Ideas That Spark: Smart Living
6 Ways to Save: Monthly Bills
From the Editors of Ideas That Spark
If you’re like most people, you’ve been cutting back on nonessentials — eating out less, postponing travel plans, giving last year’s handbag another run. But what about the essentials? Check out these surprisingly simple strategies for cutting costs on such monthly expenses as your electric bill and your car payments. With the money you save, you might want to splurge on a handbag after all.
You know to look for the Energy Star label when buying a dishwasher, but look for the rating on TVs, digital camera adaptors and printers as well. For example, a power adapter that is Energy Star-certified may use 30 percent less energy. You can also go directly to the electric company to cut costs. If the electric industry is deregulated in your state, try comparison shopping to get better prices. You could save as much as 20 percent each month with a different energy provider. Other options include switching to a time-of-use plan, which charges lower rates during off-peak hours (after 9 p.m., for example), or a fixed-bill plan, which charges the same amount each month — no matter how long you left the lights burning and the music blaring.
Energy Star heating and air conditioning? Check! In addition to saving energy, you’ll also save money because many utility companies and local governments give rebates on Energy Star-certified purchases. But don’t stop there. Program your thermostat to go down a few degrees in winter and up a few degrees in summer to shave about 10 percent off your bill.
Keeping your heating and cooling systems running as efficiently as possible can save a lot over time. Spend the $50-$100 upfront to have a certified HVAC technician check for things like unsealed ducts and clogged filters. You could boost your efficiency by 20 percent or more — and feel the difference in your wallet.
Stretch your grocery dollars. When you plan your weekly menu, select meals that share some ingredients. For example, if a recipe calls for a tablespoon of fresh basil but you must buy the $3 bag, plan to make pesto the next night to use up the rest. You can also save time, energy and money by planning for some ingredients to do double duty. For example, when you grill chicken kabobs on a Monday, set aside some grilled chicken for tacos on Tuesday. If you do have leftovers, toss them into omelets, soups and stews, pastas and rice dishes.
Quit your pay-per-view habit cold turkey. Instead, subscribe to an unlimited video rental service like Netflix, Blockbuster Online or Intelliflix, through which you can rent four movies a month for some $3.99. Or select a movie online from Redbox and pick it up at one of their 15,000 kiosks for $1 a day. And check out your local library: It might have a bigger selection than you think.
Cancel, bundle and use technology to chat for less. To slash your home phone bill, consider scrapping it and using only your cell phone. If you’d prefer to keep a landline, ask the phone company to bundle your service with DSL, cell and TV at a discounted rate.
For a high-tech and inexpensive alternative, use the Internet to carry your calls. Skype, magicJack, Vonage and Ooma all offer voice-over-Internet options, which are especially cost-effective if you do a lot of international calling — but you’ll need a robust Web connection. And always shop around for the best price and ask about any promotions.
Get savvy about car insurance. Shop around for the best deal — get quotes from Esurance, Geico, Nationwide, Progressive and State Farm and compare rates online at InsWeb. Some companies give discounts for installing a tracking device like LoJack, antitheft devices (car alarms, keyless-entry remote controls, steering-wheel disablers like The Club) and safety features (antilock brakes, air bags, automatic seat belts).
Lower your rate further by combining benefits with a spouse, using the same company to also insure your home, taking a driving course if you’re over 55, and having your teenage drivers take drivers education and maintain a GPA of 3.0 or higher. You might also be eligible for a discount through an association — your alma mater, a professional organization, a military group and a large employer. Paying your bills on time will also earn you a good credit score and keep your premiums down.