the effort.

  31. Fiona says:

    What a comprehensive post. Thanks!

  32. MK says:

    Lots of worthwhile points. One thing about car insurance, though; I don’t know about the US, but over here, dealing with insurance companies can be a real pain if you don’t have comprehensive insurance, as you will need to deal with both your own as well as the other person’s (assuming a situation involving multiple vehicles) insurance company. If you rely on your car and doing without it would have a large negative impact on your situation, the extra monthly payment can be very well worth it for easier/speedier resolution if/when something does happen.

    Not saying this applies to all or even necessarily most readers here, but make sure that you understand the ramifications of lowering the insurance coverage in the event of an incident.

  33. Jane says:

    I have an aerator on my kitchen sink as well, and it works great. Sure, it might take me a few seconds more to fill my Brita pitcher, but I think it saves water when doing dishes by hand.

    I’m not to sure about lowering your hot water heater too low. You don’t need it at the maximum level (unless you wash diapers like I do!), but I wouldn’t put it that low for the health reasons mentioned above.

    Instead of low flow shower heads, how about not showering every day, especially in the winter? Unless you work out vigorously, I don’t see how the average American NEEDS to shower every day. I imagine this would save you lots more money in the long run. I shower every other day all year round, except in the heat of the summer or if I have an important event. This is largely because with young children it is a time saver, but I also have the added benefit of not using as much hot water or toiletries.

  34. Golfing Girl says:

    I agree with everything except “bundling” your cable/phone/internet. Our provider only offers bundle packages with premium services. We have the unadvertised “basic” cable package for about $10/month and if we bundled to get the enhanced basic cable, we’d end up paying about $33 more each month. Also, I’m surprised you didn’t mention getting a converter box and antenae to completely cut out a cable bill–we’re looking into this…

  35. WhiteCedar says:

    Be very diligent in researching Cable “bundles.” Our basic phone service is less than $20 a month from Verizon. Bundling it with our cable/internet would cost us about $30.

    Also be aware that the quoted price in the bundle usually does not include taxes, which for phone service can be 20% of the bill.

  36. Jeannine says:

    I’m surprised that you still get paper bills. We’ve gone paperless on just about everything – well with every company that offers it. Very little shredding anymore; except those pesky credit card applications that keep appearing in the mail unsolicited.

  37. EmilyP says:

    On the topic of energy bills, see if your state has an energy audit program. (This doesn’t apply to every US state, much less every country, but it’s worth looking into)
    We just used a Massachusetts state program to have an inspector check out the house. He *gave* us a programmable thermostat, and swapped out any fixture we wanted to a CFL, made some suggestions on water and furnace settings, and gave us some rebate forms. Then wrote the house a prescription for air sealing, increased insulation, and improved attic vents. As many of these recommendations as we wanted to follow would then be handled by the state’s contractors, and costs covered at 75%. Initially I was unenthusiastic about not giving us a chance to DIY it, or even choose our own contractors, but in practice it was great to not have to deal with anything other than having the guys there and paying $500 for $2000 of insulation! Looking forward to seeing some improvement in the energy bills.
    Anyway, I write this just to say that if state-funded programs are available, it’s amazing how helpful and painless it can be!

  38. CiCi says:

    The link for air sealing your own home is incredibly useful to me right now. I will soon sell my home in Southern California and move back “home” to the Greater KC area. Energy costs there because of winter/summer issues is something concerning, and we need to be careful when we buy. Thanks for this great blog post.

  39. Kevin says:

    Re: Automating mortgage payments

    Do people actually literally “mail” in their mortgage payments in the US? I’m in Canada, and our mortgage has always been auto-debited directly from our savings account. It’s impossible to “forget” to make a payment. Car payments are the same, and I believe that’s pretty universal across the whole country.

    Is it really still common for people to “mail” payments to banks for houses and cars in the US, or is that just a casual way of saying the payments are automatically taken out?

    Why wouldn’t everyone automate those payments, by default? Why would any risk accidentally missing a payment?

  40. Megan says:

    We live in an apartment with a laundry room, instead of a washer and dryer in the unit. We never do less than a full load, because it costs $1.25 to do any load (same to dry; which is why I often hang-dry my clothes). It really brings home the idea that laundry is more expensive if you do less at a time.

    With our dishwasher, because it’s only my husband and I, we often don’t make enough dishes to fill up our dishwasher more than once-a-week. To keep the dishes from piling up and getting stinky, I use our dishwasher as a drying rack. It saves room on the counter of our very small kitchen, and it also saves energy by not having to run the dishwasher.

  41. John says:

    CFLs fail much sooner if they are only switched on for short periods, bringing their lifespans close to that of a normal incandescent bulb and negating the cost savings. It is usually recommended that they not be used in areas where this will occur, such as closets. They are better suited for areas where the light will be left on for a long period of time.

    If you are concerned about light intensity, you may want to consider a higher wattage CFL, which would still use significantly less energy than an incandescent bulb with a lower rating.

  42. Liz says:

    I live in a semi-arid area. We have municipal lawn watering restrictions, currently 6 A.M. to 10 A.M. If I could find out if it were more cost-efficient, I would put in a buffalo grass hybrid that does not need as much water to thrive.

  43. Michele says:

    Another suggestion to lower your water bill…gutters and rainbarrels. We installed 3 rainbarrels to capture water from the gutters. They look great and we used them all last summer. I just got the yearly ‘level pay plan’ bill from the water district, and we saved $60 on our bill last year by using rainbarrel water to water the garden and yard. It cost us $60 to put in the rainbarrels, so this year, it’s $60 to put in savings!

  44. MattJ says:

    Kevin,

    I don’t have any automatic payments for buying anything. The reason is that I’ve read too many articles (on sites like Consumerist) where the upshot is that someone cancelled their service, but the company continued to withdraw one or more automatic payments, and the consumer had to spend hours on the phone, multiple times, trying to (1) convince them to stop withdrawing ‘payments’ and (2) get their money back. That’s on top of such behavior by companies sometimes leading to bounced checks.

    Once they have your money and you’re no longer their customer, they’re not exactly highly motivated to give it back. Obviously they have to eventually, but they’re in no hurry, despite the fact that you might need that money now.

    That said, I don’t ‘mail’ my mortgage payment, nor did I mail my car payment back when I had one – I use the direct payment option in online banking. I never see a check, and I’m not sure that my bank actually mails a check – I think it’s more like an electronic payment. But it’s not automatic – I log into my bank account, select the company from a list of companies I prepared beforehand, and direct them to pay the amount I owe.

    I could see paying my mortgage automatically (barring a refinance or a large windfall, I’m unlikely to cancel mortgage service) but I really don’t want to give Bank of America permission to debit my checking account as they choose.

  45. Tyler says:

    Re: Lowering taxes by earning and spending less. The US tax system is a progressive system where there are multiple tax brackets. If your income level changes brackets, the associated rate change applies ONLY to the extra income inside that bracket, not your entire income. Reducing your earnings to be in a lower bracket is NOT advantageous.

    The only reasoning I could see for this plan of action is you do not support the way the US Congress utilizes tax dollars, and do not want to provide them any funding.

  46. Brent Perry, CFP says:

    Trent,
    Regarding the programmable thermostat recommendation: We have a programmable thermostat in our home and in the past have set it drop 6 degrees when we’re not home (68 to 62). Well, we just had our HVAC system serviced about a month ago, and the service technician informed us that manufacturers recommend no more that a 2 degree change for a high-efficiency furnace. Any more variation than that apparently makes the system less efficient and more prone to an early (and expensive) demise. I haven’t researched the issue myself, maybe you could?

  47. Georgia says:

    I have done many of these things and last year my average utility bill for all but phone, internet and cable was $126.00 in MO. I live in a 50×20 double wide trailer that is 45 y/o this year. I use power strips on computer, etc. that I shut off each night. The same way with heat – I keep it at 65 or less in the daytime & 60 at night. I do the changing. Cheaper. I shower, with low flow showerheads, every other day. I’m old and inactive.

    I have no mortgage or rent. I just cancelled my Dish Network and they have already given me the credit on my phone bill. I watch DVD/VHS on my TV (11 y/o) and DVD’s on my computer. I have 3-400 DVD’s & a major amount of VHS tapes. Also watch current TV programs on my computer. I will never give up my landline. I have a cell phone which my daughter put me on (for about $12 a month), but I only use it for family. I absolutely hate talking on it.

    Before and since my husband’s death, we have put on a new steel roof with 3″ styrofoam insulation, all new double paned windows, insulated siding, and a plastic side wall to our carport. I don’t have to worry about pipes. Water pipes are situated inside the heat ducts.

  48. Great tips… I love the details in your writing ! Gives ideas to chew upon

  49. lurker carl says:

    #24 Brent Perry – Having an air-to-air heat pump system increase home temperature more than several degrees engages the auxillary electric resistance heat. Heat pumps are not very efficient at providing heat when the outside temperature drops below 40 degrees F thus requiring auxillary heat. Triggering the auxillary heat uses considerably electricity per BTU than the heat pump. Running a heat pump for extended cycles during very cold weather allows condensation to collect and freeze in the coils, then you get no heat at all. A programmable thermostat specifically designed for heat pumps will raise the temperature in small increments over a period of time to avoid triggering the auxillary heat and minimize coil freeze up.

  50. Evita says:

    Re: cars.
    Trent, didn’t you FINANCE the new Prius ?
    I cannot pay cash for my next car (due soon) but I am looking into the 0% financing that is currently available for new economy models (gas mileage is much better than my old car…)

  51. DailySaving says:

    Good stuff! Thanks for sharing such great detail. If you just took one or two of these ideas and implemented them, it would make a huge difference! Every little bit helps. Thanks! Brian (I like the water bottle in the toilet tank. I hadn’t thought of that one! Good job.

  52. Jeanine, I was thinking the same thing! lol I receive very few paper bills these days.

  53. done that says:

    Trent, how do you deal with all the electronics (X-Box/Netflix, microwave, wall oven, internet router) that use electricity all the time and lose their settings if you power them down? We are always getting dinged at work for not turning everything off every night too, but if you do then you spend time resetting everything. I know if there’s an indicator light on it’s using power and it bugs me but what’s the solution?

    As for the shower, I don’t use a low flow head but do favor the kind with a shut-off toggle so the water can be shut down while you soap up and then turned back on to rinse off. Without you could simply turn the water off. I think it’s called a Navy shower.

  54. Shell says:

    I also, pay bills online rather than on paper.Saves on the cost of checks and saves time, not to mention saving a tree or two. I am always glad to get my normal bills. I am debt free and able to save, but when it comes to paying bills, I feel fortunate that I have the money to pay them. Some people don’t.I try to save for maintainence around the house, as well.(appliances,any improvements,etc.) Sometimes you can’t always predict, but if you have a special fund for this, it makes life easier.

  55. Mary says:

    My husband and I work off a budget and it’s crazy how much money we spend on “necessities” of life. I’ve learned to become a coupon cutter and I love seeing the savings on my budget sheet! Finding coupons is super easy now, with so many online shops that offer coupon codes for virtually every major vender, I suggest looking at couponbuzz to find codes and special deals before you buy anything online!!

  56. Sam in Ne says:

    @ Kevin (#39)
    I don’t automate the pymt because if I have extra $ with my paycheck (overtime) I put it on the mortgage.
    Also, I used to work for a bank & have seen many crummy situations where there was a mistake & it took months for the customers to straighten it out. One computer blip on the banks part & you could have NSF fees, returned pymt fees, late fees, etc.
    I strongly recommend never giving anyone you pay money to your bank acct number.
    Incoming ACH credit items like employers & tax refund type things I’ve seen little error on…

    Most banks have free bill pay so you can schedule your bill to go out automatically every payday – most large companies can receive their pymts electronically from most bill pay systems.
    We put the min amt as the default so if life gets busy we know that the minimum gets paid no matter what.
    If extra is sent on the mortgage as a separate pymt it could go into limbo while they scratch their head. It happened to me three times & then I was told to just add the extra to the regular monthly pymt after spending two weeks to the third one straightened out. Of course my bank isn’t the best on earth – just one of the biggest.

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