Here it is June, the first real month of summer, and most of us are looking forward to weddings we can’t afford to buy presents for, vacations we can’t afford to go on, new bathing suits we can’t afford to buy to wear at beaches we can’t afford to drive to, and of course, Father’s Day.
(Gift tip: If you give Dad the tie you gave him five years ago but put it in a brand new Macy’s box with some tissue paper, there’s a real good chance he won’t remember it and smile and nod as if it’s brand new. Actually, he’ll probably do this even if he does remember it.)
So why am I bringing up winter fuel bills NOW? Because if you live in a part of the country that gets cold between October and March, and you keep yourself warm with an oil or natural gas furnace, if you don’t start stockpiling some cash right now there’s a good chance you will go into sticker shock come November. Shortly after that, your pipes will freeze.
Last winter we spent well over $2000 heating a 1000 square foot home while keeping the thermostat at 65 or below. At the beginning of winter, heating oil was running about $2.75 a gallon. By the end of winter it was up to $3.89. Right now it’s $4.40 or so, up and down by pennies from day to day. By the time really cold weather hits, we could easily be looking at over $4000 to heat this place. This is weighing heavily on my mind even now as the birds chirp and the garden grows. I live in Michigan. For me, winter will be here before I even get all of our tomatoes picked.
So since we can’t bottle summer, here are my thoughts on gearing up for the coming cold:
- Yard Sale. No, this isn’t very original, but it can net you quite a wad of cash if you take the time to do it right. Anything you are storing that hasn’t been used in the past two years belongs in someone else’s attic. You get their money, they get your trash.
- Insulate, insulate, insulate. While the weather is pleasant and sunny, make sure all your doors and windows are caulked and well-sealed. Consider blowing insulation into your walls or adding attic insulation. Save the receipts for an energy credit on your 2008 taxes.
- Buy an Add-On Wood Burner. Right now detached wood-burning furnaces are selling like mad up here in suburban areas, creating controversy over the wood smoke they produce. The problem is that many suburban developments are packed with homes that are 3000+ square feet and are located many miles from where the occupants work. The cost of suburban life has really gone off the charts lately, and it’s a real drag to freeze to death in a mini-mansion. Personally, I side with the people buying the wood-burners, but you have to make up your own mind. An auxiliary wood-burner will save you lots of money, and the detached ones are much safer than the indoor variety.
- Sell Your Extra Vehicles. When I was a kid, most families had one car. Uno. Of course, this was about a hundred years ago, before color TV was even invented, never mind the internet. Still, with gas prices so high and no indication that they are likely to go down again, ever, this might be a good time to reassess your transportation needs and convert a few vehicles into cash.
- Moonlight. If you have a riding mower and live in a neighborhood where not everyone does, consider mowing everybody’s lawn each week… for a price. You can also pick up money freelancing online at site like Guru.com, Elance.com, and Odesk.com. Contract jobs are available in sales, web programming, design, public relations, and writing, and you can take on as little or as much work as you want and do it when you want.
- Install a Programmable Thermostat. These are quite inexpensive and easy to install. If you have central air it will work with that too. You program the device to get the home to a comfortable temperature only when you are actually in it. This can save you enormous money on your utility bills, starting right now.
- Replace Your Furnace. Right now, I am giving this one serious consideration. If it cost thousands each winter to heat a small home, it doesn’t take long to recoup the investment in a high-efficiency EnergyStar model. Plus, you do get that tax credit for doing so.
- Check Out Budget Plans. If you currently pay as you go to heat your home all winter, this might be the year to check out possible year long budget plans with your oil supplier or gas utility. The downside is that they get to use your money all year and you don’t. The up side is that you don’t have to come up with huge sums for home heating right before Christmas.
- Consider a Space Heater or Soapstone Stove. You can turn your heat down as low as it will go to keep your pipes from freezing, and use a space heater in the room you use most for extra warmth. Do your research though. Some of these heaters are dangerous, especially kerosene space heaters, and some electric space heaters are more expensive to run that just heating your home the normal way. Soapstone is a soft stone that resembles marble and when used to make a woodstove, retains a lot of warmth using a small amount of wood. You can’t cook on them, but on the upside, they are cool to the touch and therefore safe if you have pets or children.
- Close Off the Bedrooms. In days of old, nobody heated their bedrooms. That’s why people had iron contraptions to hold hot coals and slide between the sheets and mattress just before bed to warm it up. Invest in some flannel pajamas and wool blankets and open the door to the heated part of the house just before you go to bed.
As I write this, it is almost 90 degrees outside and humid, and while I usually hate that kind of weather, suddenly, typing out these tips, it seems not so bad.
I think I’ll leave the air conditioner off and just bask in it awhile.
This is a post by Pamela Grundy, writer for Personal Finance Analyst. Personal Finance Analyst is an online community of bloggers dedicated to taking the mystery out of money and helping you to live a happier, more successful life with the money you have.