12 Smart Ways to Save on Utilities

12 smart (and painless) ways to save on utilities

The basic rule of budgeting are pretty straightforward:  Don’t spend more than you take in, and cut out the nonessential spending first.  None of us really need to be swinging by Starbucks every morning, or eating out twice a week, or filling our carts at Target with cute stuff we could easily live without.  And down most of us know that, even if we don’t always abide by it.  In fact, this general principle is even the basis for the 31 Days of Living Well & Spending Zero challenge here at LWSL.

Thus while tempering that non-essential spending is super important for a healthy financial life, it is also a very smart idea to regularly take a good hard look at those things we DO need to spend our hard-earned money on, things like electricity and water and utilities.  After all, none of us want to to pay more than we have to!

Here are 12 super smart (and fairly painless) ways to save on utilities:

1. Turn it down

Turning down the heat in the winter and the air conditioner in the summer is one of the fastest ways to see a significant savings on your electricity bill.  Here in Florida we try to keep our A/C set to no less than 79 degrees, which still feels comfortable and cool compared to the outside temperature.  In cooler climates, try keeping the thermostat set at 68 during the day and then turning it down to 65 at night.  For additional savings, be sure to also set the temperature lower while you are away.

Likewise, turning down the temperature on your hot water heater can make a significant difference as well.  According to the U.S. Department of Energy, reducing your temperature from 140 degrees to 120 degrees will save at least $2 a month.

concept design box of ideas

2. Turn it off

Keeping lights and ceiling fans turned off when not in use is one of the best habits you can develop.  According to Florida Power & Light, just one ceiling fan running constantly will add an extra $7 a month to your electric bill!  Develop a “turn it off” rule for all overhead lights, lamps, and appliances.  Be sure too to fully turn off electronics that go into “standby” mode such as computers and printers, as they are still drawing electricity in standby mode.  Unplugging appliances when not in use can help a lot too.

“Electricity is a big one for us – not just for the money, but for overall conservation as well. The kids were always leaving lights and electronics on – so we started keeping a tally – every time the kids leave their light or TV on in their room, they owe us a quarter – that is deducted from their “allowance” – they have learned to turn lights out pretty quick!“~LWSL reader Gerri Lawall

3. Stop pre-rinsing

This little nugget of research just killed my husband who is as engineer-obsessive about pre-rinsing as he is about well, everything!  Gotta love him.  The truth is that most newer model dishwashers are designed specifically to remove and break down food particles from dishes, leaving them sparkling clean with no pre-rinse required, and skipping this step can save up to $70 dollars a year! (Source: FPL.com)

A dishwasher with lots of dishes and glasses

4. Air dry

While it might take just a little longer, air-drying your clothes, dishes, and even your hair as often as possible can cut a big chunk out of your power bill each month.  Start by changing your dishwasher settings to air dry rather than heat dry, then, whenever possible, line or flat dry your clothes.  When you do need to use the dryer, use the auto sensor function to avoid drying longer than possible.  (And don’t just keep tumbling the clothes because you don’t have time to fold them!   Not that I’ve ever done that…)

I line dry inside as much as I can during the winter months. I place the rack under the ceiling fan; helps with humidity issues as well. I also bought complete blackout drapes for all the rooms and on days when it is uber cold, I keep em closed to keep the heat in; or heat out in the summer. I do the majority of my laundry at night, never run a half load in the dishwasher, and cook/bake as many things as I can at one time to lessen how often my oven is on.” ~LWSL reader Katherine Schaefer Meredith

5. Keep it clean

Be sure to clean your dryer lint screen before each use to help it run more efficiently.  Likewise, keep your air filters clean and changed regularly in order to save energy on heating and cooling the house.

Running water from a faucet

6.  Be stingy

Look for ways to use less water in your every day activities, including adjusting your washer to use the lowest water setting necessary when doing a load of laundry, and not letting the water run while brushing your teeth or washing dishes by hand.  Consider replacing shower heads with low-flow heads, or place a bottle filled with sand in your toilet tanks so that they use less water each flush.

“We saved about $10 (20%) on our water/sewer bill by putting a 50% water reduction aerator on our kitchen faucet, putting an 87% water reduction aerator on our bathroom faucet, and putting a large peanut butter jar filled with rocks in our toilet tank to reduce the amount of water used with each flush.”~LWSL reader Hollie Payne

7. Check for leaks

Hidden water leaks can result in abnormally high water bills, and none of us want to pay for something we’re not even using!  If you’re not sure why your bill is so high, do a leak test by checking your water meter right before bedtime and then as soon as you wake up.  If the numbers have changed, you may have a leak somewhere.  Try these six tips for finding it yourself, or else call a plumber.

8. Eliminate drafts

Drafty windows can be a huge source of heat loss during cold winter months, so be sure to cover them up as much as possible.  Use a ready-to-go winterization kit, or create your own with tape and plastic, sheets, or blankets. If the drafts are really bad, consider installing heavy insulating curtains as well in order to improve energy efficiency.  Be sure to also keep the damper closed on your fireplace when not in use to eliminate drafts through the chimney.

9. Add insulation

Poor quality (or no) insulation will make your home cold in the wintertime and unbearably hot in the summertime, and can add hundreds of dollars to your utility bills over the course of a year.  It is worth the investment to add additional insulation to your attic and walls.  Be sure to first eliminate any drafts, as insulation will not stop air flow.

 “A few years ago we had more insulation blown into our attic. We lost our attic storage, but we went from getting oil 3 or 4 times a winter to once a winter. Totally worth it!” ~LWSL Reader Carol Schwanger

10. Pay smart

If possible, consider setting up your utility bills to be paid with a credit card that offers rewards or cash back, such as Discover.  Please note that this is only a good option if you able to be 100% diligent about paying off your balance on time each month.  The rewards will be completely neutralized if you have to pay interest or late fees!  However, if you are very disciplined when it comes to bill-paying and credit cards, this is a great way to earn a little extra on something you have to pay anyway.

utilities3

11. Get efficient

When purchasing new appliances or fixtures, be sure to opt for the most energy efficient styles available.  This goes for large appliances such as refrigerators, ovens, dishwashers, and washers & dryers, but also for things like toilets, shower heads, and faucets.

“We bought energy efficient appliances. Our bill was almost $50 less the first month!  We also installed a programmable thermostat and hang dry almost all the clothes, which helps add moisture to the air in the winter too!” ~LWSL reader Cheri Olson

12. Cut it out

Consider eliminating land line phone or cable service altogether.  My husband and I have not had a traditional land line telephone in years; instead we rely only on our cell phone service.  This saves us about $50 each month, or about $600 a year.  We also use a ROKU box to stream movies and television shows from Netflix and Amazon Prime which has probably saved us at least $1,000 on cable over the past 3 years.

There are no shortage of ways to save once you start looking; sometimes it is just a matter of thinking outside the box!  There have been some great discussions about this topic on both the main LWSL Facebook page, and in the private LWSL Community Facebook Group, and I would love to have that discussion continue here on this post as well!

How do YOU save on utilities?  Please share your ideas and tips in the comments below!

Piggy-bank with glasses and  light bulb . Energy savings concept.

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This post was written as part of the  Discover Preferred Blogger Program and sponsored by Discover. All opinions are mine. Discover has no higher priority than to reward its customers with the best service in the business. The company is committed to helping its customers spend smarter, manage debt better and save more so they can achieve a brighter financial future.

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{ 58 comments… add one }

  • Tammy January 31,

    My husband is really weird about pre-rinsing too. I can’t wait to show him this list! Thanks for the great tips!

    Reply
  • JLCwrites January 31,

    Another tip for saving $$ is to do all your laundry in cold water. Cold water still does a number on stains. Great list of tips! Thanks!

    Reply
    • Betsy February 3,

      We wash everything on cold in our house except for whites. It also allows you to wash everything together. Guarantees you always have a full load.

      Reply
  • Janice January 31,

    We save by not having smart phones. We keep our house warm in the winter with a wood stove and we unplug all appliances when not in use. We could use better insulation though. That is next on the list!

    Reply
  • Maureen January 31,

    I think this is a very good list except for #4 with dishes. Letting dishes air dry can invite allergens and dirt onto eating surfaces.

    Reply
    • Rachel April 10,

      I think she meant just turning the heated dry off on your dishwasher. Your dishes in the dishwasher will still dry, but without the aid of heat. No need to leave the dishwasher door open.

      Reply
  • Gladys January 31,

    Great tips! Overtime, I find some tips on how to save on electricity and all you wrote are right. I read somewhere that you can wash your clothes in cold water to minimize the cost.

    Reply
    • Lori February 10,

      Yes washing in cold water saves a lot of money haven’t tried the idea of washing dishes in cold wouldn’t be helpful in winter for dishes though.

      Reply
    • Trudie August 27,

      Ive always washed laundry in cold/tap temp water…works just fine and doesnt shrink or fade clothing.

      Reply
  • Joan Wyatt January 31,

    I fill big plastic empty cat litter jugs with the water I run while waiting for bath or shower water to get hot. I keep smaller one gallon size water bottle jugs in the kitchen while I run the water waiting for it to get hot for either hand washing dishes or using the dishwasher, as the water heater is at the other end of the house. I then pour the water into the washing machine and save a huge amount of water that would otherwise go down the drain. I also hang out clothes as often as weather permits. My utilities are extremely low. So worth the time.

    Reply
    • Amanda February 3,

      Great idea. I’ve never heard this one before. I may have to try it out. thanks.

      Reply
    • Karen February 22,

      Can you add the water to a front load washing machine? Great idea!

      Reply
  • JulieK January 31,

    Those are great tips and we do most of them – I still need to cancel my cable although every time I call to do it they say my internet speed will decrease as a result of not having the “bundle” :( So then I just keep the cable. :(

    (PS: the link for Discover doesn’t work for me).

    Reply
    • HeatherB February 1,

      Same here! Or the internet price is so high when not part of a “bundle” that cancelling cable for a few dollars no longer seems worth it. Wish we could find a more affordable internet options (although I do really like our provider). Open to suggestions!

      Reply
      • laura collins February 1,

        Heather
        Who is your internet provider?
        Laura

        Reply
  • Raquel@Practical Cents January 31,

    I have done some of these in my home and they do work and I have seen decreased in my energy bills.

    Reply
    • Anonymous February 28,

      When my children were little I replaced our light switches with motion detectors. I never had to tell them to turn off the light in the or the bathrooms or living room after that. We saved allot of money that way.

      Reply
  • Esther January 31,

    May I also add that down vests, wool beanies and cashmere sweaters are wonderful ways to stay comfortable when you turn things down. And before you think these are too expensive, I have gotten dozens of these items for family, friends and patients at garage sales, flea markets and estate sales for pennies on the actual dollar. I love when people stay core cozy-warm. Its good for your health!

    Reply
  • Sarah Mueller January 31,

    I have managed to negotiate discounts on trash service, car insurance, karate class, and even our property taxes by paying in advance and sometimes for several months at a time. I always ask if they have a prepay discount. It really pays off.

    Reply
  • Candee Fultz January 31,

    Hubby and I got rid of cell phones and went back to a land line through NetTalk Duo. It’s a VoIP that costs only $30 /YEAR! We also only have cable for internet access and we stream Nextflix through our Wii game system.
    Also, many electric companies will tell you what their peak hours are if you call and ask them. Peak hours are the hours that the rates are the highest. In our area (and most areas truthfully), the peak hours are from 6a.m. to 9a.m. and 6p.m. to 10 p.m.. Anytime before, after, or in between, the electric rates are cheapest and that’s when we try to do most of our laundry and cooking (hubby’s on 2nd shift currently so this is easier for us). Cutting shower time to 10 minutes saves on water and electricity. Some people can cut them to under 10 minutes but after my 2 minute showers in basic training, a 10 minute shower is a luxury to me. Black -out curtains work great but I’ve found that sewing my own with insulated lining is a bit cheaper and works a little better. Love reading all the ideas. Thank you!

    Reply
    • Tanya February 3,

      What do you use for your insulated lining on your curtains?

      Reply
  • Lorri February 1,

    I pay $100 for cable. I do not use netflix or have any movie channels. I have called the cable co. numerous times to get a lower rate and all I hear is you have the lowest rate we offer. I’m being screwed!

    Reply
    • Anonymous February 1,

      Lori,

      Ask for the loyalty department. Most companies have them & it is their job to keep you happy. They have more power to give discounted rates than customer service. Hope that helps.

      Reply
  • Anonymous February 1,

    We invested in several space heaters and placed them throughout our home. We only turn on the ones we need. We have saved ALOT this way.

    Reply
  • Sylinda Alfred February 2,

    Don’t just turn the TV off; unplug it. Or plug it into a surge bar and turn the surge bar off when TV is not in use. Our electric bill went down significantly each month when we started this.

    Reply
    • Kristee February 22,

      I read on line that appliances left plugged in and unused can absorb up to 40% of each months electricity bill. That seems inflated but I am going to do my own experiment and try unplugging the tv at night. I saw on tv that one person went to the extreme and unplugged the oven when away from the home, as well. Thank you for the tip. It is worth a try. Thank you Ruth for starting this thread and your page. Take care.

      Reply
  • Shannon L February 2,

    When the dishwasher starts its drying cycle, open the door and place a folded towel over the top. The trapped heat will dry your dishes without using energy.

    Also try cutting your dryer cycle short. I can cut my dryers heat time by a quarter by setting a shorter time. Plus the last few minutes are just a cool down anyway. I can skip this step while doing multiple loads of laundry. This helps to keep the dryer from cooling off just to heat it back up.

    Reply
  • Betsy February 3,

    We needed a landline a while back for our alarm, so we got a VOIP line through Oomatelo. It’s a stiff up-front cost, but paid for itself in less than a year in what we weren’t paying in monthly costs for the landline (now we just pay tax and government service fees). Its $4.32 I’ll gladly keep spending. We also have a programmable thermostat, which is a godsend. The best thing to do, though, is to teach the kids to turn lights off and TVs off when you leave the room. Honestly, the little ones are the biggest drain!

    Reply
  • Christine @ A Well Stocked Life February 3,

    Someone may have already added and I missed it, but there are insulators for your light switches covers and outlet covers. Since those can be on exterior walls those insulators can help:)

    Seven Ways to Turn The Winter Blahs Into The Winter Ahhhs…
    http://awellstockedlife.wordpress.com/2014/02/03/seven-ways-to-turn-the-winter-blahs-into-the-winter-ahhhs/

    Reply
  • kcvava February 4,

    I run an extra spin cycle after washer is finished to squeeze out a little more water. My clothes dry much more quickly!

    Reply
    • Chantal September 26,

      Aren’t you running the washer more to to run the dryer less? At first glance I don’t see the point.

      Reply
  • Nila February 4,

    Thanks for a great article.

    I still want to keep a land line for various reasons, but want to start looking for alternatives. Has anyone used MagicJack Plus? I’ll have to look into Oomatelo.

    My husband and I have discussed cutting back on cable, but he’s such a big sports fan and does watch ESPN and MLB. There is not way you can just get the basic cable and add ESPN. We have to buy their package. Any suggestions?

    Reply
    • Nila March 7,

      Just wanted to follow up on the Ooma Telo – we did end up buying one from Staples for a pretty good price: sale + rebate + coupon. So far so good. We paid for porting our old number and that took only about a week, even if they said it could take up to a month. Super easy to set up – don’t need a computer, but does require a high speed internet connection via modem/router.

      As for cable, I went to our provider and told them that a competitor had a special going and what could they do to lower my bill to keep me. They gave us 20% off our monthly cost for a year.

      Reply
  • lorraine williamson February 6,

    I have not had a land line in years and it does save money. Another tip some states over free cell service for low income and disable you get 250 minutes a month and it doesn’t cost a thing

    Reply
  • Anonymous February 6,

    For watching sports without cable, check out playon.tv We haven’t tried it yet but it looks like it has ESPN

    Reply
  • Megan @ Our Pinteresting Family February 7,

    I never knew about the toilet water tip. We got rid of Directv in March and the only thing we miss is ESPN. We bought a $70 HD antenna and get to watch many local channels, and we have Netflix and Amazon Prime. It’s great .

    Reply
  • Scury Duck February 10,

    Other than cutting out the cable and phone services, all the suggestions are minimal savings. For big water saving try reusing rinse cycle washer water for wash cycle water. One can even use the wash water many times. Just drain the water into a tub or a 55 gallon drum. To get it back in the washer use gravity if the drum is high enough or use a pond pump. This is most beneficial in areas experiencing drought. Heating water for cloths is an energy waste and hot water is bad for clothes.

    Reply
    • C K February 24,

      I think the point is that minimal savings add up quickly! If you do just a few of the suggestions, your yearly or even monthly total will be surprising! Sure, $1 or $2 here and there don’t seem like much, but they add up!

      Reply
  • James Ross February 11,

    Likley not having cell phones and having a single land line is cheaper than the other way around. Everyone acts like cell phones are so great……

    Reply
    • C K February 24,

      I think this is going to be a person by person thing. Some people NEED cell phones, even just cheap, pay as you go ones. Some don’t need them at all, you’re right! But I don’t think that there’s an across the board one right answer for everyone.

      Reply
  • Jk February 14,

    68…spendthrifts! ;) Our heat is never set above 60! It only works for us because we live in a 100+ y/o house with central heat installed sometime in the 70s or 80s. It’s not efficient, and the balance is terrible, so we keep a cold baseline and then zone heat with space heaters (oil based radiant heaters rock) and fireplaces. For us, it’s much more energy efficient to only heat the space currently in use. That tip won’t work for everyone, and it certainly does help that we’re in the Deep South, where it rarely gets very cold for very long. Still, if you think your system is inefficient, do a little study and see which works better. Other tips: put rugs on all hard surface floors, especially if you’re over a crawl space/basement, and make sure all the little crannies are as sealed as possible. Even if you can’t afford more insulation right away, plywood around the bottom of the house, caulk around frames, and draft dodgers help a ton.

    Reply
  • Dewryce February 18,

    In addition to emptying the dryer lint trap, it’s recommended to wash it as well. Fabric softener builds up on the mesh and makes it hard for air to get through. To test yours run it under water and see if it sits on top. Make sure the vents are empty too. From what I understand, both of these can create a fire hazard by making the dryer overheat.

    Out electric company sent out some information that indicated the 4 appliances that use the most energy are water heater, refrigerator and/or freezer, dryer and heater. There are a lot of good tips here for most of these.

    For the refrigerator/freezer they said it costs more to keep just the air cool. So in addition to working on keeping the refrigerator door closed by not standing there with it open staring inside for inspiration, I also keep filled water jugs in the freezer to limit empty space.

    Reply
  • joan jordan February 27,

    I keep trying to figure out the best way to save money on tv and internet. I have a Roku and subscribe to Netflix and basic cable-channels 2-14. I want to know more about how well an antenna will work for local networks and what all is involved. And internet seems like a lost cause….I have a landline that cost 10$ a month and a flip Go Phone 25$ a month.

    Reply
    • Anonymous February 28,

      Juno internet for dial-up is less than $15/mo.
      antenna works great at my kid’s house

      Reply
      • Anonymous February 28,

        thank you

        Reply
    • Anonymous April 28,

      An indoor antenna u can buy at Best Buy will give u all the networks. It will be a one time expense of $100
      It comes for HD. Depending on your location you can get additional channels
      All the major networks are now to provide air waves of their transmissions
      I am using my antenna and have been able to enjoy free tv on HD

      Reply
      • Anonymous April 29,

        thank you, that is next on my list.
        and the price is right for juno, but i need faster internet :( my neighbor should just give me his password. lol

        Reply
  • Anonymous March 18,

    As a child of the 60′s, conservation has been important all my life & I do most of the things listed. One I never see is water conservation from showers. I have a bucket in each shower & catch the warm-up water in them. I then pour this in the rain barrels set up under my downspouts or pour directly on the lawn. I have also been told by roomies in hotels that I take the shortest showers of anyone they know. These help a lot on water conservation-important in drought-prone Texas.

    Reply
    • Ruth Soukup March 18,

      That’s a great idea! Thanks so much for sharing!

      Reply
    • Anonymous April 29,

      i have this situation where my sump pump pumps (:P) clean water out of the basement. I live where the water table is high. it drives me crazy wasting all that water, then paying a water bill. I wish I could channel it back for showers etc. :)

      Reply
  • witoldyna April 16,

    I come from one of the European countries, and non of my friends have a landline anymore. Mobile phones are so popular that there is no need to have a stationary phone. I also don’t have a cable tv – the same reason as you – netflix, amazon prime etc. is plenty for me. One thing I’m not doing is to turn off the tv or computer but I’ll do that today. I have energy saving light bulbs all over my home. In the summer house temperature is 80 (70 at night), winter 68 (60 at night). I prefer when when the house is warmer in the summer – not such a huge temperature difference with the outside world. It always bother me when the stores are freezing cold because of the A/C. When we’ll have our own house we will definitely install rain barrels. In the summer garden cloths lines are the only choice for me. As for dishwasher, our (already was in the rented house) is old (in my opinion) that it doesn’t really wash very well. We are planning to invest in our own, one of the new types, we had one like that in Europe and it cleans perfectly and doesn’t heat the air while drying the dishes – they are a little wet (especially mugs at the top) but it doesn’t matter to me. Energy and water savings (very often I need to wash glasses again) is worth spending money on a new dishwasher.
    PS sorry for all the mistakes I made :)

    Reply
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  • mildred lane July 3,

    I was able to cut out the phone land line and keep my phone #, I save my shower water to flush the commode, mop, clean the tub, wash out the mop and broom, wash tennis shoes. I use rain barrels to water my container garden and flowers. Use the clothes line to dry my clothes. Added new windows, extra insulation,line the 2 bedroom windows w/ foil to cut down on the heat in the summer. I use a small lunch pail w/ ice for my drinks during the day to cut down on opening the refegerator , use the energy saver light bulbs, use celing fans instead of the heat pump etc. thanks for sharing your tips.

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