Friday, February 8, 2013

Save Money on Heat Costs

Want to save some money on heating costs?  Here's how I did it.
This is a ceramic heater, they usually cost about $20 to $25.  I got one at Dollar General last year and another at Big Lots this year.  Both of these oscillate.

Let me say first that I live near Houston, TX and winters here are not really winter like I grew up with in MI. However the high humidity makes it feel colder than it is and goes right to my old bones.
In December I used the central heat with the unused rooms shut off.  Due to dead animal smells coming up the vents (read about that here) I did not use the central heat for January.  Instead I used the 2 ceramic heaters.

Both of mine have 3 settings, cool which seems pointless to me, warm and high.  Mostly warm is good as I am not trying to heat a huge area.  My bedroom is roughly 16' x 12" and one of these on high for 2 hours makes it toasty warm enough to either cut it back to warm or what I mostly did which was to turn it off and sleep under my quilt.  One heater I use in the dining area where my desk is.  This is where I hang out when I get home from work.  This one runs for about 5-6 hours an evening on warm.  The one in the bedroom for 1-2 hours and maybe 1/2 hour in the morning in the bathroom.

My electricity bill that covered December with the central heat set on 60 unless I was home and then it was 68, was $124.  My bill for January which had about the same amount of cold days and nights, using only the ceramic heaters, was $53.

I have similar results in the summer with the 2 window air conditioning units although the cost is greater due to increased use of the a/c in the bedroom.  All in all smaller units for limited areas of use work best to save me money year round.  It may not work for those with more people living in their home and probably not for those in colder climates but for a $25 investment you might see if one might work well for you.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

How to Save Money on Groceries

This post also appears on my main blog Canterbury Cottage.

I've always been careful when it comes to buying groceries.  I check the sale papers, the clearance sections and know that things like rice, potatoes and pasta can stretch one meal into 4.  I've also canned my own food for many years.   However I rarely use coupons because they are usually for items that are more expensive and for processed foods. 

In the last year I made a major change in the way I buy groceries and it has saved me a lot.  I started out by buying a bit extra if something was on sale, whether it was peanut butter, fruits & vegetables or meat, etc..  I would can or dehydrate the extra if it was called for.  Many items can be frozen too if you have the room in your freezer.  For example if you are buying one bag of rice because it's on sale, get a couple extra and store it in containers, food saver bags or those mylar bags you can find pretty cheap on Ebay.  

I have bought chicken breast when it went on sale for 99¢ a pound, boiled it and canned it and the broth.  Ready to eat meat in a jar for making sandwiches, casseroles, tacos, soups and more.  Recently I bought beef roast when Kroger had it on sale for $1.99 a pound.  I slow roasted it and canned it just like the chicken.  Last week I canned leftover turkey and broth.  When those large bags of frozen vegetables are on sale I pick up some extra and dehydrate them.  When I buy celery I chop up and dehydrate the stalks from the old bunch and store them in a jar.  

No matter what you are buying on sale, if you pick up one, why not pick up two or three.  You will soon have a little stockpile in your pantry and you can now go shopping right at home.  What happens after a while is that you are now pretty much only buying sale items, so the $100 a week you used to spend on 50 different things is now more like $50 on multiples of a few items that are on sale or clearance.  Because you have a nicely stocked pantry you can still put a balanced meal together.

You can do this with any item, canned veggies, flour & sugar, coffee, etc.  Even one extra will help you to save money in the future because prices will go up and you are buying at a discount today.  Don't be afraid to check out the dollar stores in your area.  I buy a lot of canned goods and fruit juices as well as cat food at Dollar General.  Many of the chain dollar stores take coupons too.  A 13 pound bag of cat food at $8.50 is already less than Walmart, take off the 75¢ coupon I had and I now have a great deal.

Though I rarely use coupons, I have gotten some on Ebay, like for the cat food.  I paid $1.75 for 20 coupons.  There are many sites online where you can print out coupons for items you like tough many store will limit how many you can use and some will not take them at all.

One last thing, you can save the most money by cooking at home rather than eating out.  I love eating out, but if I choose to eat good food and not fast food I have to limit how often I eat out, that means cooking at home most of the time and taking my lunch to work.  And I don't have to deal with lunch time traffic!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Saving On Heating Costs

I've had some requests to resurrect this blog and add more content.  So on that note here is today's post.

All my bills have gone up in the last 6 months but the paycheck has not.  I did pretty well at saving on cooling costs this summer but winter is upon us and even here on the Gulf Coast it can get cold.
Most everyone knows to keep your thermostat set low, as low as you can stand it.  But how do you keep warm enough to not complain?
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First you must dress for the weather.  Layering your clothes is a great way to go.  And make sure they are loose layers.  I'm usually ok in slacks, long sleeved shirt and slippers at home.  If it gets colder I add fuzzy socks and a sweater.  If it gets to freezing temps I can add sweat pants and sweat shirt over regular pants and shirt and a sweater on top of that.  
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Second, decide what rooms you really use and only heat those.  Close off the vents and close the doors to unused rooms.  I have a bath and 2 bedrooms that are rarely used and they are off their own hallway.  All vents and doors are closed  and I put up a curtain at the end of the hallway that enter my living room.  That also saves on cooling those rooms in the summer.  Just a simple curtain will do, make it match your window curtains if you want.  A great Victorian idea we need to bring back!
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Third, if you have ceiling fans you can set them to reverse at a slow speed to push the warm air back down to the area you are sitting in.  This means it will spin clockwise in winter.  A good way to remember is clockwise while we are on regular time and counter-clockwise while we are on daylight savings time.
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Fourth, you can utilize space heaters to only heat the room you are in.  I have a small electric oscillating heater I bought at Dollar General for less than $20.  I only use it in the room I am currently in and it keeps me pretty toasty without using a lot of electricity.  Please be cautious as to what kind of space heater you use and make sure to use it properly with any required ventilation.  If you need to crack a window for ventilation then choose a south facing one to avoid the colder winds coming from the north.
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Fifth, use a quilt on your bed!  Grandma wasn't just saving money by making her own quilt and re-using those fabric scraps, they are much warmer than blankets.  You need it to be loose over you and not pulled tight, your body heat will fill the space between bed and quilt with warmth and you will be toasty all night.  I believe it has a lot to do with the insulation quality of the quilt which is made of fabric, batting and fabric.  Heavier is not always warmer.  If you have no quilt but you do have a sleeping bag, use that.  You can always sleep inside it even if you are in your bed.  Flannel sheets are much warmer feeling than cotton, check  your local thrift shops! 
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Sixth, but maybe this should have been first, add insulation.  Check for drafts and insulate and caulk where you can and add weatherstripping if needed to doors and windows.  If you have no restrictions in your neighborhood then spritz your windows with water and cover them with cut to size bubble wrap for insulation.  You can often get bubble wrap for free from sites like craigslist or freecycle.  Alternatively you can pull down your shades at night to keep out drafts and raise them during the day to let in the sun's warmth.  Grandma used to swap out her light and lacy summer curtains for heavy and lined winter drapes for good reason and we can do the same.
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Seventh, if you are going to be home, make it a day of cooking and baking.  That extra heat will be welcome on a cold day, especially if it came from a pot of homemade stew and homebaked bread or cookies.  When you are done baking leave the oven door open to utilize that heat as well.  I used to live in an apartment that had no heat source in the kitchen so I just turned on the gas burners.  No worries about ventilation, the place was 80 years old and very drafty, but do take care if you need to do this and never leave the room unoccupied with burners on, especially if you have children.  If you have an electric stove you could turn on the oven and leave the door open but I'm not sure how frugal that would be.  Also you can boil water in a pot to add humidity which makes you feel warmer - not much need for that here on the Gulf Coast - this one is quite frugal if you have a woodburning stove.
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Eighth, if you have a pet like a dog or cat and they like to snuggle, indulge them.  A dog or cat's body temperature is much higher than a human's (100-102.5 degrees Fahrenheit) and they are portable heaters that cost very little.   I used to have one cat that would sleep under the covers with me so I stayed nicely warm all night and so did he.
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Ninth, try a heating pad to warm up your bed 30 minutes before you crawl in, just like a bed warming pan of hot coals like your great grandma used to use.  A hot water bottle at your feet works well too.  If you do use a heating pad, only use it for a short period of time, it is not meant to be slept with, would save you no money and could cause a fire. 
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Tenth,  don't be afraid of looking silly wearing clothes to bed.  A sweatshirt and sweat pants are much warmer than a cotton gown.  Also wear your fuzzy socks to bed.  A knit cap on your head in frigid weather  works nicely too, we lose a lot of heat out the top of our heads and it's a good old idea we have lost sight of.  Remember the line from 'Twas the Night Before Christmas' about "Mother in her kerchief and I in my cap had just settled down for a long winter's nap."
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Eleventh, some other ideas I have read about.  If you have radiators you can add a metal panel behind it to bounce that heat back into the room rather than letting the wall soak it up.  For fun put up a tent in the middle of the room and only heat that.  Think your house is cold? go outside for a bit and it will feel heavenly when you come back in.
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So there's 11 ways to stay warm while trying to save some money on heating, at least for those of us without a woodburning stove or fireplace.  If you have more ideas then please share in the comments.

Linking to Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways