When people refer to their homes as “money pits,” it generally conjures up stark and terrifying images of a huge chasm in the floor, sucking down dollars (thanks, Tom Hanks).
And the reality is that the classic big-ticket home problems, such as a faulty foundation or flooding basement, can indeed sweep through bank accounts like financial tsunamis. But just because your home isn’t plagued by these traumas doesn’t mean you’re in the clear.
The fact is, many homes have mini money pits that, over time and put together, siphon off thousands of dollars. Here’s where they’re hiding, and what you can do to keep the financial hemorrhaging in check.
If you have regular incandescent lightbulbs in your home, they’re burning through your heating bill. Only 10% of the energy they consume goes to light; the rest is given off as heat (resulting in a higher AC bill to boot!). That’s why the U.S. government encourages all homeowners to switch to energy-efficient bulbs such as LEDs.
Granted, LEDs might be more expensive at the outset, but they’ll save you cash over time: According to Energy.gov, if you replace just five of your most frequently used lights with energy-friendly models, you’ll save $75 a year. In fact, if every household replaced just one incandescent bulb with an LED, Americans would save more than $460 million in annual energy costs.
2. Air conditioner
“American homeowners spend $11 billion on cooling costs every year, according to the Department of Energy,” explains financial expert Andrea Woroch. So once summer comes around, it’s important to make sure to replace filters (at least once a year) to keep your air-conditioning unit in tiptop shape.
And don’t forget about the area outside your AC as well—meaning the vents.
“Your units need free, unconstricted airflow to operate efficiently,” says John Bodrozic, co-founder of energy-saving home improvement site HomeZada. “Oftentimes shrubs grow around these units, blocking airflow, causing the units to work harder, longer, and using more energy. They will also burn out quicker, requiring an expensive replacement.”
Eric C. Wentworth, author of “A Plan for Life: The 21st Century Guide to Success,” notes that your fridge is a financial black hole in more ways than one.
For starters, “it’s easy to spend too much on food,” he notes. “What makes it worse is when food gets ‘lost’ in the refrigerator and eventually loses its safe shelf life and gets discarded. Nearly everyone has food in the back of the fridge or buried in a produce bin that escapes notice and isn’t eaten. It’s part of the reason why 40% of all food in America goes to waste. Per household, that adds up to about $2,000 a year.” Yikes!
The solution? Keep perishables or other items you should use at eye level to stay on your radar.
Another way your fridge eats up money is the electricity this appliance consumes. But there’s a way to curb this waste, too: Just clean your refrigerator coils—those long tubes snaking along the bottom or back of your fridge. Over time, these coils collect dust, which hinders how well they cool your perishables.
“Keeping a refrigerator well-ventilated and free of dust can knock 6% off its power consumption,” says Mike Catania, co-founder of PromotionCode.org.
4. Landline phone
We know you’re out there—you people who can’t quite quit your landline phone.
“The proliferation of cellphones has rendered landlines nearly obsolete, though many consumers still like having one for emergencies,” Woroch says. “At an average of $40 per month, it’s a lot of money to dish out on a phone you don’t use often.”
Luckily, you don’t have to sacrifice your sense security for the sake of saving. Switch to a free internet home phone provider like Ooma.
“While there’s an upfront cost to cover the device, it pays for itself in just two months,” says Woroch. “Connect the gadget to your high-speed internet and regular home phone, and pay only applicable taxes. Opting for this free service will save you about $480 annually.”
5. Energy ‘vampires’
“Ever heard of an energy vampire?” asks Woroch. “Gadgets and appliances like TVs, laptops, coffee makers, printers, space heaters, and cable boxes continue to suck energy even when turned off.”
The solution? Get in the habit of unplugging these electronics and appliances when you aren’t using them, and you’ll save big.
“Power strips are an easier and less timely alternative—some even come with a remote control for easier use,” says Woroch. “This will save you 5% on your energy bill. Considering that the average American home electricity costs are $1,300 a year, 5% savings can keep an extra $65 in your pocket.”
6. House pets
Sad, but true: Wentworth says your pet might be at the top of list when it comes to money-sucking family members.
“People often underestimate the cost of a dog or cat. In our case, our dog eats about $80 a month worth of food, nearly a thousand dollars a year,” Wentworth points out. “Add to that another $1,000 a year for pet accessories, veterinarian costs, boarding, pet sitting/walking, and grooming, and the total is about $2,000 a year. The dog will likely live about 12 years—our last dog lived to be 15—and you are looking at $24,000+ in expenditures over the life of the pet—or the cost of a new car, year’s tuition at college, or luxury round-the-world vacation. If that money had been invested in the stock market 10 years ago, it would likely have doubled to almost $50,000.”
Yes, our pets might be well worth every cent, but just know what you’re getting into before you bring some cute fur ball home.