By Tom Twardzik
You've probably resolved at least once in your life to commit to a budget and reduce expenses in your home. But the changes that spring to mind—cancelling TV packages, lowering the heat and A/C, etc.—sound uncomfortable and difficult. However, it's surprisingly easy to make small, simple changes in your home and routine that add up to major annual savings.
Heating, cooling, electric and water are some of the major costs of owning a home but these important functions can offer savings through small changes without sacrificing comfort. Lower the thermostat in the winter and raise it in the summer—holding it nearer to 68º and 78º will make a big difference in how much energy your home requires. Ceiling fans will boost your A/C immensely (while you're in the room) and weatherstripping around doors and windows will keep the heat in. Speaking of A/C, make sure you perform regular maintenance on air conditioning units inside and outside the house to keep them efficient and avoid larger repairs. Using Energy Star appliances—washers and dryers, dishwashers, refrigerators and others, in addition to A/C units—will help you save money in the background, too. Maintain the furnace, too: clean or replace its filter and perform any repairs immediately.
Bathroom and kitchen
In the bathroom, cut a minute off of your shower time and if that seems too easy, try shortening by two or three minutes. Switch to a low-flow showerhead to save a few extra dollars. An awesome toilet tip that's worth almost $50/year: fill a medium-sized water bottle with water and put it in your toilet tank to trick the toilet into using less water per flush. Switch to generic cleaning supplies to save money every time you're at the store.
You should insulate your hot water heater with a blanket or fit it with a timer to reduce its energy consumption. Washing clothes in cold water and air-drying them avoids hot water altogether and also cuts down on electricity usage.
In the kitchen, install a water filter on your sink (unless you live in an area with clean tap water) to banish plastic bottles from your grocery list and garbage can. Another surprising way to lower energy costs in the kitchen is to cook in the microwave or toaster rather than the oven. It also avoids producing unwanted heat in the summer.
Around the house
Further reduce your electric bill by moving lamps, TVs and other heat-generating objects away from thermostats, especially A/C thermostats. The heat their operation will make your air conditioners think it's hotter than it really is in your home. And, believe it or not, those phone chargers (and other things) are leaking electricity when they're not being used. Save yourself the trouble of unplugging them by strategically placing a power strip and flipping them all off with one switch.
Depending on your home and situation, it might be wise to invest in a programmable thermostat or, even, a "smart" one. Then, set it to "away" mode and feel even better about leaving home to work or explore. And, of course, switch to CFL or LED bulbs. LEDs are better for lights that you turn off and on frequently, as this can shorten the lifespan of standard CFLs.
Now might be the time to revaluate your cable package. With so many networks offering their own streaming options, your cable subscription might not be the best value anymore. Your desperate cable provider might also be willing to negotiate before you leave them entirely. For basic cable channels, buy an indoor digital antenna and enjoy up to twenty free, HD channels. By selecting only the premium services you actually watch, you might find some savings. If you're sick of Netflix's rising prices, try your super-free public library's DVD section.
Smart grocery shopping is where you could find some of the biggest savings. Focus on value foods—ingredients with the most nutritional value for the best price—such as brown rice, canned beans, eggs, kale, lentils, sweet potatoes, frozen vegetables, apples and bananas. Shops sale items on the weekly circular and compare local stores for the best price in a given week.
Finally, make your own coffee. And when you do treat yourself to Starbucks, order wisely. This might be one of your biggest sources of savings, depending on your habits.
Tom Twardzik is a writer covering personal finance, productivity and investing for Paypath. He also contributes pop culture reviews for Popdust and travel writing for The Journiest. Read more on his website and follow him on Twitter.