By Sarah Mahoney
Kristen Hagopian of Chester County, Pa., has slimming her summer grocery bill down to a fine art. "When you don't tell friends and neighbors exactly what to bring to a barbecue, everyone shows up with a fancy bottle of wine -- more than we could possibly drink," says the author of the self-published book Brilliant Frugal Living. "But when I say to bring chips or ask a guest to make their delicious cupcakes, we save a lot of money, and still have a great time."
Hagopian is also a big believer in skipping the rented bouncy houses for the kids: "Instead, we stock up on bubbles and sidewalk chalk at the dollar store, and my kids, along with everyone else in the neighborhood, have a blast while the adults relax."
Here are other ways to keep costs down this summer.
Reduce Home Electricity Use
Whether you simply raise the temperature on your air conditioning a degree during the day or choose to run the swimming-pool pump only at night, you can lower utility bills, says Sharon Lechter, co-author of Three Feet From Gold. "And use your dishwasher, when possible. It costs money to heat the water and pipes, which is something that happens every time you wash a few dishes by hand." Train older kids to walk around the house and unplug things like stereos, TVs, computers and coffeemakers: The U.S. Department of Energy says 75 percent of the electricity used to power home electronics and appliances is consumed while the products are turned off.
Lower Landscaping Costs
Annette Pelliccio started The Happy Gardener, an organic products line based in Ashland, Va., so she could stay home with her kids and help the planet. But she also found wheelbarrows full of savings along the way. "People spend way too much on bagged potting soil for summer containers, when they could use their own kitchen scraps, and with really basic composting techniques, make a higher-quality product within six to nine months."
Pelliccio also suggests planting more shrubs, gradually reducing the amount of mowable grass in your yard. "Xeriscaping, which is what we call landscaping in a way that cuts down on the need for water, lowers your energy costs, but also reduces the need for fertilizers and mowers. I don't have any grass in my yard anymore, and it's beautiful. I use native mosses and ground covers that are maintenance-free."
"Splurge" on a Home Appliance Upgrade
"Shopping [for] an expensive new appliance may not seem like a money saver," says Ryan Himmel, founder of BIDaWIZ.com, an online marketplace for financial advice, but taking advantage of rebate programs going on this summer may pay off faster than you think. "Between the federal tax credit -- up to $1,500 -- and long-term energy savings, these can really pay off." (To find out which products are available for rebates in your state, go to EnergyStar.gov.)
Relax More, Entertain Less
Entertaining can get expensive, says Hagopian, who points out that more-impromptu parties are inherently cheaper. "If you throw a cookout idea together last minute, no one cares that you don't have matching plastic forks and paper napkins, that there's no theme and that you didn't organize all the cooking and shopping. It's much more relaxed." After all, isn't that what summer is about?
Clean More Frequently
Summer means more outdoor time, which can lead to dirt, sand and dirty dishes from barbecues taking over the house. Instead of larger, tougher and less-frequent cleaning jobs, doing some daily maintenance on the floors and other spots will lessen the need to purchase specialty cleaners for tougher messes. A quick daily swipe of the counters and floors will, in the end, save on time and money.
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