Instant Ways to Reduce Your Monthly Bills

One of the biggest worries when you’re unemployed is how you are going to pay the bills. Having to shell out money every month for your power, phone, and other utilities can cause a good deal of anxiety, especially when you have little or no income to pay them with. Here are a few simple things you can do right now to take a bite out of your monthly bills.

Cool your Home the Smart Way

According to expert Mr. Electricity (We know how it sounds, but he’s earned it), your Air Conditioner is the biggest energy hog in the house. A typical central air system can use 3,500 watts of energy per hour, which is the equivalent of 58 60-watt incandescent light bulbs, or 233 compact fluorescents. At the average US rate of 11.2 cents per KwH, that is a cost of $0.39 per hour, or $3.13 per day (assuming eight hours of sunlight), which comes out to $87.64 per month. That is a significant charge. You can reduce that with a few simple tricks:

  • Install a programmable thermostat (and program it!). Old manual thermostats are both less accurate in their measurements and less precise in their controls than newer digital models. Buy and install a new digital thermostat that you can program for different times and different days, and program it to only kick in when you’re home and when it’s hot.Bump up the temperature on your thermostat. You don’t want your home to 94°, but you don’t really need it to be 74°. You increase your energy usage by 3-4% for every degree under 78° that you set your thermostat.
  • Use a fan instead. Fans cool the skin by blowing the envelope of hot air that surrounds you and evaporating sweat. Table and floor fans use anywhere from 10 to 25 watts per hour.
  • Close the curtains. Direct sunlight can increase the inside temperature 10 to 20 degrees. The California Energy Commission says that up to 30% of a structure’s cooling costs are due to heat from solar energy. You can also install films and screens that block heat but still allow light into your home.

Only Heat the Room You Are In

Your central heating system uses the same ducts, and the same 3,500 watts per hour, to heat air and force it through the ducts to your whole house. By contrast, an electric space heater only uses 1,500 watts (on the highest setting) to heat the room you are in.

You can also save on heating costs by reducing your exposure to cold air and surfaces. Put rugs on bare floors, wear slippers or socks instead of walking around in bare feet. And yes, just like your dad used to tell you when you complained that it was cold, put on a sweater.

Unplug your appliances

Everyone knows to save on energy by turning off the lights when they leave a room. But did you know that the lamps, TVs, and toasters that you leave plugged in are still drawing current even when you’re not using them? While any one of them doesn’t suck up much power (your flat-screen TV only uses 48 watts-per-hour while in standby mode), those numbers add up quickly. You can reduce this vampire power usage by unplugging your appliances when they you aren’t using them. You can also pick up power strips that cut power to appliances entirely when you turn them off.

Don’t Get Soaked by Your Water Heater

You have probably heard about the advantages of ditching your old-style water heater for a new, more efficient tank-less model. It’s true that, in the long run, you will save money by going tank-less. But while you will start to see energy savings right away, the high installation costs mean that can take up to 22 years for you to break even. Not a great choice on a reduced income. Fortunately, you can still save money with a traditional water heater.

The first way to do it is by turning down your heater’s thermostat. Keeping the temperature around 120° means not having to mix as much cold water in with your shower, which ultimately saves you money on water, gas and/or electric bills.

You can also wrap your tank in a special insulating blanket to prevent heat loss to the air, which can save you up to 21 kilowatt-hours of energy a month.

Inflate Your Tires

The U.S. Department of Energy says that your vehicle’s fuel economy drops by 0.3% for every psi under the manufacturers recommended air pressure. That doesn’t sound like much, but if you have to drive a lot, it can really add up. According to government calculations, you can save the equivalent of up to $0.11 per gallon of gas just by keeping your tires at full pressure. Properly pressurized tires also last longer.

Reduce Your Cable Bill

If you don’t already bundle your cable, Internet, and home phone (do people still have those?) through a single provider, you are probably paying too much for the services individually. Fierce competition between providers means that you can usually get a lower introductory rate by switching to a competitor. If you’re happy with the service you have, you can occasionally get lower rates if you call up and say you’re going to cancel.

You should also look closely at your cable bill to decide if you really need those premium channels which can, after all, distract you from the important work of job hunting.

Start a Family (Plan)

Your cell phone can be one of the most expensive bills you see every month, but it also one of the most flexible. There are a few quick ways to reduce your monthly cell expenses.

Look at the amount of data you transfer and the number of texts you send, and adjust your plan accordingly. If you use more data or texts than you pay for, you get hit with serious overage charges—$0.10 per text, and $15 per 200mb on some carriers. If, on the other hand, you are paying for texts, minutes, and data that you aren’t using, you can save money by bumping your plan down.

Family plans can also be a great way to save on cell bills. Individual phone plans plus texting and data can cost up to $120 a month. But the same features on a two line, family-plan, runs $210 which breaks down to $105 a phone. All of the major cell carriers have a broad range of family phone plans, and you can usually add additional lines for $10 a month. Carriers don’t usually require you to be actually related to the people on your family plan, so if you have some friends who are also unemployed (or just interested in saving some money) you can get together and ease everyone’s monthly bills a little.

As with any money-saving tips, your mileage may vary depending on your location, local prices, and a host of other factors. But chances are good that you can use some of these tips to shave a few dollars off of your monthly bills, and keep yourself going for a little while longer.

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