Stretching Cents: Bills, Bills, Bills

It's not a fun topic to cover, even if you aren't on a tight budget, but it's something we all have, so we might as well talk about it. Here are the things I do to help save a little on my monthly bills.

"Our habits can cost us"

+ We only shower every two days or so, for 10-15 minutes (and we don't take baths). Not being employed and needing to dress nicely for anything, this hasn't been a problem in terms of presentability.
And if I feel stinky, I'll wipe my underarms with baby wipes to freshen up. But because our water and sewer bills are among the highest, this is the best way we've found to use less.
I'm not yet desperate enough to only flush once a day, but I've heard of folks who go that route to save on sewer bills, too.

+ We downgraded the size of our garbage bins. If we could, we'd downgrade the number of trash, recycling, and food/yard waste pickups per month to better suit our financial needs and waste production as well, but our county doesn't offer that option. If you find yourself always having space in a bin, it may be worth your time to get a smaller bin and save a few bucks per week.

+ We rent our home, which was built in the 1940's, so there are many green energy upgrades we cannot make to this building. However, most utility companies will give you a break (and/or you will lose less heat/energy/etc) if you upgrade to using specific types of lightbulbs, insulation, weather stripping around doors, double-paned windows, etc.

+ We have forced air heat, and so we close the vents and doors to any rooms we don't regularly occupy (like the guest room, the bathroom, and the basement area). This keeps the heater from running for long periods, trying to heat up every room in the house.

+ Our first line of defense is to add or remove clothing, not to adjust the climate control. Throwing a sweater over my short sleeves (and my laptop on my lap) will heat me up faster than the heater, *and* doesn't cost as much.

+ After using the oven and turning it off, I prop the oven door open for 15 minutes to let the ambient heat warm up the kitchen. It's not much, but it helps.

+ We only keep the difficult-to-reach stuff plugged in. Even when an appliance is off, the plug is still pulling some electricity from the outlet. If you have multiple items plugged in, this can add up. So we negate that by keeping our kitchen appliances unplugged until used, and our computers on a power-saver strip.

+ We use natural light instead of lightbulbs, when possible. Also, candles. It's not practical for reading, of course, but watching TV, using our computers, dining, etc work just fine with minimal lighting (and- bonus!- dining with multiple lit candles on the table and zero florescent lighting inspires romantic *ahem* activities).

+ Our landscape lighting is solar-powered. Since we're not outside in the dark very often, we don't need anything bright or hooked to our power system, so this works. We also don't have sprinklers (being in Seattle and all), which saves us money with landscaping.

+ I hated doing this, because it felt like backward progress, but when things got tight I called every single outstanding bill that I had and explained my situation to them. They all agreed to give me an extended grace period for repayment, and/or lowered my monthly minimum bill. Of course, loans and credit cards carry an interest rate, so you want to pay a little more than the minimum in order to keep the interest rate from getting hefty, but there ARE options.

+ We applied for county assistance. Every county and state has a different policy, but it pays to dig into what yours is. Research, make phone calls, etc. You may be eligible for utility assistance, food stamps, cash programs, work placement programs, free job retraining, etc...even if you're currently receiving unemployment assistance as well.

The broken record of Stretching Cents seems to be that if you take the time and do the leg work, you can save small amounts of money in every aspect of your daily life. And that all adds up, to help make your hard-earned wages (or lack thereof) go further.

* Most of these images are not mine, and are used to entertain and give visual examples of these tips I'm happy to give credit to the owners of these images, if identified.

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