January Money Diet Day #8 – Lower Your Energy Bill

Lower energy bills | January Money Diet

It’s January 8th, and we’ve now successfully crossed the one-week mark in the January Money Diet. I want to thank all of you who have taken time to share your ideas and experiences in comments this week. It’s so inspiring to hear how you’re saving money this month, and I appreciate how many of you have shared wonderful goals and action plans for getting financially strong in 2016.

I also want to welcome the new dieters who are just joining — so glad you’re with us! Just jump right in, and feel free to participate and comment on the topics covered in earlier posts.

Today we’re going to explore ways to save money by lowering our home energy bills. We’ll enjoy the financial rewards of our efforts when our utility bills are lower than usual.

The January Money Diet is an excellent time to experiment with some new energy-saving strategies. Here in the Northern hemisphere many of us are facing larger-than-normal energy bills due to colder-than-normal temperatures. Our friends in the Southern hemisphere are in the middle of summer and facing cooling challenges. Either way, being especially mindful of energy use is an excellent way to save money — and help the environment.

These are some energy-saving ideas for you to consider:

Get Caulking

Drafts increase home energy use 5 to 30%, according to the U.S. Department of Energy, with 11% of a home’s heat loss occurring through poorly-sealed doors and windows. If you already have caulk or sealing supplies on hand, go around your house when the temperatures are nippy and find any places where you have leaks. Sealing up air leaks now will permanently reduce the amount of expensive heated air that escapes, and will also help keep your home cooler during hot temperatures.

You DIYers might enjoy reading about my incredible discovery when I removed a piece of window trim beneath a drafty window last year. You never know what you’ll find in a 1970s home, but over time we have made many improvements to seal up the leaks and drafty areas.

Get Cooking

Baking and cooking not only warm us on the inside, they help warm the kitchen, too. If you don’t have young children or curious pets in the home, you can leave the oven door propped open after you turn off the stove to let some of that warm air escape and heat the room.

Let the Sun Shine In

On sunny days, open the blinds or drapes to allow the sun to shine in and warm your house with passive solar energy.

Dress Right

Before turning up the thermostat, try throwing on a sweater. It’s much less expensive to warm you than your whole house. Dressing in layers helps trap heat, and sometimes just adding a camisole or undershirt can make you feel much warmer. Good socks will help your toes stay warm, too.

Check Your Furniture

January is a great time to rearrange the furniture, and while you’re at it you can make sure that sofas, beds, bookcases and chairs are not blocking any heat vents or radiators.

Find the Right Water Temperature

There’s nothing better than a hot shower or bath on a chilly day. On the other hand, we don’t need to continuously heat all of that water in the tank hotter than it needs to be. (If you have an on-demand water heater, this tip doesn’t apply.) You may wish to turn down your hot water heater a degree or two and see how you like it. Maybe it’s fine, maybe another degree or two down wouldn’t hurt — either way, it’s just an experiment. (The U.S. Dept. of Energy recommends a water heater setting of 120 degrees F.)

Bust a Move

Exercise, dance, clean the house, run up and down the stairs — just get moving to increase your blood flow and circulation, and you’ll feel warmer.

Get Cozy

We keep warm blankets in the family room so we can snuggle up on the couch while we’re watching movies. You might also like to try sleeping with flannel sheets or an extra blanket on the bed at night. January is a great month to experiment with turning down the heater by one degree. Okay? Try another degree. We have warm comforters on our beds, and we’ve grown to love sleeping with the heat turned down, cozy under the covers.

Light Right

If you have some CFLs or LEDs on hand, are there any old incandescent lightbulbs you can switch out? I was amazed how much our bills went down as we transitioned away from incandescent bulbs.

Try eating dinner by candlelight, or light an oil lamp for light occasionally this month. (My son loves it when we do this). Get in the habit of always turning off lights when you leave a room, and take advantage of natural sunlight whenever possible.

Unplug Sneaky Energy Draws

Anything with a little power light on is drawing electricity, which means our plugged-in DVD players and stereos and coffee grinders and power drills are costing us money and wasting energy when we’re not using them. Unplug appliances so they don’t use power while sitting idle. Plug appliances you use often into a power strip with an on/off button for added convenience. Every little bit helps.

Be Snug As a Bug

Area rugs will help warm up hard floor surfaces. You can also reduce drafts under doors by making your own door draft stopper from materials you already have on hand.

Run the Ceiling Fan

This always seemed counter-intuitive to me until I tried it. Warm air rises, so if you reverse your fan to a clockwise direction and run it on the very lowest speed, the blades will gently push the warm air back down into the room. This works best in homes with tall ceilings.

Cover Drafty Windows

My insulation guy told me this trick: Close your blinds at night with the blinds pointed upward toward the ceiling so that cold air isn’t drawn into the house. Even when the blinds are open during the day, I tilt them slightly up to reduce drafts.

Be sure to close drapes and shades at night to keep the heat in. We buy window film kits on sale in April and use them to line a couple of drafty windows the following winter; I’m always amazed at how well they work. Some people cover their windows with bubble wrap for additional insulation; I haven’t personally tried that, but if you already have the supplies you may want to experiment.

How about you?

What are your favorite ways to save energy in January? If you try any of these ideas this month, will you share your experiences in the Comments section of this page? We’d love to hear about your experiences.

Hugs and stay cozy,

The signature for Eliza Cross

Photo: Geir Tonnessen

About Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross is a full-time writer and the author of a dozen books about food and home design. She has been blogging about simplicity and sustainable living since 2006.

January Money Diet Day #27: Reduce Food Waste

Grapes

 

What if we could easily save hundreds of dollars from our food budgets each year, without making a single sacrifice or doing any additional work?

According to a recent article in the Washington Post, American families throw out between 14 and 25 percent of the food and beverages they buy, costing the average family between $1,365 and $2,275 each year.

Nothing makes me feel sicker than throwing away food we didn’t eat. Do you feel the same way?

On the positive side, preparing and using only what we need can be a wonderful way to stretch money and honor the earth’s resources.

How To Reduce Food Waste

What if 2015 was the year we all stopped wasting even one morsel? Let’s do this! Here are some strategies:

* Cook the right amount for your family. If you regularly throw away uneaten portions, recalculate your favorite recipes. Better to eat every bite and occasionally give Junior an apple if he’s still hungry after a meal, than constantly discard leftovers.

* Take leftovers to work the following day for lunch, and save money on meals out.

* Reinvent your leftovers in another meal (casserole, stir fry, soup) within a day or two.

* Freeze leftover meat, veggies, juices, milk, etc. for soups and stews. Do this within a day or two of cooking to preserve quality.

* Save and freeze the cooking water from vegetables, and use it as a flavor-enhancing base for soups and sauces. Spaghetti sauce freezes well, too.

* Be aware of small waste. Do you routinely throw away a third cup of coffee from the pot every day? Measure out exactly how much you need and experiment until you find the exact amount that eliminates waste.

* Save the carcass from a roast chicken or turkey and use it to make a batch of homemade stock.

* American restaurants are notorious for serving too-large portions. Don’t be shy about asking for a doggie bag at a restaurant. Or consider sharing a meal to eliminate food waste.

* If they’re too far gone, compost fruits and vegetables that are past their prime.

For additional inspiration, you might enjoy these tips from Zero Waste Home.

How About You?

Is yours a zero-waste home, or is this an area you want to work on? If you’ve adopted any strategies for using food wisely, will you share them with us?

Hugs,

The signature for Eliza Cross

Photo:  Liz West

About Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross is a full-time writer and the author of a dozen books about food and home design. She has been blogging about simplicity and sustainable living since 2006.

Day 23 of the January Money Diet – Try Alternative Transportation

Welcome to of the January Money Diet, a challenge to take a 31-day break from nonessential spending. If you’ve just joined us, you can learn more about the money diet here — and jump right in!

Paris Bicycles at Happy Simple Living

Bicycles in Paris – Photo by slettvet

Yesterday’s post was about saving money on fuel, and today we take it one step further. Could you try to eliminate using gas or other fuel, even if it’s just for a quick errand? Could you ride your bike to the post office? Or snowshoe, or cross country ski to the grocery store? Or ride your horse, or your llama, to work? Or take the bus, or the train? Or try carpooling? Or put on your walking shoes and stroll?

Homework Assignment #23: Try to get yourself from Point A to Point B without driving your personal automobile sometime in the next three days. How did you feel? Who did you encounter along the way? Let us know about your experience.

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Win a Deluxe Happy Simple Living Gift Basket

In honor of the January Money Diet, I’ll be giving away a gift basket chock-full of home and garden goodies plus several books at the end of the month. On January 31, 2013, I’ll draw one random name from everyone who commented during the month and that lucky person will win the gift basket. I hope you’ll stop by often this month and share your own ideas, thoughts and experiences about taking a 31-day break from nonessential spending.

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About Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross is a full-time writer and the author of a dozen books about food and home design. She has been blogging about simplicity and sustainable living since 2006.

Day 9 of the January Money Diet – Sell Something

In case you’ve just joined us, the January Money Diet is a challenge to take a 31-day break from nonessential spending. You can learn more about the money diet here — and jump right in!

Garage sale at Happy Simple Living blog

Photo: chazzvid

Today’s challenge is one of my favorites. Find something unused among your treasures, sell it to a buyer for cash, and either invest the money or pay down debt. It’s what I like to call the Happy Simple Living Trifecta – you’ll eliminate clutter and free up some space, you’ll improve your net worth, and you’ll keep one more thing out of landfill.

One of the easiest ways to get started is by selling unwanted books, DVDs and CDs on Amazon. You don’t need to take any photographs; just sign up for a seller account, list your items (Amazon gives you very specific guidelines so you can accurately list the quality of the item) and wait for the orders. Books and discs are easy to ship, and Amazon reimburses you for the postage. If you use the USPS’s media mail, you might even make a little profit on the shipping fee.

eBay takes a little more effort, but the results can be amazing — especially if you have a hot collectible. I’ve sold hundreds of things on eBay, and their Quick Start Guide shows you how easy it is to list your items. Just set up a seller account, take a photo of your item, write an accurate description, and carefully pack and ship your item. If that sounds like too much, you can use a third party seller who will take care of the transaction for you in exchange for a cut of the sale.

Craigslist can be great for getting rid of larger items like unwanted furniture or appliances. If you have unworn clothing, you can take it to a consignment store or a retailer like Plato’s Closet that pays cash on the spot for trendy clothing. If you live in a warmer climate, you can hold a garage sale this month.

Homework Assignment #9: Look around, see what you’re ready to part with, and find a buyer. Just don’t put the money in the general fund. Instead, use the cash to directly improve your net worth. Be sure to let us know what you sell this month!

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Win a Deluxe Happy Simple Living Gift Basket

In honor of the January Money Diet, I’ll be giving away a gift basket chock-full of home and garden goodies plus several books at the end of the month. On January 31, 2013, I’ll draw one random name from everyone who commented during the month and that lucky person will win the gift basket. I hope you’ll stop by often this month and share your own ideas, thoughts and experiences about taking a 31-day break from nonessential spending.

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About Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross is a full-time writer and the author of a dozen books about food and home design. She has been blogging about simplicity and sustainable living since 2006.

Day 8 of the January Money Diet – Lower Your Utility Bills

In case you’ve just joined us, the January Money Diet is a challenge to take a 31-day break from nonessential spending. You can learn more about the money diet here — and jump right in!

oil lamp at Happy Simple Living blog

Photo: DonMcCullough

Here in Denver we have just one utility company for electric and gas power, Xcel Energy. Xcel offers a budget billing service, so you can pay a set amount each month even though your power usage varies. The monthly bill is based on your actual usage for the past year, and in 2011 our monthly bill was $168. We started implementing many of the energy-saving measures below, and in 2012 Xcel dropped our monthly bill to $144. Could you lower your bills, too?

Start by trying to save water. Take a quicker shower. Hang your clothes up to dry. Turn off the water while you’re brushing your teeth. Research drip lines, rain barrels and xeriscape landscaping plants to save money in the garden. Ask for a low-flow showerhead for your birthday. If you don’t have a water efficient toilet, you can retrofit yours this month with materials you probably have around the house and save up to 3000 gallons a year. (Just don’t put a brick in the tank! Bricks break down over time and can damage the toilet.)

See if you can be creative and save some electricity and gas this month. Cook dinner in the slow cooker instead of the stove.  Try wearing a sweater and turning down the heat; see how that feels and adjust accordingly. Be vigilant about turning out lights when you leave the room, and unplug appliances so they don’t use power while sitting idle. (Anything with a little power light on is drawing electricity.)

If you have some CFLs or LEDs on hand, are there any old incandescent lightbulbs you can switch out? I was amazed how much our bills went down as we transitioned away from incandescent bulbs. Try eating dinner by candlelight, or light an oil lamp for light once or twice this month (my son loves it when we do this). Throw an extra blanket on the bed at night and try turning down the heater by one degree. Okay? Try another degree. How low can you go? We have down comforters on our beds, and we’ve grown to love sleeping with the heat turned way down, cozy under the covers.

Turn down your hot water heater a degree or two and see how you like it. Maybe it’s fine, maybe another degree or two down wouldn’t hurt — either way, it’s just an experiment. (The U.S. Dept. of Energy recommends a setting of 120 degrees F.) If you already have materials like caulking or weatherstripping on hand, go around the house on a chilly day and seal those drafty areas.

Homework Assignment #8: Get out your utility bills for the past year, and make a simple spreadsheet showing how much water, gas/heating oil and electricity you used each month during 2012. Try to beat last year’s totals each month during 2013. Let January be the month you dabble in conservation, and let us know any steps you take this month to reduce energy or water usage.

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Win a Deluxe Happy Simple Living Gift Basket

In honor of the January Money Diet, I’ll be giving away a gift basket chock-full of home and garden goodies plus several books at the end of the month. On January 31, 2012, I’ll draw one random name from everyone who commented during the month and that lucky person will win the gift basket. I hope you’ll stop by often this month and share your own ideas, thoughts and experiences about taking a 31-day break from nonessential spending.

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About Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross is a full-time writer and the author of a dozen books about food and home design. She has been blogging about simplicity and sustainable living since 2006.

Book Giveaway: Enter Now to Win a Copy of The Weekend Homesteader

Weekend Homesteader at Happy Simple Living Blog

This week, I’m giving away two brand spankin’ new copies of Anna Hess’s new book, The Weekend Homesteader: A Twelve-Month Guide to Self-Sufficiency. Anna blogs over at The Walden Effect, where she writes about simple living and homesteading from the 58-acre property where she lives with her husband in Virginia.

For those of us who don’t live on a farm but still long to be more self-sufficient, this book is full of great ideas. Anna shares photos, experiences and thoughts about topics like finding room and setting goals for your homestead, garden planning, budgeting, eating seasonally, storing drinking water, turning trash into treasures, backup lighting and learning to enjoy what you’ve got.

I loved reading her detailed, budget-conscious descriptions and instructions about raising chickens, baking bread, making a rain barrel, growing edible mushrooms and saving seeds.

If you’d like to win a copy of this book, just comment below and tell us what project you’d most like to implement on your own homestead in the future. Let’s keep this open through next Thursday, November 15 at midnight MST, and I’ll give the books away on Friday.

Thanks to Anna and Skyhorse Publishing for providing the books for this giveaway, and good luck to all of you!

Hugs,

The signature for Eliza Cross
UPDATE:  Congratulations to Kerry Anita and Jane Bloss, who won the copies of The Weekend Homesteader. Be sure to stop back for more book giveaways in the future!

About Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross is a full-time writer and the author of a dozen books about food and home design. She has been blogging about simplicity and sustainable living since 2006.

Your Best Holidays Ever

Cute Santa at Happy Simple Living blog

Photo by Jazz Man

So…what do you want for Christmas?

Today begins our new challenge, “All Done By December One,” a month-long series about bringing harmony to the holidays. If you’ve signed on, it’s likely that you’re hoping the 2012 holiday season will be different in some way. Perhaps, like me, you struggle to get everything done by December 25 and you long for a simpler, more meaningful celebration of Christmas. Or maybe you’re looking for some ideas to get organized, save money and have fun. Perhaps you’re tired of running yourself ragged trying to prepare for what should be a season of joy and peace.

No matter what your motivation is, I bet you put a lot of thought and energy into trying to give your loved ones and friends a special holiday. But I’m thinking about you as I write this, and I have a very important question for you:

What would you really like for Christmas this year?

The first step in creating a plan for this holiday season is to spend a little time thinking about the Big Picture. Your Holiday Homework is to find a quiet place to curl up with a journal or a pad of paper. Close your eyes for a few minutes, and think about the holidays. If you like, you can say a prayer and ask for divine guidance. What sorts of ideas, longings and images come to mind?

Quiet Christmas at Happy Simple Living blog

Photo: D Kinney

Start making a list, and write down any crazy thing that pops into your mind. Maybe you’ll do these things and maybe you won’t, but the important thing is to capture all of those thoughts and ideas so you can begin to shape your celebrations.

Write down the big things and the small things. Maybe you long for more family time together. Perhaps you want to simplify, and reduce spending and over-consuming (and that embarrassing, too-big pile of presents under the tree). Or maybe you want to think of some creative ways to bring more spirituality into your celebrations.

Christmas joy at Happy Simple Living blog

Photo: Richard BH

Perhaps you want to try some new activities. Maybe this year you want to make a gingerbread house. Or perhaps you want to go snow-shoeing. Or cut down your own Christmas tree.

Christmas sleigh ride at Happy Simple Living blog

Photo: Jumpy Jodes

Maybe you want to sing the Hallelujah Chorus. Or snuggle on the couch with your kids and watch Christmas movies. Or read the Christmas story from the Bible as a family. Or make homemade peanut brittle. Or crochet an afghan for your grandma. Or meet your girlfriends for shopping and martinis. Whatever it is, write it down!

Maybe what your heart is telling you is that you need to do less this year. Perhaps you wish you could eliminate some exhausting traditions or create more time for quiet and reflection. Write that down, too.

Christmas birdfeeder at Happy Simple Living blog

Photo: Walt Stoneburner

Chocolate truffles at Happy Simple Living blog

Photo: Fiona Shields

This may seem counter-intuitive, but I want you to include at least one special thing that you want for Christmas this year on your list. It could be a box of luscious chocolate truffles, piano lessons, a soft scarf, a new pair of boots, a special book – whatever is calling to you. I know, I know, we’re used to thinking of everyone else’s needs first. We’ll get to those next week, but for now I want you to to focus on YOU. Promise me you’ll think of a special indulgence just for you and add it to your list, okay?

Your homework this week is to write out your own holiday wish list, and tuck it away in a safe place where you can refer back to it this month. If you’re so inclined, feel free to share some of your ideas in the comments section below. (If you want to take a peek at my list, I’ve posted it here. I’m sure I’ll be adding to it as I read your ideas!)

By mindfully considering your Christmas celebration, you’re taking an important first step toward shaping this special season of joy. Next Monday we’ll begin working on specific plans to help you accomplish the tasks of Christmas earlier this year, leaving you some time to truly enjoy the weeks leading up to the celebration.

Meanwhile, here’s to your best, happiest holiday season ever,

The signature for Eliza Cross

About Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross is a full-time writer and the author of a dozen books about food and home design. She has been blogging about simplicity and sustainable living since 2006.

Our Holiday Challenge Starts Tomorrow – Are You In?

 

Simplify Your Holidays at Happy Simple Living blog

Would you like to experience the holidays differently this year—relaxed, organized and with time to actually enjoy the season? If so, join us during October as we participate collectively in a little experiment called “All Done By December 1.” The idea is to do some advance planning about the aspects of Christmas that are most important to you and your family, followed by some easy tasks and organization. The goal? To have every do-ahead task done by December 1, leaving you three glorious weeks to have the best celebration ever.

If you’re “in,” share a comment below and make sure you’re signed up to receive Happy Simple Living’s posts by e-mail. Starting tomorrow, I’ll e-mail you a post every Monday that includes ideas about simplifying, saving time, spending less, things to think about, and your weekly Holiday Homework (“HoHo”) assignment.

I’m counting on you to share your ideas, thoughts and experiences, too.  Let’s put our heads together and plan a holiday season that is long on family memories, meaning and fun—and short on overspending, overconsumption and stress.

Here’s to your best holidays ever,

The signature for Eliza Cross

 

About Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross is a full-time writer and the author of a dozen books about food and home design. She has been blogging about simplicity and sustainable living since 2006.

A Quick, Painless Way to Save Money and Energy When Baking

Elmira retro range on HappySimpleLiving.com

Retro range from Elmira Stove Works

I don’t know why I never thought of this before, but I read a great energy-saving idea in the book Shift Your Habit: Easy Ways to Save Money, Simplify Your Life, and Save the Planet by Elizabeth Rogers. When you’re cooking something in the oven, turn it off 5 to 10 minutes before your food is done. The oven will stay hot enough to keep cooking your food, and you’ll save energy. Rogers says this simple tip can save 100 pounds of greenhouse gas emissions  and $15 per year if you typically use the oven three times a week. During this toasty summer, turning the stove off early will also help your kitchen cool down faster.

How about you? Do you turn the oven off early to conserve energy? We always love to hear your energy-saving thoughts and ideas.

Stay cool,

The signature for Eliza Cross

About Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross is a full-time writer and the author of a dozen books about food and home design. She has been blogging about simplicity and sustainable living since 2006.