Saving energy can save you money, and help you pay down your debt faster.
Here’s the serious trouble with taking on too much debt: you have debt, be it from credit cards, a house you can’t quite afford, medical payments, student loans, or whatever else you had to buy on credit. Servicing that debt takes up so much of your income that you make only the minimum headway. It hurts your quality of life and traps you into paying far more in interest than you wanted. Sometimes it’s more than the value of the original loan.
To get out of this cycle, you need to pay off your debts as fast as possible. If you’re close to the wire, this means one of two things:
- Make more money
- Spend less money
Making more money is a viable option, but not the subject of today’s blog. Besides, that’s usually a longer-term strategy. But you can easily begin spending less money today and reap the benefits by the end of the month. There are lots of approaches to this, but reducing your home energy bills is one of the easier solutions.
1. Turn off the lights
This one is the low-hanging, obvious fruit that your parents (and their parents) keep telling you to do…but only some of us actually do it. Each light bulb you have burns about 1 cent per hour, if you use incandescent bulbs. That doesn’t seem like much, but multiply the number of bulbs in your house by the number of hours in a month and suddenly you’re talking real money.
Long-term, you want to upgrade your bulbs to low-cost, long-life LEDs. But that costs money upfront you could be using to kill your debts. Instead, just get disciplined about keeping on only the lights you’re actually, actively using.
2. Re-purpose blankets and sheets
Your spare blankets and sheets just lie around doing nothing for you, but in both summer and winter you can apply them to heating or cooling your home.
In the summer, hang sheets in front of your windows outside your home. Use your gutters and some clothespins or paper binders for an easy, DIY approach. By keeping direct sunlight off your windows, you’re drastically reducing inside temperatures, and thus the cost of your A/C.
In the winter, hang blankets up inside and cover your windows. This adds insulation to what is otherwise the biggest heat leak in your home. Less heat going out means less work for your furnace…and that means less money on your power bill.
3. Go on Plug Patrol
Here’s a fun fact: most modern appliances pull power even when they’re turned off. It’s how your television remains ready to get that “ON” signal from your remote control, for example. According to a study by the National Resources Defense Council, this “passive power load” represents as much as a quarter of your electric bill.
Here is a list of the worst culprits in the passive power game:
- Modems and networking equipment
- Most audio and video equipment
- Printers, faxes, and copiers
- Equipment for swimming pools and hot tubs
- Set-top boxes, including video game consoles
- Battery and device chargers
Get in the habit of not just turning these off, but unplugging them entirely. If you have power strips lying around, plug your equipment into them so you can turn off your whole entertainment system with one switch, for example.
4. Use the 2-degree rule
This one’s simple and easy. The next time the weather changes, simply adjust your expectations by two degrees.
If that’s winter turning to summer, set your AC to two degrees higher than you usually do. If fall is up next for you, set your heat to two degrees lower than you’re used to. You will adjust within a matter of days, but you’ll enjoy the energy savings all year long.
You know that advice about going on errands to the same part of town all at once to save on gas? You can apply the same concept to your energy usage by getting double- and triple-duty out of things. Here are a few of our favorites:
- List all of your needed ingredients for meals and pull them out in one visit to keep your fridge as cool as possible.
- Sweaters, sweatshirts, and warm pajamas clothe you and keep you warm in cold temperatures.
- If you’re using lights at night, have everybody work in the same room so fewer lights are on.
- Run multiple print jobs at once so your printer only needs to cycle on a single time.
- Only run your dishwasher when it’s full.
Avoiding the opposite of multitasking by not making your appliances compete accomplishes many of the same goals. The classic example is to cook outdoors or in the microwave when your A/C is doing overtime, but other opportunities abound.
This is a far from complete list. Use your imagination and ingenuity to find other opportunities to multitask your way to lower home energy bills.
6. Get tactical with your laundry
Your laundry is a huge power hog. Running the machines draws power. Heating the water in your washing machine draws more power. Heating up the air in your dryer uses even more energy.
That’s the bad news. The good news is there are lots of ways to reduce that power demand.
- Wash using cold water. As much as 30 percent of your washing machine’s power comes from heating it up, and it doesn’t make much difference for most kinds of laundry.
- Use the proper load sizes, especially in the dryer. It takes more than twice the electricity to dry a double-sized load of laundry.
- Only wash the clothes you need to wash. Most pairs of pants can handle 3-4 wears before you wash them, as can most sweaters and sweatshirts. Conveniently, these items are also some of the bulkiest and most expensive to wash.
- All summer long, use a clothesline outside instead of your indoor dryer. It saves money by decommissioning a big energy eater, and by not forcing your A/C to compete with it.
7. Shift your schedule
Not everybody has infinite flexibility in their schedule, but everyone does have a little. To the degree that it’s possible, try shifting when you work indoors and outdoors, when you cook, and even when you sleep. Each of those considerations creates an opportunity to use less power by reading when the sun is out, or by sleeping under blankets during the coldest part of the day.
Similarly, call your power company and see if they have peak hour rates. That’s when they charge more money—at certain times of the day there’s a greater draw on the power (usually in the evenings when everybody’s home with their lights and televisions on). If your company employs this practice, give some thought to how you can rearrange some of your daily activities to qualify for lower rates.
You’ll find dozens (maybe even hundreds) more of these kinds of things online, and we recommend you take on as many as you can and make some habit changes. We selected these because they are proven to work and because they require no up-front investment. Other techniques, for example, installing tankless water heating and high-insulation windows, are great for long-term savings…but they cost short-term money that only hurts your debt situation before it can help you later on.
Instead, apply these no-cost fixes this month and apply the savings to paying down your debt. Once that creates some “breathing room,” then consider making costlier changes to even further reduce your energy needs.
Carla Bower is a savings expert and an environmental activist.