The winter season is a time of increased holiday spending, be it on gatherings, shipping costs, holiday gifts, or hiked-up essential bills. Amid the seasonal cheer, it’s easy to lose sight of your financial goals this time of year, but it’s as important as ever to stay vigilant, monitor your bank account, and adjust your budget to align with exactly what you want and need. While you can expect to spend more in certain areas, there are ways that you can keep the bills down with family and friends in town. Better yet, many of them you can set and forget — so that you can save energy, water, and money and also enjoy time with company.
Insulate and Seal
No matter the time of year, it’s important to keep hot what you want hot and cool what you want cool. Check the seals around your doors, windows, and appliances to ensure there are not any gaps, tears, or disconnections where you could be leaking precious warm or chilled air.
When you’re cooking up a storm in your home, it’s common to crack a window to let in a fresh breeze. Ensure those windows are closed securely before turning in for the night or you’ll run up the utility bill in your sleep.
If you live in a warmer climate and want to confirm that you are not losing cool air, light a candle and hold it in front of the seals on your doors and windows. If the flame flickers, you could be losing cool air.
For people who live in a cooler climate and run the heater, hold a damp hand near a closed window. It helps if there is a steady breeze on the day that you check. If you feel cold air seeping in, you should do a thorough inspection for gaps or tears.
Regulate Heating and Cooling
If you tick your thermostat down 7–10 degrees Fahrenheit from its normal setting for 8 hours a day, you could save up to 10% per year on heating and cooling, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.
During the winter months, it could be wise to turn it down when you’re working from the office or out of town visiting family or friends. You can also consider lowering the temperature a few degrees at night (cooler temperatures help you get a more restful sleep anyway).
Purchasing a programmable thermostat may not be your top priority during the holiday season, but it can be a huge time and energy saver. It allows you to program your heat and air conditioning unit to turn on or off at different times of the day. Then it heats and cools based on the settings that you’ve chosen, which helps you avoid fussing with the temperature settings while guests are in town.
Adjust Fridge and Freezer Temperatures
It’s possible that the default temperatures on your largest kitchen appliances are a tinge too high. Although it may seem inconsequential, lowering the temperatures on your refrigerator and freezer could save energy and a little bit of money each month. You really only need to maintain a refrigerator temperature from 37–40 degrees Fahrenheit and a freezer temperature from 4–5 degrees Fahrenheit. Anything higher is an energy suck.
Install an Energy-Saving Showerhead
You can’t exactly regulate how long your guests shower, so it’s best to take a proactive approach here. Investing in a water-saving showerhead, like one with the WaterSense label, would help save money and water.
As for you, you could also cut down on the amount of time that you are in the shower yourself, or how long you let the shower run before actually getting in. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, if every person in the U.S. shaved a minute off of their shower time, it would save 170 billion gallons of water every year (that’s more than 257,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools).
Turn Down the Hot Water Heater
The default temperature for hot water heaters is 140 degrees Fahrenheit, but it doesn’t need to be that high. By lowering it 10 or 20 degrees, you could save more than $60 each year in standby costs alone.
When you account for the cost of heating water for showers, laundry, dishwashers, and other appliances, lowering your hot water heater temperature could put more than $400 back in your pocket annually. Consider lowering the temperature on your hot water heater at all times, but especially when you’re out of town or away from home for an extended period of time.
The EPA says that a hot water heater set at 120 degrees is safe for the majority of the population. However, you should consider keeping your hot water heater at a higher temperature if you’re immunocompromised or have chronic respiratory disease — just to be safe.
Minimize Artificial Light Usage
The average American household spends about 5% of its energy budget on lighting alone, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. If you’re looking to limit your energy consumption and save money, start with the lights. (Plus, a candlelit dinner can be especially festive during the holiday season.)
Turn off lamps and ceiling lights when they’re not in use, or, if possible, make use of dimmer switches on your lights to minimize (but not completely eliminate) your artificial light usage.
The Department of Energy also suggests that by swapping the light bulbs on your five most used fixtures, you can save up to $45 each year on your electric bill. When swapping out old bulbs for new, be on the lookout for compact fluorescent, halogen incandescent, or LED lights marked with the Energy Star label.
Use Smart Power Strips
One of the most festive ways to get into the holiday spirit is to string holiday lights inside and outside of your home. In order to power those lights, you’ve got to use an outlet. And often, you’ll need more outlets than your home has readily available.
Power strips come in handy here — they are hubs that plug into one outlet, which then give you access to several more outlets. There are two types of power strips: regular ones that serve just as a regular socket on your wall does. Regular power strips continue to suck energy, even when the appliance or electronic seems to be in the off position.
Appliances that continue to use energy even when in an off or locked position form a “vampire load.” Vampire loads are an energy drain and run up your electric bill unnecessarily, but they can easily be remedied with a smart power strip.
Smart power strips detect when an appliance or electronic is in standby mode, like when the timer on your automatic Christmas lights switches them off for the evening. The hub will automatically flip into power-saver mode when energy is not needed, effectively saving energy and reducing your electricity bill.
Meal Plan and Delegate Dishes
Despite the rush of the holiday season, hopefully you have time to get good rest — and eat good food. That doesn’t mean that your grocery list has to break the bank.
To keep your holiday budget on track, remember a few things:
- Plan your meals
- Make a grocery list (and stick to it as much as possible)
- Don’t go to the store on an empty stomach
- Assign different dishes from your spread to holiday party attendees
Taking on the grocery store without a plan, without a list, or without food in your stomach makes you more likely to throw additional snacks and treats in your cart. While it’s certainly okay to splurge and indulge at times, it’s important to remember how it affects your budget. Just try not to be reckless.
Encouraging others to bring a dish to your soiree allows people to flex their cooking or baking skills and join in on the fun. It also frees up some of your time and money to allocate to other bills or holiday festivities that are important to you.
Make a Holiday Budget
The cost of holidays does not come with a small price tag. Gifts, celebrations, and holiday travel add up. While it can be easy to get caught up in the festivities, it’s not worth taking out a personal loan or going into holiday debt on your credit card just to put something under the Christmas tree. In other words, your essential bills should take priority over holiday bills.
You should adjust your budget for the holidays so that you can spend money on the things that will make the season extra cheerful while still prioritizing your essential bills. If you want to spend less and save more during the holidays, follow these simple steps.
- Make a list of who you’d like to buy gifts for and the maximum amount of holiday money you’d like to spend on them.
- Adjust your regular budget accordingly.
- Start holiday shopping early.
- Seek out discounts.
- Compare prices for the same item at different stores so you can lock in the best deal.
- Track your spending.
- Opt for meaningful gifts, such as experiences or homemade presents. The recipient will appreciate it — and so will your budget.
- Shop intentionally. Avoid “shopping momentum” and choose wisely between in-store and online.