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The Simple Dollar

Seven bills and seven ways to reduce each one

How to save money on the most common monthly expenses

By Guest blogger / January 28, 2011

A woman loads a washing machine in this file photo. Guest blogger Trent Hamm advises only doing full loads of laundry to cut back on water and electricity bills.

Melanie Stetson Freeman / Staff / File

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The other day, I opened my mailbox and what I found inside was painful.

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I found an energy bill and a mortgage statement and a phone bill and a water bill and an insurance statement and an internet bill. As I looked through them, I could just see the money leaving my accounts, floating through the ether, and winding up in the pocket of some company somewhere.

That experience stuck in my head that entire day. Why did I really spend that much money all at once? Did I really need to?

It was only in the evening, as I was talking to my wife about this experience, that it really clicked: almost every household in America has something of the same experience.

I sat down at my desk that very evening and made a list of all of the bills I have and all of the bills my parents have, figuring that the two lists would make it very clear what bills are common for many American families. I came up with a list of seven.

To keep it all symmetrical, I came up with seven money-saving tactics for each of these bills. Most of these tactics are one-time things you can do to reduce each of these bills – do them once and your bill will go down for the foreseeable future.

This might just be a checklist for the remaining winter weekends.

Energy

Air seal your home. This simply means reducing the air flow in and out of your home so that you’re losing less heat to the outdoors in the winter and less cool air to the outdoors during the summer. This can be a weekend-long project and can involve a bit of expense, but it’ll help your energy bill all year round. Check out this guide on air sealing your own home.

Put devices on a timer. There’s no need to allow devices to eat up phantom energy while you’re in bed, such as your television on standby mode or your cable box. Put them on a timer that causes them to lose power at a certain time each night, saving you money by eliminating the phantom energy drain.

Install energy-efficient lighting in some areas. I don’t think CFLs or LEDs are the answer for all outlets (yet), but I do think that they can be incredibly valuable options. Use these types of bulbs in out of the way places and areas where you don’t need intense lighting, such as closets and hallways.

Turn down your hot water heater. Lower the heat level on your hot water heater to the point that the full-on heat in the shower is the temperature that you prefer when you bathe. This way, you’re not wasting tons of energy keeping your water hotter than you would ever typically use it.

Rewire things for outlet switches. Outlets that operate on a switch are a wonderful thing. Change the cords of your electric devices so that as many of the devices as possible are attached to switches, making it easy to power down lots of devices just with a flip of the switch.

Make your ceiling fan more efficient. Hacking your ceiling fan use can go a long way towards reducing the energy you spend on heating and cooling your home. The key move is to make sure that the blades are running in the correct direction for the season so that you’re actually helping with heating in the winter and cooling in the summer.

Install a programmable thermostat. A programmable thermostat allows you to set a nighttime temperature and a daytime temperature for your home so that your furnace and/or your air conditioner are not running while you’re not at home or when you’re sleeping, automatically. These devices are easy to install and generally easy to set up as well.