Reduce Living Expenses
Save on Home and Utility Expenses

(Last updated: June 5, 2017)

This page shows how to save money by reducing your home and utility expenses. Home and utility expenses are one of the main living expenses for many people. By reducing these expenses, you can have more money for other things.

These suggestions are offered for your consideration. Perhaps they can guide you to a better life style. But the final choices are up to you.

Here are the topics:

Home expenses
Appliances and equipment
Homeowner's and renter's insurance
House sitting
Household expenses
Mortgage payments
Rent payments
Utility expenses
Electricity
Heating and cooling
Hot water
Telephone
Water and sewer

In order to reduce your home and utility expenses you may have to do some planning and change some of your habits and preferences. Whether the money you can save is worth the effort is up to you.


IMPORTANT

Before using this information to reduce your living expenses be sure to read the following notice: Disclaimer.

Appliances and equipment

When some appliance or piece of equipment stops working the question is, should you repair it or replace it? These tips should help you decide:

If the appliance or equipment uses electricity or natural gas, you might want to purchase an "energy efficient" replacement. This would lower your future operating costs.

If the item has at least two-thirds of its useful life left and the repair would cost no more than half of the replacement cost, you probably would save money by repairing it.

Otherwise you probably would want to purchase either a new or used replacement. If you can't get a guarantee on a used item, you probably would save money by buying a new replacement.

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Homeowner's and renter's insurance

You might want to investigate which insurance companies have the best ratings from their customers. J.D. Power, a nationally recognized ratings company, gathers this information in an annual survey. Here is their website:

Homeowners Insurance Providers Ratings

If your homeowners insurance premiums are included with your monthly mortgage payments, you may not realize how much they are. In any case you should go over your insurance policy and see if the coverage is too high. This is especially important during this period of declining home values.

Increasing your deductible amount will lower the premiums. In effect you are self insuring to a certain extent. So you should have sufficient resources to pay this deductible amount if required.

Take advantage of all the discounts that are available to you. Talk to your insurance agent or insurance company about this.

It costs more money to pay your insurance premiums in installments. So pay your insurance on an annual or semiannual basis if possible.

You can usually save money by having all or most of your different insurance policies with the same company.

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House sitting

If you are single with no dependents or pets you probably can save a lot of money by finding house sitting opportunities. This is where people are going to be gone from home for several weeks or months at a time. They want someone to stay in their home and feed the pets, mow the grass, and do some other simple chores. But you get to live in their home rent free. (The question of who pays the utilities is up for negotiation.)

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Household expenses

The various household purchases can be either a one-time expense or a recurring expense. You may need to purchase bedding, cooking and eating utensils, furniture, linen, and so on. Then there is a constant need for bathroom supplies, laundry supplies, paper products, and so on. You may be able to save money by going to discount stores, estate auctions, secondhand stores, thrift shops, unfinished furniture stores, and yard sales. One of my favorite ways to save on household purchases is the liquidation sale or "going out of business" sale.

Any required household maintenance should be taken care of right away. These are things like broken windows, damaged doors, leaks in the roof or rain gutter, and plumbing leaks. The longer these problems continue the more damage they can do to your house. You might be able to fix the problem yourself if you take care of it right away. But if the problem keeps getting worse, you may have to hire a contractor to fix things.

If you are paying other people for cleaning your house, cleaning your swimming pool, mowing the lawn, and other tasks -- why not try doing these things yourself? You might learn to like it and it would save you money.

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Mortgage payments

When buying a house or refinancing a mortgage it's usually better to get a mortgage with a fixed interest rate rather than one with a variable interest rate. This is true even though the variable interest rate is lower than the fixed interest rate when you get the loan. (An exception would be when the interest rates are at a historical high and have started coming down.)

When you have an existing mortgage there are several potential ways to reduce the burden of high mortgage payments. However, you would have to determine if these steps are worth the effort and risk:

You might be able to refinance your mortgage at a cheaper interest rate.

You might be able to sell your home and purchase a less expensive home. (This could be a smaller home or a home in a lower-cost part of the country.)

You might be able to sell your home and start renting a home at a lower cost.

You might be able to take in a boarder or roommate and thus have extra money to pay on your mortgage.

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Rent payments

Talk to your landlord about ways to reduce your monthly rental payments. Perhaps you can do some painting, repairs, or maintenance work around the house. Perhaps you can manage some of the landlord's other rental properties.

If you rent from month to month perhaps the landlord would give you a lower monthly rate if you sign a year's lease.

Move to a home with lower rent payments.

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Electricity

Turn off lights when not in use.

Start using the new fluorescent light bulbs. They have a long life and use much less electricity.

Turn off the television and any computer equipment when not in use. You may want to plug your computer equipment into a power strip. Then you can just turn off the switch on the power strip.

Make sure that all electrical appliances are properly maintained.

Don't leave the refrigerator door open for no reason. Put the food away or take the food out and then close the door.

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Heating and cooling

You can save money on heating and cooling by lowering your desired comfort level, reducing the energy needed to maintain your comfort level, changing your habits, or all three methods.

If you decide to reduce the energy needed, you will have an initial pay-out, but this will be recovered in a few months or years by the savings in operating expenses.

Lowering your desired comfort level:

Lower your thermostat several degrees in the winter and raise it several degrees in the summer (if you have air conditioning). If this makes you too cold in the winter you could start wearing sweaters.

Reducing the energy needed:

Relatively inexpensive methods -- Apply caulking and weather stripping around your home's exterior to minimize air infiltration from the outside. Note that caulking and weather stripping eventually deteriorates. So even if you already have this protection, you should see if it needs to be replaced or upgraded.

Another way to reduce air infiltration from the outside is to air seal your home. This takes care of air leaks that can't be handled by caulking and weather stripping. Examples are using expanding foam to fill cracks and holes and using gaskets to seal around switches and receptacles in exterior walls.

You can use an automatic setback thermostat to reduce the temperature required when you are sleeping or away from home at work.

Get your furnace and air conditioner inspected and maintained on a regular basis. An efficiently operating system will do a better job and cost less money. (Also, if a motor is wearing out, you want it replaced during the off-season. You don't want to be without your furnace in the winter or your air conditioner in the summer.) Change the air filters as recommended by the manufacturer.

To reduce cold air coming into your home in winter, you can install a combination screen door and storm door. Also, you can cover the inside or outside of windows with plastic sheets.

Install a ceiling fan to circulate warm air in the winter and cool air in the summer.

Seal off any rooms in your home that you don't use anymore. This would include placing weather stripping around the top and sides of doors, and a door sweep at the bottom; putting plastic sheeting to cover the insides of windows; and closing off the heating registers. But contact your local building inspector for any restrictions that may apply. Also, you need to keep any room with water pipes in an outside wall warm enough so the pipes don't freeze.

Relatively expensive methods -- If you are going to add insulation to your home the best locations normally would be the attic floor and any uninsulated walls and floors exposed to the outside air.

In the attic, you can add loose fill or roll insulation between the ceiling joists. And you could add blown-in insulation on top of any existing installation. But the insulation should be kept away from any hot spots, such as a furnace exhaust flue, ceiling heater, or recessed light fixture. Any heat buildup around these hot spots eventually might cause a fire in the attic.

You can fill exterior wall cavities with blown-in or foam insulation. You can suspend roll or batt insulation under the floor joists with wires.

If installing the insulation yourself, study a how-to manual if you lack experience. (However, this type of work is best left to an experienced contractor.)

Before doing any work contact your local building inspector for any restrictions and building permits that may be required.

Changing your habits

On the days that you use your clothes dryer run all the batches of clothes one after the other. This way your clothes dryer does not have to warm up several times during the day. But clean out the lint filter between loads.

Turn off your thermostat when it's nice outside. (You might even open your doors and/or movable windows and enjoy the fresh air.)

You can use blinds or drapes at windows to control how much sunlight comes in from the south and west. Normally you want to let the sunlight in during winter to help warm your house. And you want to keep the sunlight out during the summer to help cool your house.

If you use natural gas for heating during the winter see if it is cheaper to have your gas supply shut off during the off-season as opposed to paying monthly maintenance charges.

Health considerations

Besides maintaining the desired room temperature, a healthful indoor environment includes adequate air ventilation to expel excessive moisture and any pollutants. Discussion of these matters is beyond the scope of this website. You should consult with an experienced contractor or consultant if you have any questions about these matters.

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Hot water

Wrap your hot water tank with the special blanket insulation made for this purpose. But don't block any access panels or combustion air inlets.

Showers use less hot water than taking a bath. But they can get you just as clean if not cleaner.

Use a flow restrictor on your shower nozzle to reduce the amount of hot water used.

Use full loads in your clothes washer and dishwasher. This is the most efficient way to use these appliances. Use cold water to wash and rinse your clothes when ever practical.

Lower the temperature control on your hot water tank. (Scalding hot water can be dangerous and there usually is no need for it.)

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Telephone

See if you can find a cheaper telephone provider for the type and frequency of the services you need. (With the deregulation of the telephone industry in the United States there are many competitors offering telephone service. Competition brings lower prices.)

Only pay for the services that you really need. Carefully consider if you can do without any services that are billed separately. Thus if you are being charged for directory assistance you might want to use a phone book and keep track of all out of town numbers you use.

If you are charged more for certain telephone services during peak hours, try to use these services during off-peak hours instead.

Investigate whether using a cell phone will lower your overall telephone expense. On the other hand you may save money by dropping your cell phone and using only a land line telephone. (This presumes you don't really need to use a phone while away from home.)

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Water and sewer

Most cities base your sewer charges on your water consumption. So by reducing water usage you are saving on both water and sewer charges.

If you have a septic tank or cesspool, it will require periodic removal of the sludge. Otherwise, you might be forced to replace your drain lines or cesspool. Here is some useful maintenance information from the University of Arizona:

Maintaining Your Septic Tank

Fix any leaking water pipes and dripping faucets. This constant flow of water increases your water and sewer bill with no benefit to you.

Some people recommend putting a brick or other large object in the toilet tank to reduce water consumption. But if this requires you to flush twice (to make the stuff all go down) on a frequent basis, this may not be a good idea for you.

Reducing water usage is another reason to use a flow restrictor in your shower nozzle.

Don't let the water run while brushing your teeth or washing your face and hands. Use a glass of water to brush your teeth. Fill a stoppered wash basin to wash yourself.

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