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Ways to Decrease Your Utility Bill

This is a guest post from Anum Yoon, who is a prolific and excellent writer in the personal finance sphere.  You can find out more about her at her blog Current on Currency.

Today’s post will feature ideas on how to keep your utility bills low.  With winter around the corner, these tips could save you a lot of money.  Enjoy!

Temperatures are starting to drop. We are closing our windows now and thinking about turning on the heat. Whether you love winter or hate it, you are going to pay more to keep warm when the snow starts to fall and the temperatures drop.

The same is true for those in warm-weather climates. When the heat rises, so do the air conditioning bills. We have no choice but to heat and cool our homes to maintain our comfort, but there are a few things you can do to keep your utility bills from burdening your budget.

Check Your Settings

Are you scalding your hands when you wash them? Are your vegetables freezing in the refrigerator drawer? Check the settings of your appliances to make sure you aren’t overworking them and wasting energy, which results in higher bills.

Your hot water tank doesn’t need to be set any higher than 120 degrees. This is hot enough for dishes and laundry and certainly hot enough to wash your hands. Manufacturers and installers typical set them higher, and you may not have looked at or paid attention to the settings. Consult your manuals for more information.

Your refrigerator should be set around 37 to 40 degrees and your freezer at 5 degrees. Anything colder than that is unnecessary, and you will be wasting energy and potentially freezing your food in the refrigerator. Some refrigerators have known cold spots, but many people just set them too low.

Replace Incandescent Lightbulbs

Old lightbulbs use a lot more energy than new halogen, CFLs and LEDs. Depending on the specific type, these bulbs use anywhere from 25-80 percent less energy. These bulbs are more expensive than their predecessors, but last many years longer and will save you money over the long term.

Purchase Energy-Efficient Appliances

When it is time to get a new refrigerator, freezer, washer or dishwasher, look for those marked Energy Star compliant. These appliances can use up to 75 percent less energy than older models, which can add up to hundreds of dollars in annual savings. Even if your old refrigerator still works well, it might not be a bad idea to consider replacing it for overall savings.

(Note from TBP: Check with your local utility company to see if they provide credits for upgrading your old appliances to Energy Star models.  Many will also haul away the old appliance for you.)

When you use your appliances, make sure they are full before you run them. They will use just as much electricity washing a few items as they will a full load. Be wise and economical with your energy use and save money doing so.

Use Your Garbage Disposal Properly

The garbage disposal is a modern convenience that many take for granted. It’s not a magic hole through which anything can pass. The garbage disposal uses a lot of electricity to grind up wasted food items into tiny bits small enough to pass through the drain. Sometimes they clog, and through misuse, break. You can save money on electric bills and expensive repairs by observing some of these do’s and don’ts

Do

  • Turn on a heavy flow of water before flicking the switch. The garbage disposal needs water to do its work and will overheat without it. Continue to run the water after the grinding stops in order to thoroughly clean out the drain.

 

  • Every few months, put ice cubes down the drain and grind those up. This will help clean out the inner workings of the disposal. You can also add a lemon peel to help freshen the scent. Disposals often smell bad because they have rotting food stuck inside them.

 

  • Have your kitchen drain snaked out every few years. This will prevent clogs and possible repairs.

 

Don’t

 

  • Put grease down the drain. The grease will harden in the water and create clogs throughout the drain. Just save grease and fat and discard it in the trash can.

 

  • Grind up big food items that can be thrown in the trash. It’s a waste of energy and it puts unneeded stress on your disposal.

 

  • Put rinds, potato peels, rice or pasta in your disposal. These items should be thrown in the garbage and never put into your drain. The garbage disposal doesn’t do well with these items and will usually clog from them.

Add or Replace Insulation

Is the air you are heating or cooling escaping outside through cracks and gaps in your windows or attic? Proper insulation will keep that air inside and prevent your home from feeling drafty. This will save you money, as your furnace or air conditioner won’t have to work as hard to maintain your desired temperature.

Add weather stripping to doors and windows. Caulk up holes and cracks you can reach. If you are comfortable doing so, add another layer of insulation in your attic, or hire a professional to inspect and assess what your house needs.

Check for Leaks

Leaky pipes, toilets which run nonstop and sinks that drip constantly all waste water and cost you money. Fix these leaks yourself or hire a professional if you are uncomfortable doing so. If you aren’t sure you have a leak, you can check your water meter. If all the water is off, there should be no change in the meter after two hours or so. But if there is, you may a have a leak somewhere in the house.

Invest in a Smart Thermostat

If you are going to be gone all day, don’t waste money keeping your home at an ideal temperature when you can’t enjoy it. You can program a smart thermostat to have your home at the temperature you desire by the time you get home and give the furnace a break when you aren’t there. Some can be programmed and accessed online, in case your plans change.

There are lots of little things we can do to save on our energy costs. They don’t have to be major projects like replacing all the windows or installing a new roof — although these will help, too. You just have to properly maintain your appliances and be conscious of the energy you are using. Even making a minimal effort will lower your bills during extreme weather months and keep more of your money in your pocket.

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Avoid Stupid Bank Fees

                                                                They’re making a killing off of us.

My first checking account was at the same local bank that my dad used and he helped me sign up for it.  Banks LOVE this since they are hoping to get your business for life and then I will do the same thing with my son.  They’re hoping people don’t catch on that there are great checking and savings options available and you aren’t beholden to your local bank.

Depositing your money into a checking account is the safest way to store your cash.  If you’re not careful, however, the fees can really stack up.  ATM fees, overdraft fees, insufficient balance fees, and even fees for talking to a human.  Navigating around these is essential to your finances, as these fees can really eat up your money and are easily avoidable.

While little account fees have always been there, they have been even more prevalent since the Great Recession of 2008.  Since banks can’t make as much of a killing (they still make a killing though) off of mortgages, they turned to ticky tack fees to make up the difference.

And make up the difference they did.  Chase, Bank of America and Wells Fargo, the three biggest banks in the country, made over $6 billion in 2016 from ATM and overdraft fees.  That’s pure profit for the big banks without providing any service.

And the banks will keep on charging fees since most of the country doesn’t know any better.  But these fees are easy to avoid.

Everything is Negotiable

If a bank tells you that there is now a monthly maintenance fee with your account, find a way to get around it or just ask to have it waived if you have been a long time customer.    Many banks will waive the fee if you sign up for direct deposit of your paycheck, for example.  Also, they will be more likely to change things if you talk with a branch manager.

If negotiating is getting nowhere, tell them you will take your business elsewhere.  And if they still don’t budge, close the account and just go elsewhere.  There are tons of options for bank accounts out there and if the bank you have stuck with for years doesn’t think it’s important to keep you as a customer, then find a bank that does.

One fee that is usually not negotiable is ATM fees.  Either you use your bank’s ATM or you don’t.  But nowadays you don’t have to use cash for pretty much anything.  Even going to the coffee shop is as simple as loading some money from your credit card to your smartphone app.  And you can pay bills and your friends easily through Bill Pay services with your bank or apps like PayPal or Venmo.

But the best way to avoid ATM fees is to switch to a different account altogether.

Consider an Online Bank

Internet only accounts have exploded in the last few years.  If you’re getting a raw deal from your current big bank, switching to a vastly superior online bank has never been easier.

Many online banks provide the same services as the big boys do.  You can direct deposit your check and pay bills easily.  But the most important difference is the lack of fees.

Many online banks will waive ATM fees.  Some are unlimited and some up to a certain amount.  Many of them also allow you to order checks for free, which is something that can cost $20 easily at most big banks.  There really is no reason not to consider an online bank if you’re being hit by fees from your current bank.

My favorite account has always been the checking account offered by Charles Schwab.  It has withstood the test of time and continues to offer unlimited ATM reimbursements, even internationally.  It truly is a no fee checking account that would serve anyone well.

Ally Bank also has a great online checking account that reimburses ATM fees up to a certain amount.  A nice website that will allow you to compare different online banks is Magnify Money.

The days of being beholden to the big banks are over.  While most of the country will probably never catch on to this, you need to.  There are lots of options out there and doing a little bit of research will lead you to find the perfect bank for you.

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