4 Ways You’re Likely Wasting Money Around the House – And How You Can Stop

A cut out of a house is shown with money in the background in this illustration.
Chris Zuppa/The Penny Hoarder and Getty Images

Where’s the best place to start saving money? How about in your own house?

Making small changes to some everyday habits can help you spend less, and that translates to saving more.

You won’t necessarily get instant gratification from the savings realized by running your air conditioner more efficiently. But over the long run, and combined with other savvy improvements, you’re going to be better off.

And with these easy tips, you don’t even have to leave the house.

1. Stop Wasting Good Food

Every year, American consumers and restaurants toss something like $160 billion worth of food, and we’re pretty sure that’s equivalent to the GDP of a lot of countries. While we’re not economists, that’s just dumb.

‘Sell-by,’ ‘Use-by.’ What’s the Deal with Dates?

Let’s clear this up: “Sell-by” dates are not the point at which you should chuck stuff from your refrigerator or pantry. The milk has not spoiled because it’s stamped with a sell-by date of yesterday.

All that date does is tell a store how long to display the product for sale. It’s based on when a manufacturer believes food will be freshest.

Even a “use-by” date is not an indicator of edibility. It simply indicates when a manufacturer recommends you consume a product to ensure peak quality. Are grapes at their most supple and plump after the use-by date? Perhaps not. Can you — should you — still eat them? Absolutely.

Use your common sense about whether food is still safe to eat. Err on the side of caution, even. But don’t let manufacturers’ and grocery stores’ sales tactics lead you to waste good food (and money).

Food Storage Makes a Difference. A Big One.

You go to the grocery store filled with good intentions about eating clean and cooking for yourself. You stock up on fresh produce — all the veggies! — only to be angrily dumping them in the trash days later because the broccoli is limp, the bananas are brown and the apples, despite being shiny on the outside, are mealy mush inside. It’s just rude.

We’ve got a complete rundown on where and how to store fruits and veggies so they last a long time and still taste great when you get around to eating them. (Hint: apples belong in the fridge, specifically the crisper.)

2. Take Steps to Lower Your Utility Bills

A digital thermostat shows a temperature of 79 degrees.
Chris Zuppa/The Penny Hoarder.

You need water to drink and take baths and do laundry. You need air conditioning to survive even one day of this ungodly heat, so don’t nobody say nothing about opening windows. (Sorry, it’s just really hot.)

Utility bills are expensive and constant. Again, we’ve got ways to shed a few bucks off them.

Yes, You Can Lower Your Electric Bill

By changing the filters regularly on your air conditioning system and keeping the vents clean, the unit won’t have to work as hard, saving you money. Plus, you’ll coax more life out of it and make it last longer.

Change the filters every month or so, and use your vacuum’s brush extension to brush off and suck up dust. The same goes for your outdoor unit: Trim back bushes and remove any debris, leaving at least a foot of space for it to work its magic.

When you leave the house for several hours, lower the thermostat a few degrees so the AC isn’t cooling your empty house all day. But don’t turn it off — any benefit will be lost by the unit having to crank all the way back up to get your house cooled down again.

Finally, set the thermostat a degree or two higher while staying comfortable under the breeze of an oscillating fan. They cost pennies to run.

Plus lots more tips.

Water is Precious. Stop Wasting It.

You probably heard admonitions about not wasting water as a kid, when you weren’t the one paying the water bill. But now you are.

So turn off the faucet while you’re brushing your teeth. Go nuts and turn off the shower while you lather up.

And remember that old hack about saving water with every flush? Still applies. Put some sand or pebbles in the bottom of a couple of recycled water bottles, fill them with water and set them in your toilet tank. With the bottles in there, less water is needed to fill the tank so less is used with every flush.

You should also get smart about how you use your dishwasher and clothes washing machine, and be vigilant for leaks around the house.

Here’s our full list of water-saving tips.

3. Someone Wants to Buy Your Clothes

A woman uses a laptop to sell clothes online.
Tina Russell/The Penny Hoarder

All that stuff in your closet you never wear? To somebody else, it’s a new wardrobe.

You can make money selling your clothes — just be good and put the proceeds in savings rather than funding a return trip to the mall. Several sites are ready and waiting to accept your wares, depending on how involved you want to be.

Poshmark will make you work a little bit, in return for a bigger payoff. You need to upload quality photos, write thorough descriptions of your items, offer style guidance, “attend” buying and selling events on the app and interact with other users.

For sales under $15, Poshmark takes a flat commission fee of $2.95. For sales of $15 or more, you’ll keep 80% of the profit.

If you just want to clear out your closet and collect a payment, try ThredUP.

Go to the site’s “Clean Out” tab and select “Order a Kit.” ThredUP will then send you a bag that you’ll fill with clothes and return for free with a prepaid shipping label.

The company will sort through your clothes, list the keepers on the site and, depending on which clean-out option you’ve chosen, either recycle or return the unwanted items to you.

Depending on whether your items are highly trendy and in season or have a little more longevity to them, ThredUP will determine whether to give you the money up front or when the item sells on consignment. Once your payout becomes available, you have to cash out via PayPal.

For other options to sell your clothes, we also like Swap.com, Tradesy and eBay.

4. Save on Cleaning Supplies — By Not Buying Them

Ingredients for making your own cleaning supplies sits on a counter.
Getty Images

Little things add up, right? The next time you run out of window cleaner or toilet disinfectant, DIY it instead of buying off the shelf.

A few basic (and cheap) ingredients, including baking soda, borax, vinegar, hydrogen peroxide and rubbing alcohol, can help transform a dirty house into a sparkling one. Whether you want to clean your carpet, bathroom or kitchen, homemade cleaners are easy and inexpensive to make — and far less toxic than store-bought formulas.

Check out our handy list of six DIY cleaning products and how to make them.

Then, while you’re at it, have your mind blown by the many different uses of dryer sheets. Really.

Molly Moorhead is a senior editor at The Penny Hoarder.