Monthly living expenses seem to have a life of their own. Some bills appear small and inconsequential on their own, but add them all up and they can overwhelm you. Fortunately, you can tame the beast. Use these 12 money management tips and tricks to lower bills and keep your money where it belongs — in your pocket:
1. Turn off lights and appliances
Remember your mom telling you to turn off the lights when leaving a room? Turns out she had a point: turning off lights and other appliances not in use fights "vampire power" — the electricity pulled from the grid when electronics are plugged in but not used. If you have a hard time remembering to turn off the lights, invest in smart timers and power strips that automatically manage electricity flow for you.
As your old incandescent lightbulbs die, replace them with CFL or LED bulbs. The bulbs may have a higher up-front cost, but they're also about four times more energy efficient and last years longer than traditional bulbs, making them more cost-effective in the long run.
3. Set the thermostat
An easy way to save money is to program the thermostat so that it automatically adjusts the heating and cooling of your home. If your thermostat isn't programmable, it may be time to invest in a new system — a programmable thermostat could save you $180 a year on your utilities.
4. Lower the temperature on the hot water heater
The hot water heater is most likely one of your home's primary energy wasters. Simply lowering the temperature on your hot water heater will provide you the hot water you want without burning unnecessary energy. Investing in a water heater blanket and insulating any exposed hot water pipes will keep in even more heat and save you even more money.
Every fall, check the weatherproofing on your home and replace any worn-out seals on doorframes and windows. Doing so will get rid of the drafts that cause energy spikes — and higher utility bills — during the summer and winter.
6. Shop around for homeowners and auto insurance
You'll want to scope out new insurance options every so often, particularly if your credit score has improved. Many times, you can switch providers and pay less while still receiving the same amount of coverage. Give your current provider a chance to match the competitor's quote and try to bundle policies if possible.
7. Bundle Internet, television, and phone services
One of the simplest ways to save money every month is to bundle your existing services. Most cable and Internet providers offer discounts for bundling, as well as other perks.
8. Refinance your home or car
If you think you might be eligible for refinancing, talk with a few lending institutions. Locking in a lower rate can save you money over the life of the loan and lower your monthly payment. This extra money can then be put toward existing bills — a guaranteed way to pay off debt faster.
9. Consolidate your student loans
Now that most federal loans have fixed rates, consolidation is no longer the magic solution it once was considered — but it can still be a lucrative option. It usually locks in a lower interest rate and lower monthly payment. Plus, you can often decrease the rate further by opting for automatic withdrawals every month.
If you have a large balance on your credit card, call the credit card company and request a rate reduction. Most of the time, companies are willing to negotiate if you've been paying your bill on time. The lower rate will help, but remember that the only proven way to get back to black is to stop buying on credit and start paying down your debt.
11. Cancel club memberships
Dig through your wallet and pull out all your membership cards. Now be honest with yourself: how often do you really use the services? If you only use the gym once a month, it might be best to cancel the membership and save that monthly fee instead.
12. Look for inexpensive entertainment options
Most cities have all sorts of free entertainment, from local live music to weekend festivals. Find the free, or at least inexpensive, options and replace some of your current activities. Even if you replace 10 to 15 percent of your outings with free activities, the savings will add up.
Your home bills don't have to rule the roost. Show them who's boss. Take charge with the 12 tips listed here, and you will save money, pay off debt, and have funds left for fun.