This health crisis doesn't seem to have an end date yet, so aside from adjusting to our “new normal” (a.k.a. self-isolation and staying at home), we also have to prepare for an uncertain future. This is why we can never go wrong with building up extra cash or filling up our emergency fund.
Because you’re staying at home all day, it’s highly likely that you’re relying more heavily on utilities. You’re cooking more frequently, family members are glued to their screens more often, and you may have also opted to work from home. So this time is also a good opportunity to start learning and practising more eco-friendly household habits to save water, energy, and even on your monthly food expenses. Having a little cash cushion is rewarding especially when things start to return to normal and you see how much has been saved in just a short time.
Here are small but sustainable household habits and practices you could take that could go a long way, even when this crisis is over:
To keep your energy costs lower:
1. Use power strips.
Appliances like computers and computer-related equipment, coffee makers, video game consoles, DVD players, and kitchen appliances like microwave ovens, and even phone chargers, are called vampire appliances or energy vampires. Items like these continue to suck power even when they're off but still plugged in. And according to the Department of Energy, these vampire appliances and electronics account for 10 percent of energy used in an average home.
Stop this slow money burn by making it a habit to frequently unplug these items when you’re not using them. Better yet, connect them to easy-to-switch-off power strips so you can turn them off when not in use. Reducing your phantom load means less wasted electricity that could translate to more energy savings.
2. Wash clothes in warm or cold water.
If someone in your home is sick or one of the frontliners during this quarantine, you really have to wash their clothes in hot water and even bleach them. But for regular laundry, just switching from hot to warm water will cut every load's energy use in half. You’ll save even more money in utilities if you wash clothes in cold water. They’ll get just as clean, and most detergents nowadays work just as well in cold water.
3. Turn off lights and fans when not in use.
Now that most family members are at home, make sure to brief them about diligently turning off the lights and fans when not in use. It isn't much to ask, but such a simple habit can add up to your monthly energy savings.
4. Run full loads in the washing machine or dishwasher.
You can save significantly on your water and energy bills if you run full loads of clothes in your washing machine or dishes in your dishwasher. If you can't wait for your clean dishes until there’s a full load of them, or you don’t have enough dirty items in your laundry, simply hand wash the things you need.
5. Clean your light bulbs.
Dirty light bulbs waste energy. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, they emit 30 percent less light than clean ones. So while it might be a hassle, get a stepladder and rags and dust off both the bulb and fixture to get the light that you're paying for.
6. Limit your time in the shower.
We get it: most of us are guilty of taking long, steamy showers. After all, it's relaxing and a great part of our much-needed self-care routine. However, mindlessly letting your shower run not only wastes gallons of water but also money. Try to limit your shower time by setting a timer or timing it with your favorite song. Or turn the water off altogether for the meantime while waiting to rinse out your conditioner.
To save money on groceries:
7. Skimp on laundry detergent.
When it comes to getting your clothes fresh and clean, ditch the idea that more soap is better. As a general rule, you typically only need a tablespoon of detergent per regular load size. So forget about the measurement cup that comes with your detergent as they don't show the actual amount that’s needed. This way, your clothes actually get cleaner and there’ll be no soap residue left behind. Also, many problems with washing machines are found to be caused by using too much laundry detergent. So it isn’t only your clothes and appliance that will be saved, your wallet will thank you as well.
8. Cut back on paper towels and use rags instead.
While paper towels are convenient for cleaning, they add up to your monthly costs without your knowing. So save your paper towels for cleaning messes that need to go straight into the trash, like oil and grease. Use cotton shop towels for general cleaning and dusting, or repurpose old clothes like old t-shirts or bath towels. Don't toss them in the wash after every wipe and instead run a load of laundry just for rags. Even if you calculate the costs of washing these towels, you’ll still save more compared to buying more rolls of paper towels.
9. Use homemade cleaners.
Because of the coronavirus pandemic, proper cleaning and disinfecting have never been more important. So it isn't surprising that we sometimes go to our local grocery store only to find the shelves stripped bare of commercial cleaners and supplies. If you find yourself in such a situation, don’t fret. You can try making your own cleaning products using common household items like vinegar, baking soda, lemon or lime juice, and even essential oils. Many of these homemade cleaners are cheaper than brand name cleaners. You can check online for DIY cleaning recipes that won’t only disinfect but also leave your home smelling fresh.
10. Organize your pantry.
Keeping well-organized cabinets and pantries is an efficient way to cut down on your monthly food expenses simply because you are less likely to buy things you don't need or often use when you go to the grocery store. Organizing your storage will help you clear out what’s currently available and to avoid buying stuff or ingredients that you didn’t know you already have (especially if you bought them in bulk).
Place your pantry priorities at a convenient location where you can see them immediately so you can take note when stocks run low. Also, try to group items into categories—spices, baking supplies, snacks, condiments, etc.—so you can easily find them when needed and avoid overspending just because you couldn’t find anything.
11. Stick to your shopping list and plan your meals.
Now that daily trips to the grocery store aren't feasible, we need to be more effective at our grocery shopping. Our mantra should be: don’t buy more than what we need. Because while it’s best for us to have enough food for two weeks, panic buying and hoarding will only do more harm than good.
This time of crisis also isn’t a good time to make a lot of impulse buying. Just take note of essential quarantine items or supplies to stock your pantry with, such as canned goods, grains, cooking oil, dry goods and other pantry staples, healthy snacks, condiments, and spices. Practice making a list before you head to the grocery store, and then stick to it.
And since you’re spending more time at home cooking, learn to plan your meals so you can make use of the stocks you currently have and reduce food waste.
12. Set a household budget.
If you're still not doing this, it might be time to sit down and take a closer look at your monthly, even weekly, spending. It might be helpful to make a special “quarantine budget” to help guide your spending during lockdown. Since many of our common sources of spending are currently unavailable, such as travelling, eating out, going to the cinemas, and other social activities, your budget will probably have a lot more room. And any extra cash should go to an emergency fund because nobody knows how long this crisis will last. Money may be tight going forward, so saving whenever possible will go a long way.
With the extra time and most of the family members staying at home, take this opportunity to sit down and learn to talk about how you can save more money as a family.