I live in a harsh climate. It is around 100 for about 6 weeks in the summer (and high 80s on either side) with high humidity and in the winter we get well below zero for months. (it seems unfair really.) and below freezing for a full six months of the year. I am not opposed to running the AC or heat, nor am I opposed to cranking it up. however, we do not turn on the heat until Nov. when it is actually cold and socks and a sweater and a hat will not cut it any more (it also helps the bills if we suck it up and realize we did not go south for the winter. we do not have enough money to run around barefoot and in shorts in the middle of winter. We dress like it is winter even when we are inside.) and we do not turn on the AC until it is 90 degrees. I use fans and humidifiers all year long. (hot steam humidifiers. The cold ones just make it unbearably cold in the house) Also for AC I use only one window unit and we find things to do on the main floor. Because it is a window unit I have to be intentional about turning it on and off. It only has to cool a small portion of our house. and it only runs a few hours a day. Saves a ton of money over central AC. I use the smallest one available and my main floor is about 600 sq ft. When I was home during the day I baked one day and dried clothes another day. Both heated my house and saved on the heating bill. I spread it out to prevent it from getting too hot one day and still being cold the other days. I have to use my dryer because we have a dog and a cat and that is what takes the hair off. I miss using my line in the summer (and I still do for things it doesn't matter as much and things without much dog hair on them).
Speaking of clothes. Wash your clothes well. turn them inside out. hand wash and line dry your hose and bras. Store your shoes gently, fold sweaters and wash things by hand if they are prone to a short life. This really goes for everything. leaving things outside can wreck them (bikes, grill, toys). Bring them in or cover them. As a society we waste so much for want of a little TLC.
As a fun little thing this summer we got rain gutter water collecting barrels and a hand washer. almost free laundry. http://www.cleanairgardening.com/portable-washing-machine.html if you have the time this could save you a ton of money. It is also very gentle on your clothes and a good work out. we would use the soapy water more than once.
I live in a marginal neighborhood. I guess since moving is not an option for us I have never given much thought to weather or not it is a wise choice. Most of the crap avoids us since we are nto a part of it. My car has been broken into three times now but they never get away with much. I don't keep valubels in my car. the first two times they took my owners manual (brilliant really. You don't even know it is gone until you go looking for it and you don't realize how much they are until you try to buy a new one. So you go to ebay and realize...hey this is probably one they stole from me. i never reported either of these.) the last time they got my GPS. May they get lost every time they use it. All three times I had left my doors unlocked. Well durdy der der. If I locked my car.... Toys get stolen all the time when we leave them out. My kids know this and they still leave them out. Other than that...its not as bad of a neighborhood as everyone makes out to be. people in better neighborhoods just like to hate on it because they need to justify their mortgage payment and higher taxes. (of course I have a high tolerance for crazy people, drama and stray kids). It is mostly just the lower income part of suburbia. But to hear it on the news it is rife with gangs and crime. Oh, and we have the best elementary school in town. People actually open enroll to this neighborhoods school which is new. LOL. We also have some great parks and an active neighborhood watch, community gardens and public transit stops. There are even some things about this neighborhood I wouldn't give up. It is ethnically diverse, the houses are pretty, trees are big, the atmosphere is laid back, neighbors helpful, people are outside and no one judges. My house payment is half what it would be in a slightly better neighborhood. and so are my taxes.
cell phones. I would ditch your land line if you still have one. One of you needs a phone with unlimited talk and text. The rest of you could probably get by with tracfones. If no one talks that much you probably all could. My two youngest children have really nice phones (Seriously nicer than mine) with 800 minutes and a year of service. $140. It was an initial investment and once a year it is $100 for 800 minutes. But it is plenty of minutes (especially if we text) and if you break it down monthly the service is about $8 a month for each kid (and the only reason we have two is we lost one and then found it). And I think the single biggest waste of money when it comes to phones are smart phones. Do you really need to be able to update facebook from the road? One thing I do want a smart phone for is so I can have my google calender with me. I found out I can get an Android used for about $50 and not get service. Just hook up in places with free wifi. I could sync my calender daily and even go on line in place with wifi. I was shocked by how much I could do with it without ever paying a dime. Also if you have a kindle or nook don't overlook all the amazing things it can do.
If you work for a large company check into what kinds of discounts they offer. I was shocked to find out there was an employee discount through my cell phone carrier. After being 20 months into a two year contract I realized I qualified for a 30% discount the whole time. That was about $15 a month. Also gym memberships, gym equipment, and lots of other stuff I can't remember. Oil changes i know (and lots of companies around here are willing to honor employee discounts from the competitors as well)
Ride your bike, walk, use your car less. People are always surprised how little I drive. My car is 2 1/2 years old and has just over 10,000 miles on it and that includes a big road trip. I have a 10 gallon tank, get 21 miles per gallon and still only fill up every 2-4 weeks. I drive to work and do most of my shopping there (I work at a huge full service grocery store. I am in about 6 days a week). Work is two miles from home and church is one. I go to walmart, sams and target no more than 1 time per week (they are all right together) and they are about 3 miles from home. I make a point to stay close to home. I think it rarely saves money to be driving all over kingdom come to save a few cents at this grocery store or that one. Those deals cost money in driving and time.
Well planned meals save so much money when I do it. i make big batches of stuff and eat off of it for days Soup, curry, chili. When I was better at this I kept a couple of zip locks in the fridge and dumped out left over veggies in them. tomato and onion butts and celery tops are good in a roast or for making soup stock. frozen/canned/fresh steamed veggies can be good in soups and cassaroles (i tried to keep bags for specific soups and cassaroles and sometimes i just dumped everything into one.)
Plan for treats. if you plan for them you are more likely to stay in your budget. I used to own my business and we loved getting people to open an account. Studies showed (and we found it to be true) that once people break out the credit card they will spend more. Average 30% more. I find it to be true in my life. Once I am blowing off the budget I really blow off the budget. It is better for me to plan for treats and little splurges (fancy coffee) and know how much I have to spend than wait until I break down and just don't care about the budget any more.
Make gifts for people. Learn to make something fun. I bought a $10 skein of yarn to make something a friend asked me to. she paid for the yarn. i have enough left over to make at least 2 or 3 nice baby gifts. I am making mittens for my kids this Christmas. It takes a couple of hours and cost $10 per kid. there will be enough yarn left over for 3 or 4 more gifts for neighborhood kids. For my mom I made her a pair of socks ($10 for yarn and another pair of socks from the scraps. I do have an online store but they would have made a nice gift as well) and she was just over the moon. I don't recommend making anything edible. We have never really used these things. But soaps and candles and tote bags and knitted stuff all gets lots of use. One sister in law makes jewelry and the kids treasure the stuff she makes them and in the past she has made me some amazing stuff. Another idea is making sets of cards. Speaking of gifts, don't waste money on wrapping paper (Christmas is my exception but I always buy it on deep clearance) and cards. use a simple hand made gift tag and opt for gift bags that can be recycled. You can usually find these for pennies at rummage sales and goodwill (ours sells large bags of them) and at the dollar store (they are just as nice as the ones you find for $4 or $5 except they are usually $.50 to a $1) If we include a card or send a card my kids make them. There is lots of fun stuff online for making pop outs and doing cute decorations with scraps or with your computer. People love a handmade card especially if your kids are behind the cuteness. also don't overestimate what a gift time with you is. Take a friend out for coffee instead of getting them a gift. They do not need another trinket or clearance find any more than you do. for $5-10 you can have a nice treat and spend some quality time together. And you get a treat too! Or have them over for a nice dinner or take them a meal. I know just having a night where I don't have to cook is so nice. Or you could offer to babysit their kids so they can go on a date or shower in peace. both nice.
Edited by lilyka - 9/21/11 at 10:42am