Financial Advice By: Carmen Wong Ulrich
Q: All of these winter storms have really made my utility bills skyrocket, as I’ve had to really turn-up the heat to try to keep my house warm from the elements outside. While I know it’s been cold out, my bills have been almost double what I would usually pay each month during the winter and that is something that I definitely did not budget for. Is there some trick of the trade I can use in the future to lower these bills?
CWU: This winter has sent much of the country into its own ‘vortex’ of Yeti-sized heating bills. The good news is that there are a couple of great ways to bring down your utility bills not only this time of year, but also in the summer when you’ll want to cool things down inside. First, let’s start with the concrete, material things you can do, even on your own, to save money. Do you have the right sealants on your windows and doors? Check out this great guide on the very useful site LifeHacker about weather-stripping and insulation.
And what about that thermostat? By using a programmable thermostat, your heating and cooling systems can do their jobs only when it’s most important—when you’re at home and when you’re sleeping. The government’s website Energy.gov has a great guide to how they work and what you should look for when buying one. They estimate if you go for 10 to 15 degree lower settings when you’re at work and sleeping, you can save up to 20% on your heating bills. This purchase definitely falls under the umbrella of spending-money-to-save-money (down the road, for years!).
And look for other ways to make room for larger monthly heating and cooling bills, such as lowering your electricity bill by unplugging power strips and cords not in use—just because the TV isn’t on doesn’t mean it’s not ‘eating’ juice! Space heaters and electric blankets can make this bill jump too, but also keep in mind that they can be dangerous. Be safe when you’re trying to stay warm.
Of course, there’s always my father’s motto: “Put on a sweater!” Thanks, Dad, I’m on my third!
Carmen Wong Ulrich is a personal finance expert and author of “The Real Cost of Living.”