$39.26. That’s the average monthly payment I made to my utilities provider from April 2016 to April 2017. Before that I was like most people; running power bills in excess of $100 every month, and I thought that was normal. I thought there was nothing I could do about it… until I did something about it. Now I know, if you’re an apartment-dweller (and even if you’re not) hacking your home utilities is surprisingly easy! With just a few simple lifestyle changes you can dramatically slash your month expenses without sacrificing quality of life!
I did this by focusing on FIVE key areas: Windows, Doors, Fans, Lights, and Water.
First thing’s first: That thermostat on the wall? DON’T TOUCH IT! Most of the power we use comes from heating and cooling, and believe it or not there are other, better ways of regulating the temperature inside your home than just turning on the heat or the AC!
Before anyone says “well yeah, that’s easy if you live in paradise,” stop. I live in Southwest Missouri, home to some of the most volatile weather anywhere in the US. It can be shorts-and-t-shirt weather one day and literally freezing the next. This makes maintaining a constant “room temperature” a challenge, so if I can do it here, you can do it anywhere!
I’m surprised by how many people in my building never open their windows. When I stand outside and look up, even on a cool spring day like today, I see very few. Most of the ones that do only open a crack. If it’s nice out, open those windows!
Hot air rises, so open them as high as you can. If it’s hot or sunny, close your blinds. My windows face east, and sunrises can get pretty toasty come summer time, but I’ll keep them open when I sleep to let in the cool, night air. You can also stick a fan in the window – facing OUT – to blow out the hot air, assuming it’s hotter inside than it is outside. Open up two windows opposite one another and you can get a good cross-breeze/wind tunnel effect going, even without a fan.
I personally love feeling like I’m outdoors, especially when I’m stuck inside cooking (which generates a lot of heat) so I keep my windows open as much as possible.
Okay, so the first one was obvious, but are you ready for a bombshell? You can open your door, too! Crazy, I know. Most people don’t sit around the house with their door standing wide open, unless they live in a dorm, but open your mind to opening doors. This has changed my life!
Unless you live in a dangerous neighborhood or there’s a crime problem in your building (then not recommended) opening your front door and one or more windows can create a powerful wind tunnel to cool your entire home.
If you’re lucky enough to have a door that opens into an interior, climate-controlled hallway or common area, don’t hesitate to take advantage of it! Ever come home from a warm hallway into a cold apartment, or vice-versa? Don’t just shut the door behind you! Prop that door open for a while and those temps will even out in no time. You might even meet some neighbors!
You may not realize (I didn’t for the longest time) but most ceiling fans have two settings: clockwise and counter-clockwise. These are basically “winter” and “summer” modes, respectively. Heat rises, so set the blades to rotate clockwise and blow warm air back down into the room when it’s cold outside, or turn them counter-clockwise to suck the heat up out of the room in the summer.
A lot of people think staying cool with a box or ceiling fan is all about blowing air ONTO themselves, when really the trick is to blow hot air AWAY, allowing cooler air to take its place. Like I said, this can be out a window or a door. Bonus points if you’re trading hot air in one room for air-conditioned air in a hallway or shared space 😉
Upgrade to LED lights! Got incandescent bulbs? Get ’em outta here. Living in an apartment or rented house? Save the old bulbs so you can put them back if/when you move out and take the LEDs with you to your new place. Old school lights generate more heat and suck up more juice than you realize. Still skeptical of those newfangled light bulbs? The Simple Dollar did a pretty good rundown comparing LED and CFL (the “curly” ones) vs traditional lights.
Got big windows? Open your blinds if it’s not too hot, and let the sun inside! Natural light is the best light, and it’s free! If you’re close enough to a street light that you can more or less light your home at night, too. You’re already paying taxes to keep those lights on outside, so you might as well bring some of that light pollution inside where it can save you some money!
Don’t forget to turn off any electronic devices you’re not using. Not just lights, but TV’s, computers, and game consoles, too. You don’t have to go crazy unplugging everything you don’t use, just don’t be one of those people who leaves their stuff powered on 24/7. Even in “standby mode” your devices can draw a decent amount of power.
You can also turn your refrigerator “up” (warmer) and water heater “down” (cooler) to save $$. You don’t want your food to spoil, but a lot of fridges are pre-set to be entirely too cold. If your stuff is freezing on the top shelf, it’s too cold. And if you’re going on a long trip, eat those perishables and turn the heat up on your fridge until you get home. Likewise, no one wants a cold shower, but if your hot water gets dangerously hot then guess what? It’s probably too hot. Talk to your maintenance person and ask them to turn it down!
WATER (and GAS)
This is kind of a catch-all, but there are other ways to save beyond just heating and cooling your living space. WATER is a big one for a lot of people. I meal prep and typically only do 1-2 loads in the dishwasher per week, and 1-2 loads of laundry, but this may not be possible for bigger families. Our building actually has large-capacity washer and dryers available in the basement, so I take advantage of those if I think I have too much for one load (and they’re free to use!)
Some people prefer GAS for cooking or heating, because reasons, but I’m not a fan. I ditched it and went all-electric when I realized my local gas company was charging me a hefty monthly fee whether I used their product or not. Why should I pay a “minimum” or “service” fee if I’m not burning ANY fuel? You’re already paying for electricity to light your home, and gas is just one more (unnecessary) bill. I saved a lot of money with that decision and never looked back.
My TRASH is included. And when I say “included” I mean it’s baked into the price I pay for rent, so I AM paying for trash pickup, the same way I’m paying to air-condition the lobby outside my door and light the street lights outside my window. I’ve found using smaller trash cans helps discourage me from generating too much waste, since it makes me more mindful.
Some buildings include CABLE or INTERNET. You’re paying for this service every time you pay rent, so take advantage of it!! I don’t watch TV, but if cable is something you need in your life you can save a LOT of money by living somewhere that gives it to you “free.” At the very least it’s one less monthly bill. I used to pay for high speed internet, but when my building started to offer Wi-Fi I ditched AT&T (good riddance) and switched to their “free” service. Is it as fast? No, but it’s not dial-up either. In other words, it’s fast enough and the price is right.
Finally, I have to pay for PARKING. Most of my readers probably don’t, but it’s worth noting that I cut my fees in half by moving from a private underground garage to an outdoor, public parking area. My car got egged once… but that’s a small price to pay for saving $25/mo.
I want to address a common criticism of my methods: “What do you do, just put on a bunch of clothes?” This is typically asked by coworkers, often in a mocking tone.
The short answer is sometimes yes, usually no. They think I must be shivering in a parka on my days off. I’m not, but I’m also not running around in my underwear in the dead of winter with the heat on full blast. You can wear reasonable clothes and be quite comfortable, just use some common sense. Cold at night? Put on sweat pants and a hoodie. Too hot during the day? Don’t wear jeans or a hat around the house. Feet cold? Put on some heavy wool socks. Sweaty? Take them off. Humans have been regulating their body temp this way since they invented clothes! It’s just in the last half of the last century that we forgot how to dress appropriately.
These are just a few, simple hacks but the results speak for themselves: My $39.26 average bill is real, and next year’s average will be even less. My highest charge in the last 12 months was for Jan 2017, which was especially cold. The month before, Dec 2016, was only $26.22.
As I’m writing this I just received my latest bill, due in 10 days. The price? $33.23.
These methods DO work and they ARE as easy as they sound! They’re best for people living in apartments – preferably large, well-insulated buildings with indoor hallways – but I believe they can reduce anyone’s rates, living anywhere. High monthly bills may seem like a “fact of life,” but they don’t have to be. They’re part of a high-consumption lifestyle trap that keeps people stuck where they are, unable to get ahead. Don’t get trapped!!
Maybe you want to break out of the debt and start saving money, or maybe you’re just looking to optimize your cost of living? Whatever the case, reducing your most basic bills is one of THE most important places to start. Take that extra money and invest it!
Stop paying bills and start paying yourself. Got any other tips for cutting your monthly utilities? Share below!!