Fourteen Frugal Tips to Save on Utilities

By Barbara O’Neill, Ph.D., CFP®, boneill@njaes.rutgers.edu

Utility bills are a major recurring expense in family budgets, especially during the winter and summer months. They may not be the largest household expense, compared to housing costs or transportation, but people still spend a lot of money on heating, cooling, and other types of energy use (e.g., washing dishes and doing laundry).

 

Family gathered in kitchen
Photo by August de Richelieu from Pexels

Below are 14 money-saving tips for personal financial managers (PFMs) to share with service members:

  1. Tighten Up- Fill in cracks around windows and doors and caulk and weatherstrip doors and windows to save up to 10% on home energy bills.
  2. Plan Baking “Binges”- Bake foods together as much as possible to reduce the times that an oven is turned on. For example, when baking chicken for 45 minutes, also bake banana bread at the same time.
  3. Get Audited- Contact the local utility company for an energy audit and/or to arrange for the installation of energy conservation measures such as weatherstripping and a time-of-day meter.
  4. Lower the Thermostat– Lower the thermostat by one degree to save an estimated 1% to 2% on heating bills. Compensate, as needed, with heavier clothing. Turn back the thermostat, even more, when no one is home.
  5. Use Fans Instead of Air Conditioning– Use a whole-house fan for home cooling on days when temperatures are high, but not unbearable. Reserve air conditioner use for the hottest days where more heat relief is needed.
  6. Follow Recommended Practices– Invest in low- or no-cost energy saving activities such as an annual furnace tune-up, insulation wrap on a water heater, and periodically cleaning the outside coils on a refrigerator.
  7. Sign Up for Off-Peak Savings– Find out if the electric company offers a discount for electricity usage during off-peak hours (generally nights and weekends). If so, sign up for the plan and buy a timer for the water heater so that it cycles on only during off-peak hours. Also wash dishes and clothing during off-peak hours.
  8. Stay on Schedule– Replace heating/cooling system filters and perform other required maintenance as per manufacturer suggestions (e.g., every 1 to 2 months). Once filters are clogged, airflow is blocked.
  9. Plug the Leaks- Find and seal air leaks around the home. Good places to check include electrical outlets, exhaust fans, and attic openings.
  10. Close the Door– Close off unused bedrooms (and other extra rooms without water pipes) to reduce heat and air conditioning to those areas.
  11. Get Additional Insulation– Check with the local utility company about programs that help cover some of the cost. Popular locations to insulate are ceilings, exterior walls, floors, and hot water pipes.
  12. Lighten Up Efficiently– Select energy-efficient light bulbs and fixtures when replacements are needed. Use compact fluorescent bulbs where possible. Turn off lights when they are not needed.
  13. Hang Wash to Dry- Consider air-drying bulky laundry items like sheets and towels and reserve dryer use for clothing. Doing this will result in smaller loads, shorter drying cycles, and energy savings.
  14. Consider Other Ideas– Try other ideas frequently cited by energy experts: running completely full dishwasher and laundry loads), letting dishes air dry, washing clothes in warm water, using water-saving (low-flow) showerheads, setting water heater temperature to 120 degrees, and buying energy-efficient appliances.

This U.S. Department of Energy website has additional information about ways to save money on utilities.