13 Tricks to Cut Down on Summer Utility Bills
Don't sweat it: Our money experts divulge their favorite summer-bill secrets.
Summertime and the living is easy…until you open the bills, that is. Between blasting the AC and overdoing water consumption, those seemingly innocent warmer-month habits have a way of adding up. Before you open another bill, though, first shift your attitude about saving, advises Prudential’s financial wellness advocate Tiffany Aliche, aka The Budgetnista. “I don’t believe in being overly restrictive when it comes to saving money, because your attitude toward money affects so many other areas of your life,” she says. “It affects your stress level, physical health, state of mind, family dynamic, and even your work performance.” When you treat money as a tool to help you achieve your goals, rather than something you need to go without or limit, you’ll be more likely to stick with cost-saving measures, she says. Plus, find out more simple ways to save on every household bill all year round.
We asked financial experts for their favorite savings techniques when the weather heats up…
Put time on your side
You know how it is. You step into the shower for just a “quick rinse,” and ten minutes later you’re lost in thought (blame it on the “shower epiphany” phenomenon). “Remember, you can have an epiphany without the water,” says Aliche. The average American’s shower lasts eight minutes and uses 20 gallons, but experts recommend a five-minute shower instead. The simplest shower-shortening method is to use a timer, suggests Aliche. “You might be surprised at how long your average shower lasts, and how easy it can be to save money on water, and the energy it takes to heat it, by simply shortening it a few minutes,” she says.
Give your AC some love
Have you changed your AC filter recently? (Don’t worry, we haven’t either.) But small swaps and maintenance checks can ensure your appliances are operating efficiently. “I get my AC filter automatically shipped to me every 90 days during the warmer months, so that way I don’t have to think about it, I just know that’s the time to swap out my filter,” shares Michael Foguth, founder of Foguth Financial Group in Brighton, Michigan. It’s also a good idea to get your air conditioner and furnace checked every spring and fall respectively, to ensure that your units are running well and not using too much energy.
Channel your inner tech geek
“The easiest way to save on utilities is to use digital technology to your advantage,” Foguth says. This handily eliminates all of the “did I or didn’t I?” feeling when you’re not at home, wondering if you left the AC on. Use it to be creative, too: Perhaps you can raise your programmable thermostat a few degrees overnight when you’re in REM sleep and won’t notice the difference, for example. Same with your lights: Smart-home technological advances are making it easier these days to save energy by using timers and remote controls (often via an app on your smartphone).
Keep your cool
It’s perhaps the most simple—yet often, in the morning rush, overlooked—way of keeping a house cooler during the day: taking a minute to close the drapes and blinds. “You know how, in an airplane, they want you to lower the shades on the windows to keep it cool when you’re landing in a warm destination? Well, the same principle goes for your home, and it makes such a difference,” says New York–based debt-resolution lawyer Leslie Tayne, author of Life & Debt. Discover other cooling tips like learning the most efficient way to use a fan and how to keep heat out of your house.
Watch out for “vampire energy”
Did you realize that your appliances are using energy simply by being plugged in? It’s called vampire—or standby—energy, whereby an appliance still uses energy when turned off. “Anything that you have plugged into an outlet could silently be seeping off energy without you realizing it,” says Aliche. To combat the vampires, she advises plugging electronics (except, obviously, appliances like your fridge) into an outlet strip, then unplugging the strip every night (turning it off isn’t enough). “One of my clients used this piece of advice and ended up saving $30 a month,” she says.
Use water during peak times
Peak soaking-in times, that is. “You waste water when you use it during the heat of the day, because you lose a lot to evaporation,” says Foguth. Watering your grass and garden during early morning or evening ensures the water soaks in where you need it: the soil as opposed to the air.
kungverylucky/ShutterstockDitch the dryer
When’s the last time you’ve actually air-dried, say, a towel? Exactly, says Tayne, who recommends the old-fashioned clothes-line technique. “Take advantage of the warmer months to take a break from the dryer now and again,” she says. Just thinking of that fresh smell should be incentive enough to keep it up all summer. According to the Saving Electricity website, line-drying can save you nearly $200 a year (cost depends on dryer and energy rate; use this chart to calculate your savings).
Eliminate the surprise factor
Avoid the sticker shock that comes with warm-weather bills: Did you know that many utility companies offer an Equal Pay program? “This way, you’re paying the same amount every month, based on your estimated annual expenses split in 12, so you can better plan ahead,” says Foguth.
Make it a group effort
“When I was a kid, my dad would leave the electric bill out so we could see the charges from last month and the current month,” says Aliche. “Then if we saved money month-to-month, he’d contribute to our family vacation pot. It was a way for him to engage the whole family with decisions we made throughout the house, like turning off the lights or taking shorter showers. And let me tell you: It worked!”
Call in the experts
Where are you wasting the most energy in your home? You may not be able to see it, but an expert can show you the blind spots. “Take advantage of your utility company experts, and ask them how to be more energy-efficient,” suggests Tayne. “They’ll come out and take a look for you.” Your utility company can either do an energy audit themselves or recommend an expert to assess and detect air and/or fuel leaks and inspect your appliances.
Try to keep up with the Joneses
Tayne laughs as she offers a unique yet always-effective motivator for saving money: competition. “My utility companies show me a comparison to my neighbors in terms of how I’m doing with energy, and I’m always like, ‘why are they more efficient than I am?’ and then it becomes this competition,” she says. “I’m sure I’ve saved money just from seeing how I rank with others!”
Get comfy with your credit score
“Let’s face it: Having a low credit score leads to an expensive life,” says Aliche. “Even if you’re not borrowing money, even if you’re just turning on your lights, getting new cell phone service, or getting new car insurance—any situation where you’re going to be making regular payments—credit does matter.” Depending on your score, utility companies can charge you a down payment, or even charge you more for their service. Experts recommend ordering a free credit report once a year.
When Aliche bought a drafty older home, a contractor suggested that she install insulation—for $2,500. “I thought, ‘Wow, that’s a lot of money,’ but he said, ‘It’s going to be worth its weight in gold,’ and he was right,” she recalls. “Before we even moved in, our heating bill was up to $500 a month. As soon as we insulated, our bill went down to $102 the next month. Now it’s under $120 monthly. Think about the lifetime savings of that simple step. That’s why I tell people not to be afraid of a big up-front cost because it will usually pay off—sometimes surprisingly so!” Now that you’ll be saving lots of money, find out other great life hacks that will make your summer breezier.
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