In my last article I wrote about how to set up a simple budget for yourself. If you have done that hopefully you found out that you aren't spending more than you make. Maybe you even figured out a way to put some money aside for emergencies and retirement. My recommendation was 20% of your take home pay. To most people 20% is challenging. So here are some ways you may be able to trim your budget.
I love a long shower. However, by reducing your shower time by 5 minutes you can save about 5,000 gallons of water per year. Yup, it's about a thousand gallons a year for every minute you are in the shower (if you shower everyday). Low-flow shower heads can help a lot here as well. Don't let the water run when you are brushing your teeth or shaving. For shaving you can fill a cup of hot water and dip your razor when you need to. Next time you are brushing your teeth, and you don't turn off the faucet, just look down into the sink and watch all that money go down the drain.
Replace your old appliances with efficient ones. Run full loads of dishes and laundry. Even though appliances are getting smarter and using less water, and you can select smaller loads, it is still better on your water bill to wait until you can run a full load. Watch for drips and leaks. If you are seeing an increase in your water bill you may have a small leak somewhere. It could be as simple as a worn gasket on a faucet. Be sure to check your outdoor faucets as well. Also, modern faucets for your sinks can reduce how much water is being used without compromising performance.
Speaking of outside, make sure your sprinklers (if you use them) are being used at the right time of day. The best time to water your grass is when the temperature is low and there is dew on the grass. Usually late at night or early morning. You will lose less water to evaporation when temps are low. Also, high winds will cause more evaporation as well. You don't want your water to evaporate into the air, you want it to soak into your plants. If you really want to save water then get rain barrels and use those to water your garden!
"That's Great for water, but what about my other utilities?"
First of all, replace your light bulbs. I know you've heard this but, if you haven't done it yet, now is the time. Energy efficient light bulbs last a lot longer and use way less energy. According to EnergyStar.gov, Energy Star-certified light bulbs use about 70 to 90 percent less energy than traditional incandescent light bulbs. I recently just bought a new led ceiling light for my laundry room that is guaranteed to last over 10 years. Get a programmable thermostat. This way you don't have to remember to adjust the thermostat over and over. You can program the temperature to go up or down based on your schedule. Modern thermostats even let you access it remotely from your phone. So if it's a hot blistering day in July and you want to crank the AC before you get home from work, do it from your phone. Or if you are in the basement, why climb all those stairs to turn the heat up on a winter day? Just say "Alexa," or "Google," or "Siri," or, if you are set up like Star Trek, "Computer, increase the temperature." (You can do the Star Trek method by changing the wake word of your device; don't ask me how I know.) Use fans. Fans use way less energy then a furnace or air conditioner. Ceiling fans can be used in both summer and winter because the rotation can be adjusted. We are all familiar with the counter-clockwise setting for summer. But, in winter, you can set it to clockwise in order to suck the cold air up (cold air sinks and warm air rises by nature). That forces the warm air down from the ceiling onto the floor. I bet you never guessed one of my tips would be to use thermodynamics to your advantage!
Alright, if I go into deep detail on every tip this is going to be my longest article ever. So I'm just going to bust out a few other things around the house you can do.
Clean your duct-work
Use blackout curtains to keep the sun out
Unplug everything when you aren't using it
Lower your water heater temperature
Increase your insulation
Upgrade your windows
On to the Grocery Store
I often compare the grocery store to a casino. Notice the stuff you need is way in the back so you have to walk past all the displays just to get milk and eggs. Once you're there you lose all track of time, there are not clocks, it's super bright and it's full of deals on things you absolutely do not need. So what can you do?
Join their loyalty program. It's free but you will get deals and coupons on things that you buy on a regular basis; as well as rewards and gas discounts.
Buy the store brand. Honestly, is there really a difference between Reynolds's Wrap and the Kroger or Meijer or (fill in your store here) brand? There are some stores out there that are nothing but off brand or store brand (think Aldi or Trader Joe's).
Skip the convenience, or pre-made, foods. I'm talking about salads, fruit bowls, "Lunchable" type snacks, etc. You can prepare this yourself for a fraction of the cost. Just dedicate some time each week; like a meal-prep Sunday, or something like that.
Buy in bulk when you can. If you have the space to store it then buy non-perishables in bulk. Buying in bulk could mean just getting the big package of toilet paper, or it could mean taking advantage of some dry pasta that is on sale, or it could mean shopping at a wholesale store.
Minimize the meat. Meat is expensive. Start off with 'Meatless Monday' and go from there. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics ground beef cost $4.26 per pound on average. Sliced bacon cost $5.70 per pound, and boneless chicken breast cost $2.96 per pound. Dried beans, on the other hand, run just $1.35 per pound. Every make a meatless chili using a bunch of different beans? It's better than you think and can become lunch the next day.
Get in and get out. Know what you want to do, do it, then leave. Not that long ago my father in law bought a new TV online. I drove him to pick it up. Guess where he bought it. No, not at an electronics store but at a grocery store. He actually commented on how quickly we were in and out. I didn't spend a dime on that trip.
I'm not going to get into buying or leasing super expensive cars. But if you are trying to save money on aluminum foil a Lexus LC 500 may not be for you (hey, it's not for me either!) But, if you are car shopping, I suggest buying something a year or two old. Something good on gas and has low maintenance.
Lay off the acceleration. Driving moderately, instead of aggressively, reduces fuel consumption by over 30%. I'll tell you, few things give me more pleasure than rolling up next to the person that flew past me in a blur because they got stuck at a light, or behind a truck, etc. I mean just do the math; if you need to drive 15 miles on the highway and you go 70 mph it will take you 12 minutes to get there. If you go 90 mph you will get there in 10 minutes. Is 2 minutes worth the extra gas? Not to mention the risk of life and limb.
Keep your car properly maintained; and find the right mechanic. Some may say nothing is worth more than a good, honest, mechanic. Keep your car properly tuned and keep your tires properly inflated. All that goes towards gas mileage.
Do you buy high octane gas, in other words Premium? Stop it. Unless you drive a car that requires it (check the manual) there is absolutely no reason to use it. I just saw a sign at a gas station that said Premium was cleaner and better for your engine. All gasoline has detergent in it. Do not fall for that. I'm not going to get into the mechanics of car engines and how combustion works, but if you want a more in-depth explanation you can read it here: https://www.edmunds.com/fuel-economy/to-save-money-on-gas-stop-buying-premium.html
Auto insurance. Where you live, your age, your car, your driving record can all affect your car insurance rates. But did you know that your credit score has a large impact as well. If you can't do anything about all the other stuff then work on increasing your credit score. I will write an article about that soon but you can find information on it all over the web.
Stop eating out so much - cook more.
Start a garden.
We all know how expensive Starbucks is by now, right?
Cancel unused memberships. Your gym may only be $10 a month but...
Have newspaper and magazine subscriptions that go unread? You guessed it, cancel them.
Do you have a consumable habit? Yes, I'm talking about smoking and/or drinking alcohol. These can be very expensive past times. Smoking a pack a day can cost north of $2,000 a year. Give your wallet (and your lungs) a sigh of relief and kick them to the curb. Hey, if I can give up my Starbucks you can lose the smokes. Alright, I haven't completely quit Starbucks; but I did quit smoking in 2000. https://smokefree.gov/
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