Frugal Living: How to Save on Utilities

 

Living a frugal lifestyle involves more than just clipping coupons. With a little strategy you can save money in every area of your life. We have already discussed ways to save on clothing and home decor. Today we move on to the utility bill.

Analyze Your Current Expenses
If you’re wondering where your biggest money drainers are in your home, you can begin by visiting the Energy Star website and using the Home Energy Yardstick. Fill out the form to see where you stand and get recommendations for how you can save. If you prefer, you can enlist the help of an Energy Auditor who will examine your home and provide a customized report.

To get you started, here are some easy fixes you can begin implementing right away.

Programmable Thermostats
For as little as $40, you can install a programmable thermostat and save as much as 10% annually on your utility bill.  Set it for as high as you can tolerate it in the summer and as low as possible in the winter.  You can even adjust it for hours when you are sleeping or away at work.

Switch to Compact Fluorescent Bulbs
Use compact fluorescent bulbs and save as much as $100 per year.  Your initial investment to change 15 bulbs will be around $25 (twice as much as incandescents).  But because they last 10 times longer, you’ll replace them far less often.  And since they use less energy, you’ll save another $7.50 or more per month.

Eliminate Unnecessary Lighting 
With five children in our home, I was constantly turning off lamps, along with lights left on in closets and hallways.  If you have a good amount of natural light or lighting from other sources, experiment with eliminating some of these for easy savings.  Or pick up a light timer so lamps are always off when not in use.

Wash Clothes in Cold Water Only
Nearly 90% of the energy used to wash your clothes goes to heating the water.  Switch to a cold cycle whenever possible.

Off Peak Hours
Some utility companies offer lower rates in the evenings and weekends.  Call your local company to see when the off-peak hours are, and plan to do the bulk of your energy consumption during this time (like running the dryer or using the oven).

Ditch the Dryer
Line dry as much as possible.  You can begin by line drying bulky items like bedding and towels, gradually adding other items.  You can even throw them in the dryer for a few minutes at the end if you like.  The idea is to take small steps to decrease your reliance on this energy monster and see your savings add up.

Dishwashing
Skip the heat-dry option on your dishwasher, and only wash when you have a full load.

Fill The Cracks
Seal up your ductwork and outlets to help maintain home temperature. These are areas that are often overlooked. You’ll also want to check weatherstripping on doors and windows to be sure they are in place. And don’t forget to give the attic a once-over to check for adequate amounts of insulation.

Did I miss anything? How do you keep your utility bill low?

Frugal Living: Save on Home Decor {Part 4}

Part One: Create a Home Inspiration Board (or Book)
Part Two: Trash to Treasure
Part Three: Make it Yourself

Part 4: Know When (& Where) To Shop
When you’ve exhausted all DIY options, it’s time to turn to the retail world. With a little planning you can pull out the best deals of the year and save at least half of what you would normally pay.

When To Shop for Furniture
The months of February and August are when furniture stores receive new styles, so the bargains abound in January and July. Don’t be afraid to negotiate and get a lower price. Most stores are willing to come down 10-15%, especially if you are buying several items. You can also find some super-low prices during long weekends like Memorial Day and Labor Day.

If you want to start by looking at the used stuff, May is the best month for garage sales and thrift store finds, as warm weather hits and folks embark on spring cleaning. If you only go to tag sales once a year, I recommend Memorial Day weekend for the best furniture finds.

Where to Shop for Furniture
If you’re shopping the tag sales and thrift stores, most folks recommend hitting the affluent neighborhoods first. I beg to differ. In my experience, these sales tend to have hefty price tags and less selection. Let’s face it. These folks didn’t get rich by giving stuff away. In the past, I have had much better luck with a neighborhood-wide sale in nice middle class subdivisions. Arrive early for best selection.

If you’re going the retail route, be aware that some stores are willing to match prices on identical items, even if you find them online. If they won’t price-match, they will likely be more willing to come down on prices when they know they are dealing with a serious and informed customer. So start by scoping out the store and writing down brand names, model numbers and prices of items you are interested in. Then return armed with a little online research before making an offer.

In my experience, locally owned stores have been more willing to negotiate on price than the national chains. But it’s a good idea to visit several retailers and speak with a salesman at each one so you know for sure if this is true in your area.

Online Shopping for Furniture
Yes, you can get good deals – even great deals – by shopping online. To find the biggest savings, you’ll need to be a little flexible.

For example, if you are loving the Pottery Barn Landon Armchair (left) but could settle for the Tiburon Armchair from Overstock (right), you’d save over $800. The trick is to use your Home Inspiration Book to put together the perfect look for your room, then shop the discount stores to achieve it for less.

My favorite online furniture sites:

Overstock.com
Amazon.com
Home Depot
Ebay.com

Accessories & Wall Art
Accessories are the frosting of the room. They help define your style and bring your home together. So choose them carefully and always be on the lookout for the perfect items.  This is another example of how an Inspiration Book will help you narrow your focus.

Hobby Lobby and TJ Maxx are my favorite places to shop for home accessories.  They have great prices and a wide, ever-changing variety.  Home furnishing stores can have some nice deals too if you’re willing to wait for the big sales.

Frugal Living: How to Save on Home Decor {Part 3}

Part One: Create a Home Inspiration Board (or Book)
Part Two: Trash to Treasure

Part Three: Make It Yourself
For as long as I can remember, I’ve been an HGTV junkie. I would tivo my favorite shows and store them up for those rare free moments when I could relax and dream about my perfect home. While the dreaming was fun, most of the projects I found seemed to be a little above my ability level and comfort zone.

Nowadays, I tend to rely more on DIY bloggers than television. Many of these are ordinary homemakers just like me who have learned how to wield a skill saw,  sander or sewing machine, and show me how to do it as well. Somehow it seems a lot more do-able when someone like me is doing it.

So lately I’ve become a little more brave. Thanks in large part to my favorite DIY blogger Ana White.

Ana is a mother and homemaker from Alaska with no special carpentry skills who has braved the world of power tools to DIY her heart out. Her site is filled with free plans and hundreds of successful project photos from readers who follow her. She gives me the if-she-can-do-it-I-can-do-it feeling I need to conquer my fear and get started.

If DIY furniture isn’t your bag, consider other decorating options.  You can revamp your sofa pillows with the easy tutorial from iheartnaptime (below).  Or make your own wall canvas with The Girl Creative.

Here are some suggestions to help you on your way to becoming a DIY diva.

Start Small
Pick a small project you can accomplish with $30 or less and a few hours effort. This will help build up your confidence and give you a few skills you can carry over into the next project. Ideas abound on Pinterest.

Choose One Space
As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, choosing one room or area in your home to focus on will help narrow your focus and channel your enthusiasm. Spend some time in the space and list the goals you would like to accomplish. Then take your list to the web to find an inspiring idea or project.

Get Help If You Need It
Buddy up with another like-minded DIYer so you can motivate each other to move through your goals. My buddy is my husband. He’s not much of a decorator, but he loves to break out the power tools whenever possible so he willingly goes along with me 😉

Be Inspired By Other DIYers
These ladies (and gentlemen) are geniuses. And I am their biggest stalker fan. Use the ideas here as inspiration. Here are my faves:

 

You may also like:

How to Save on Clothing Part 1 – Thrifting Tips
How to Save on Clothing Part 2 – Ebay
How to Save on Clothing Part 3 – Consignment Sales
How to Save on Clothing Part 4 – Consignment Stores
How to Save on Clothing Part 5 – Stacking Deals at Retail Stores

Frugal Living: How to Save on Home Decor {Part 2}

Once you have created a Home Inspiration Board (or Book), you are ready to go hunt for your treasures. As always, I begin by going to the places that will save me the most money…which means back to the thrift store!

My Trash to Treasure Desk Redo

Here are some tips that have helped me weed through the merchandise and find the best items for my home.

Focus on One Room at a Time
This will help you narrow your focus and find items that fit your needs. Decide on the room you’d like to start with and go sit in it for a few minutes. With paper in hand, make a list of the functions of this room. Do you use it for tv watching? Doing homework? Entertaining? Hobbies?  Exercising?  Look through your inspiration book or search on Pinterest for ideas and inspiration to help you meet these objectives.  Then hit the stores in search of items for this room only.

Start Small
It can be tempting to want to dive right in and conquer your first room by running out and getting materials for several projects. Been there, done that. In my experience, this can be the biggest obstacle to my success because having a garage full of incomplete projects is the best way to squash my creativity and enthusiasm. Instead, consider starting with one small do-able task, such as a picture frame or lamp you can redo. Finish it, pat yourself on the back, and move on to the next thing.

Look Beyond Appearances
Wobbly legs and scuffs can be transformed with a little patience and a little paint. Just make sure that the item is either structurally sound or that you have the ability/finances to make it that way.  Be sure to visit a few DIY Home Decor blogs for inspiration.  This amazing transformation (above) comes from Doubletake.  Wait’ll you see the up-close “before” pic.  Just wow.

Don’t Buy a “Project Item” Until Your Current Project is Finished
This bears repeating. I have made this mistake enough times to know it is not a good idea to have more than one project at a time. The thrift store will still be there next week, and there will be other fantastic finds for you then.

Search the Web for Tutorials
Home Decor Blogs are a constant source of inspiration and instruction. You can find tutorials for just about any project on your to-do list. Here are a few I love:

Reupholstering

Painting

Frugal Living: How to Save on Home Decor

Anyone can waltz into a high end furniture store and waltz out with the makings of a gorgeous home. All you need is a fistful of Benjamins. But doing it on a budget requires skill, y’all.

If your Benjamins are on hiatus (with mine), here are some tricks to spiff up your home on a dime.

Step 1: Create a Home Inspiration Board (or Book). 
Keeping an overall vision for each room will save you hassle and headaches when shopping. Let’s face it, we thrifters can get a little starry-eyed when surrounded by an awesome sale or a jam-packed thrift store. Pinterest is a great place to store all your favorite home decor ideas so you have a good overall vision of your style. In time, you’ll start to see similarities in the colors and styles you are attracted to, which will help you narrow your focus when shopping.

My Pinterest Boards

If you’re not a Pinner, you can go old school with this idea and start an inspiration book. With all the free magazine subscriptions you probably have from subscribing to this blog (*wink*), you can begin clipping pages of rooms you love.  Before long, you’ll have a book filled to the brim like mine.

I’m a little embarrassed to show you mine.  Promise you won’t laugh?

Okay.

Remember, this baby has been with me for years and she is a little worn around the edges. But she is well loved and fits her purpose. Here she is in all her splendor.

How’s that for old school? Mmm-hmm. I don’t think the photo quite captures the rattiness. But you get the idea.

Despite her appearance, she’s one of the top 10 things I’d grab if the house was on fire. After my kids, of course.

Starting your own Inspiration Book means you’ll be ready with colors, styles and oodles of ideas to help narrow your focus when you find a sale. No more buyers remorse. In my opinion, it’s the first step in creating a cozy and inviting home on a dime.

Come back tomorrow for more ways to save on home decor!

More Frugal Living Tips:

How to Save on Clothing Part 1 – Thrifting Tips
How to Save on Clothing Part 2 – Ebay
How to Save on Clothing Part 3 – Consignment Sales
How to Save on Clothing Part 4 – Consignment Stores
How to Save on Clothing Part 5 – Stacking Deals at Retail Stores