Frugal Friday – A Winter Utility Bills Challenge

by Tiffany in Frugal Green

frugal fridayI am looking for ways to save money this winter on heating costs. Last winter our peak bill was close to $600. That about knocked our socks off. It of course reminded us that we should have looked through a year’s worth of utility bills prior to buying this house. I don’t know for sure if we would have passed on making the purchase but we probably would have. But now we own it, and we do love it, so it is time to stem the bleeding.

I am going to make a challenge of reducing the bill and get the family involved. Every dollar we save compared to the previous year’s bill will be divided five ways (five family members). Hopefully the kids will be more serious about turning off lights and unplugging gadgets before they leave the home for school each day. For my part I have a couple ideas…

We already installed a new thermostat last year because our other one was ancient. We may actually go ahead and get a smart thermostat that will adjust when no one is home and that we can control from our phones. I am thinking about getting Honeywell’s smart thermostat. It has great reviews and it is much cheaper than the Nest.

We were ready to redo the insulation in our attic just a few weeks ago and go from batting insulation to spray foam. But then my husband realized that the batting was not going to budge without HUGE amounts of work so we are now thinking about having more insulation blown in instead. And if we have money leftover from not doing the spray foam we might add insulation to our garage doors.

We bought some oil filled radiators to heat specific areas such as upstairs bedrooms rather than turning up the furnace. I also saved money on them by using the Benefit app to buy gift certificates and get an automatic rebate and then using Giving Assistant to make the purchase which resulted in another rebate. Double dipping! Anyway, we are impressed so far with their ability to heat a room pretty quickly and then sustain that heat even after they are turned off. It was some obscure frugality newsletter from 20ish years ago that mentioned them and inspired to me to try.

I plan to buy some nice down comforters and duvet covers for each family member. It is a side goal to make my bed as luxurious and comfortable as that of a posh hotel. Why not ooh and ahh when you get in bed every night instead of doing so only when you go on a nice vacation??

I will be adding more thermal curtains to some bare windows. We have four windows that are still bare or have minimal (ie too thin) curtains. I am not sure if this will help because the house has all new windows and doors and they are super nice and high quality so there are no drafts. The fact that the previous homeowner had recently spent many thousands of dollars on new windows and doors is a clue we should have picked up on, LOL. If the new curtains don’t help with warmth at least they will look nice.

Other frugal wins for the week:

  • We are doing a small kitchen remodel with a budget of $1500. More than half that went to buying new kitchen counters. We opted to buy our counters from Menards while they were offering an 11% rebate so we will be getting almost $90 of that money right back. You have to use the rebate money at Menards but that means I will be be able to get all new drawer pulls and cabinet knobs for FREE! There might be some left over for paint brushes too.

How did you do?


Frugal Friday – Paying Old Debt

by Tiffany in Frugal Green

frugal fridayFrugal Wins:

  • Made an offer on an old debt and settled it for 50% off! Yay! This old debt stems from changing cell phone carriers. We had a two year contract and mistakenly changed carriers a measly one week early. They would not budge on the early termination fees for three phones (over $300 each) so I decided not to budge on paying them. This did not have much of an effect on our credit score or our ability to buy our house but it still nagged me. It will nag me no more.
  • Used a $10 mobile coupon on a $50 purchase at Tractor Supply to stock up on feed for our homestead rabbits. This resulted in a nearly free bag of feed. We just got another in the mail for 10% off our total purchase so it might be time to buy supplies for the quail and chickens we hope to add soon.
  • On a related note, I happened across a comment in a homesteaders group about rabbits loving to eat sweet potato vines. Well, we have TONS of sweet potato vines in the garden so we have been supplementing heavily with those as well as the rest of our carrots. Free pet food and we get to eat the sweet potatoes.
  • Looked up online coupons for our local drivers education center and found one for $60 off. That brought the total cost down to $340. This is a mandatory requirement for license holders under age 18 in the state of Ohio and our oldest just turned 16.
  • Made $20 selling something on Craigslist.
  • Earned 2% cashback via Giving Assistant on a purchase made through Etsy.

Frugal Fails:

  • Bought a Cuisinart ice cream maker at Bed, Bath and Beyond on a whim. I had just thrown away a 20% off coupon because I almost never shop there and I failed to look on Amazon to compare prices. I overpaid by $20. Ugh.
  • Ate out at restaurants way to much this month. This is summer and fall in a nutshell for us. We are working more and running around more which means more meals on the go.

The Most Eco-Friendly Ways to Cut Utility Bills

by Tiffany in Frugal Green

Ways to Cut Utility BillsBeing eco-friendly is more about changing the way your family uses energy than buying new things to reduce usage. Remember, every item we buy requires energy to manufacture, package and ship. Even though a product helps you save water or electricity, energy is expended to create it.

If you want to make your home a greener place to live, there are easy ways to reduce energy use without making a single purchase.

Choose Utility Providers Wisely

Who supplies your energy and where the energy comes from can have a profound impact on your eco-footprint – and your monthly bill. In deregulated energy areas, people can choose from numerous providers and dozens of plans. Some of those plans are now powered by renewable energy.

Simply taking the time to compare providers, rates, and plans can lower your monthly expenses and reduce carbon emissions. Companies like the one found at this link are helping consumers compare electric rates and find providers that offer green energy plans.

Here are a few more tips related to utility providers:

  • Look for providers that offer rebates for green updates so when you do make a purchase you can offset the price.
  • Use account features that show your daily and weekly electricity usage. Some providers will even show you what’s using the most energy in your home.
  • Sign up with a provider that’s invested in renewable energy. Research their involvement in green energy, investments they are making and what they’re doing to support more efficient infrastructure.
  • Ask if the provider offers time-of-use plans. These plans charge slightly different rates depending on the season and time of day. If you use energy mostly at night when demand is lower you could end up saving money.

Heating and Cooling

Heating and cooling is the biggest chunk of the electric bill for most Americans. It’s easy to push a few buttons on the thermostat to make your house warmer or cooler, but it’s not very energy efficient. There are plenty of ways you can cool off without air conditioning and warm up without a heater.

These good habits can also help you become less dependent on the HVAC.

  • Use the programmable thermostat if you have one. It can save you up to 10% on electric bills.
  • Put the thermostat at the most efficient settings. In the summer keep the temperature around 78 degrees and bump it up a little when no one is home. During the winter keep the temperature setting at 68 degrees or as low as 60 degrees when you’re away.
  • Change or clean the air filters every two months.
  • Clean the vents and make sure nothing is blocking the airflow.
  • Close the vents in rooms that are rarely used.
  • Use fans instead of decreasing the temperature. It can create a wind chill effect that makes the room feel up to four degrees cooler.
  • Make sure the fan is turning counter clockwise in the summer so the air pushes straight down.
  • Have the HVAC system serviced annually and make sure you’re changing the HVAC filters on a regular basis. It will cost a little money up front but professional servicing can help the system run more efficiently and increase its lifespan.

In the Kitchen

More energy is consumed in the kitchen than just about anywhere else in the house. Between the power-hungry appliances and cooking kilowatt-hours add up fast. Make these small adjustments and you’ll see a big change in your bill.

  • Check the refrigerator and freezer temperature settings. The refrigerator can be set at 40 degrees Fahrenheit without any concern of bacteria growth. Freezers should be set to 0 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Keep the refrigerator and freezer as full as possible so it takes less energy to cool.
  • Clear frost out of refrigerators and freezers so they run more efficiently.
  • Clean the vents at the bottom of the fridge for maximum efficiency.
  • Wait until the dishwasher is fully loaded before washing dishes.
  • Skip the heat dry setting on the dishwasher.
  • Don’t preheat the oven unless a recipe specifically says to do so.
  • Use the microwave, toaster oven or a crockpot instead of the oven whenever possible.

In the Laundry Room

Another place where a disproportionate amount of energy and water is used is the laundry room. Dryers, in particular, require a significant amount of energy each time they’re run. With the tips below you can keep using your washer and dryer while reducing energy usage.

  • Only wash and dry full loads of laundry.
  • Line dry as many items as possible.
  • Wash clothes in cool or cold water to reduce energy usage by as much as 90%.
  • Only use the sanitary washing cycle if necessary.
  • Use the high spin or extended spin setting on the washer.
  • Use high efficiency detergent when possible.
  • Dry loads of laundry back-to-back so there’s no cool down period.
  • Use the moisture sensor to cut down on drying time.
  • Put a towel in with lighter fabrics to reduce the time needed to dry clothes.
  • Clean the lint filter before using the dryer.

Frugal Friday – Ohio Sales Tax Holiday!

by Tiffany in Frugal Green

Ohio Sales Tax HolidayFrugal Wins:

  • Had a GREAT month of July. The extra paycheck and lots of overtime meant the best month of the year for us.
  • Did all the back to school shopping early this morning during the Ohio sales tax holiday weekend for school supplies and clothing. I hit up a big box store for the supplies and for underpants because I had $55 in gift certificates (which I won!). Then I hit up a thrift store for the rest of the clothing.
  • Picked up $130 for testing a product all of last month. It was a product I use every day (even if typically another brand) so it was worth my time to do. The prepaid Visa I got was used immediately to pay towards our monthly cellphone bill.
  • Harvested lots of zucchini, yellow squash, cucumbers, swiss chard, carrots, and peppers from our garden. Still to come…watermelon, potatoes, and pumpkins.

Frugal Fails: 

  • Eating out…when we work overtime or take on side hustles we always eat out more.
  • $40 in library fines…grrr!

How frugal have you been??


Frugal Friday – Garden Goodies

by Tiffany in Frugal Green

frugal fridayFrugal Wins:

  • Husband got a small bonus at work and they put it on a prepaid Mastercard rather than paying via direct deposit. Often times he spends this money like it is personal blow money. This time he gave me the card and I paid some bills freeing up that money from the regular budget. Win!
  • Got $23 in credit to use at Menards from rebates. It sucks that we have to use the money there but they sell food there so it will likely be spent on food for hubby’s lunches.
  • Made chicken with green curry and swiss chard and a few salads throughout the week. The chard, lettuce, and radishes came from our garden.
  • Went to a movie with some friends. Sometimes you just need to get together with the girls. I picked an early showtime that only cost $5 to see and I had enough to cover it on an old gift card. I went without concessions so it was a total freebie.
  • Tallied up the June budget today and found that we had an extra $1800 dollars for the month and it wasn’t one of our best income months either. This shows me we have lots more wiggle room than I originally thought. July should be twice as good since it has 5 paydays and there will be overtime.
  • Paid nothing for gas in almost two months! I have a full tank after I used up the rest of a gas card I got as a gift during a blogger event in May. I don’t drive much and I also had two, week long test drives for a Lexus and a Mirage (they come with a full tank) during that time. Gas isn’t a huge expense but it sure has been nice to not budget for any in two months time.

Frugal Fails: 

  • Electric bill too high for my liking. I need to line dry clothing more often. I already adjusted settings on our dishwasher so that there is a no heat dry and rinse being used.
  • Ate outside the house twice this week. I was hot and irritable (driving without AC) and it was a treat so I am not beating myself up about it.

Looking forward to next month!