Not Being Conservation-Conscious
"When we were growing up, our parents told us to turn off the lights when we left a room," says investment adviser Bill Staton, the coauthor (with his wife, Mary Staton) of Worry-Free Family Finances (McGraw-Hill, 2003). "That advice stands today." According to the U.S. Department of Energy, the average American household spent $1,300 a year on energy in 2001.
That means, as Staton points out, that cutting your consumption by just 10 percent (a reasonable goal) will put $130 a year back in your pocket. Just paying attention is half the battle. A TV or stereo should never be on if there's no one in the room watching or listening. A faucet should not be running if no one is actively using the water (a quick quiz: what's the water doing as you brush your teeth?).
Set your home thermostat at the highest temperature your family can stand in the summer and the lowest in winter, and make sure your doors and windows are all caulked and sealed properly. Unplug appliances you use only sporadically and buy the most energy-efficient models you can find of big items such as refrigerators and air conditioners.
Also, watch your paper consumption. This is a very pricey area for most families today, who are constantly printing documents ranging from kids' artwork to vacation photos. Use both sides of the page when it's appropriate, and to conserve both paper and computer ink (which, at $66 an ounce, is more expensive than Russian caviar or French champagne, notes Jerry Chamales, the founder of Rhinotek, a producer of remanufactured ink), avoid printing in color and change the setting on your printer to "draft" quality whenever possible. The payoff for all this conservation is not merely financial; you're also sparing the environment.