Utilities and home improvement
Get basic about cable: Drop the pricey packages.
Don't pay for dozens of TV channels you don't watch. Go basic and save big. Although cable packages and prices vary by region, most providers offer a bare-bones plan. Verizon's FiOS TV Local Digital, for instance, delivers local channels for $13 a month. And rather than pay for premium channels, sign up for Netflix's streaming service. For $8 a month, you can watch unlimited movies and TV shows (albeit not always the latest offerings) via your home Internet connection.
Annual savings: $648 (basic cable plus Netflix versus average digital cable bill of $75 a month).
Conserve energy: Shrink your utility bills in ways big and small.
Energy costs -- which average $1,900 annually -- are budget-busters for many U.S. households. In Ithaca, N.Y., Jon Harrod, the president of Snug Planet, an energy-auditing and retrofit firm, says these ideas can save big.
Quick payback: Start with the easy changes that cost nothing. These include switching off lights and electronics when you're not using them and turning down the thermostat (or properly setting your programmable thermostat). Put compact fluorescent light bulbs in your five most-used light fixtures, and swap out your showerhead for a next-generation, very low-flow model. (More suggestions at the Environmental Protection Agency's Energy Star website, and the Department of Energy's Energy Savers site.) Savings: $454.
Long-term payback: Replace an older refrigerator with a new one (you'll save $100 on energy annually by replacing a 20-year-old fridge with a new, Energy Star-rated one). If you're doing lots of laundry, replace an older washer (save $135 a year when you retire one that's at least 10 years old). Savings: $235.
Air leakage through the exterior shell and interior ductwork is a big issue. Also, attics, basements and crawl spaces often lack sufficient insulation. Sealing your home's gaps and adding insulation may cost in the range of $2,500, says Harrod, but these measures can cut heating and cooling bills 20% to 50%. Savings: $300.
Total annual savings: $989.
Get fit at home: Set up your own gym.
The average gym membership will set you back $40 to $70 per month. With a budget of about $1,500, it's easy to build a state-of-the-art gym at home.
For cardio, pick up an elliptical machine, such as the Schwinn 420 Elliptical ($600). And for strength training, get a total-body machine, such as a Classic Bowflex ($650). Fill out the rest of your gym with resistance bands (three for $30), a stability ball ($40) and a few sets of dumbbells ($50).
Annual savings: $600 (savings on a $50-a-month gym membership after initial investment).
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