Looking for ways to save money? There are hundreds of ways to trim spending, but we'll focus only on things related to the home. Contributions — ideas, not cash — are welcome. McClatchy-Tribune Newspapers
Heating and cooling
Obviously, adjusting the thermostat to reduce costs while remaining comfortable is the ideal. One route to this compromise is a home energy audit, which locates the weak points in your house and recommends ways to tighten up.
Enrolling in load-management programs and off-hour rate programs offered by your electric utility may save you up to $100 a year in electricity costs. Call your utility for information about those cost-saving programs.
Each year, review your phone bills for the previous three months to see what local, local toll, long-distance and international calls you normally make. Consider a bundled package that groups services you use frequently. Check your phone bill to see if you have optional calling features or additional services, such as inside wire maintenance, that you don't need. Each option you drop could save you about $40 a year.
If you have high-speed Internet service, you may want to look into a long-distance telephone service such as Skype that can be downloaded to your computer.
If you use a cell phone, make sure your calling plan matches your typical call pattern. Understand peak calling periods, area coverage, roaming and termination charges. Prepaid wireless plans tend to have higher per-minute rates and fees, but may be a better option if you use the phone only occasionally.
Consult Consumer Reports, available in most public libraries, for information about specific appliance brands and models and how to evaluate them, including energy use. There are often great price and quality differences. Look for the yellow Energy Guide label on products, and especially look for products that have earned the government's Energy Star designation, which can save up to 50 percent in energy use. Once you've selected a specific brand and model, check the Internet or yellow pages to learn which stores carry the brand. Call at least four to compare prices and ask whether that's the lowest price they can offer you. Comparison shopping can save you as much as $100.
Before you replace a major appliance, see if there are easy ways to increase the energy efficiency of the existing model. If you keep your refrigerator away from a heat source such as an oven, dishwasher or direct sunlight from a window, for example, it will operate more efficiently and use less electricity. Remember, major appliance manufacturers come up with new models that look nice, but the expense doesn't always justify the purchase. In fact, Consumer Reports regularly shows that some lower-priced models of refrigerators, washers and dryers, and vacuum cleaners do a much better job and are more energy-efficient than comparable models two or three times the price.
Homeowners and renters insurance
You can save several hundred dollars a year on homeowners insurance and up to $50 a year on renters insurance by purchasing from a low-price, licensed insurer. Ask your state insurance department for a publication showing typical prices charged by different licensed companies. Then call at least four of the lowest-priced insurers for quotes. If such a publication is not available, it is even more important to call at least four insurers for prices. Make certain you purchase enough coverage to replace the house and its contents. "Replacement" on the house means rebuilding to its current condtion. See if combining homeowners and auto insurance into a single policy will save you more money than separate ones. Make certain your new policy is in effect before dropping your old one.