Maximizing space and minimizing utility bills

Savings for Apartment Dwellers

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Money-Saving for Apartment Dwellers

I live in an apartment with my two kids. I need more information on savings for apartment dwellers. My concern is saving on utilities and space. Thank you so much!

Saving on Utilities

When I was an apartment dweller, I used these tricks to save on my electric bill.

  1. Fill empty two-liter soda bottles with water and store in the back of the fridge, so all the food is up front. If the fridge is full of water bottles, the fridge doesn't work so hard to stay cold. If the fridge is almost empty, you waste electricity trying to keep it cold. When I fill up on groceries, I take out some water bottles. As the food gets eaten up, I fill the fridge with the water bottles. I use soda bottles filled three quarters of the way with water to keep the freezer cold.
  2. In one apartment, it may be cheaper to turn off the A/C while you are at work. In another apartment, the opposite may be true. I had an apartment that had a fairly new A/C unit. It was cheaper to let my A/C keep the apartment at 75 degrees all the time than for me to just ask it to work really hard to cool the place off when I got home from work. To find out what works best for you, try it for a month one way and then try the other way for a month.
  3. Change the A/C air filter every month. The apartment owner is trying to save a buck or two by changing it every two or three months. As the dweller, you get stuck with higher bills if the A/C unit has to work harder to pull air through a dirty filter. As the dweller, you can ask that they leave the filters with you or reimburse you for them.
  4. Change all of the light bulbs to fluorescent. Save the old bulbs and put them back when you move out. Keep your fluorescent bulbs when you move. They can last 6 to 10 years each.

Ally in Lake Worth, FL

Less Can Be More

Apartment dwellers are in luck when it comes to saving on utilities. Often utilities such as water and heat are included with the rent. When they are not, treat them as a homeowner would. (If you can get the neighbors to help, cutting down utility use may forestall or at least lower the next rent increase.) Turn down the thermostat at night; use less water and turn off lights you don't use. Replace incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs.

Space can be at a premium in an apartment, but if you think creatively, you can always find more room than you thought possible. For example, think "up" when looking at places for shelving. How about a doorway or near the ceiling in a bedroom? This is just the place for bookshelves or knickknacks to rest. Get rid of junk, old clothing and other space hogs and you will have more room quickly without added investment. Buy pots and pans that can do two jobs rather than one to make more room in small cupboards. Less can be more.

Also consider using "space bags," the storage bags that allow you to remove excess air when storing clothing, pillows, blankets and other bulky soft goods. They are said to increase storage space by up to one-half.

If you are purchasing additional furniture, can it perform more than one function? For example, one clever dining table folds away into a cabinet that also stores folding chairs.

How Much "Stuff" Is Enough?

I lived in a small apartment for years, and the best advice I can give is to re-think how much "stuff" you really need. While I was packing for our move into our first house, I could not believe the junk I came across that I never used and had forgotten I had. Go through everything in your closets and ask yourself if you really need each item. Do the same for your kids or have them do it if they're old enough. After the initial cleaning, look through the areas once a month for items that have found their way in there. You'll be surprised! Make a rule that for every new item brought into the home, one old item must be pitched or donated. Try not to save too much stuff for when you "have more room" or because you might have use for it "somewhere down the road" (my two pitfalls!). Realize that keeping up with the Joneses while living in a small space is futile and adopt a simpler lifestyle. After awhile, you'll notice yourself spending less because you're buying less things you don't need in the first place!

Enjoy the Freedom and Simplicity of Apartment Dwelling

My husband and I are both disabled and living on a fixed income. We live in an apartment. Many people say that the only way to live frugally is to own your own home, but for us, an apartment is probably cheaper and certainly more convenient than a house. We don't have to pay for major appliances or any repairs. Also, we don't have to worry about property taxes or yard or exterior maintenance. For people in our situation, I consider the monthly rent as having built-in "insurance" to cover all those kinds of things.

My first recommendation is to get renters' insurance. If your car insurance company also offers renters' insurance, you'll probably get a discounted rate. It only costs a few dollars a month, but it offers great peace of mind for any unforeseen catastrophes. It's an absolute no-brainer for the small monetary investment.

Another thing to look into is a low-income apartment if you fall within certain income guidelines. Our complex sets its rent compared to annual income. It starts with a minimum rent and goes higher for those who make more money, up to a certain limit at which a potential tenant is ineligible to rent here. Yes, you have to re-certify every year with proof of your income and resources (money in the bank, etc.), but it's worth jumping through hoops for the savings if you're low-income.

As for utilities, try the usual tricks like using fans instead of the A/C and hot water bottles and blankets to snuggle with on a cold night rather than turning up the furnace. Also, turn off lights and small appliances when not in use. If your apartment is hooked up with natural gas, that's a bonus. If you have a lower income, look into Lifeline service for your telephone.

Find Out: How Much Renters Insurance Do You Need?

Get to know your neighbors. Being in such close proximity can make certain frugal activities much easier. For instance, consider meal-sharing, picking up something at the store for your neighbor when you're going anyway (or vice versa), or borrowing a cup of sugar or roll of toilet paper so you don't have to make that special trip to the store.

When it comes to storage, I've come to be grateful to not have an attic, basement, garage or outside storage to fill with more clutter. A smaller space forces you to think about what you purchase. As for more practical items, look to unusual places. Extra canned and boxed food can be stored in a closet, under the bed, or in a box under the kitchen table, using a full-length tablecloth to hide it. For linens, each bed can get by with two sets of sheets (some people store the spare sheets between the mattress and box springs), and a couple of bath towels, a couple of hand towels, and a few washcloths per person should suffice. Teach the kids to hang up their towels to get several uses out of it. Try to get everybody to use the same basic soap or body wash, shampoo, toothpaste, etc. to avoid cluttering the bathroom.

If you don't have room for a big dining room table, use a folding card table covered with a tablecloth with the accompanying folding chairs. The folding chairs can be brought into the living area for extra seating when you have guests.

Renting a storage unit is a tempting idea for larger items, seasonal items, or things that just seem to take over your living space but you can't bring yourself to get rid of. However, it can be a real trap. Stop and think for a moment before taking this route. Think of the items you plan to store, and then figure how much even a small unit would cost over a year's time. If you went to a yard sale and saw that stuff, would you honestly be willing to pay that amount for it? Then figure how much it would be for five or ten years. Just get rid of it all and save the money you would have paid, and then use the money to replace items in the future if desired. If they're sentimental family heirlooms, either use them or give them to other family members. They're not enriching your life or honoring your ancestors by gathering dust and possibly getting damaged in a storage unit.

calculator iconCalculator: How Much House Can I Afford?

Go Up!

I think I can shed some light on saving space! Most people looking for storage don't think of going up.

Yes, go up. Extend your storage to your ceiling. If you are allowed just a few holes, you can install a track system in a few hours. You can customize it with many styles of drawers, shelving for everything from books to pantry items to a desktop for a PC.

If done right, it will look custom fitted and the storage boxes or whatever you use will add to your decor. Maybe you could even paint the wall behind the unit a bright accent color. Not much would show for the timid, but it would add interest. Closets and kitchens can benefit from a walk down the organization aisle, too. You can use many things you have to display in. The higher the unit, the less used the item that goes up there.

To save money, I would put removable window tint on windows to benefit from the energy they save (which lowers heating and A/C bills). It's easy to remove when you move it, and it looks crystal clear on.

If you have wood floors, you could also "warm up" the area in that space with a great rug. Your feet will feel warmer, and you may find you can lower the thermostat a degree or so.

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