4 Steps to Absorb the Cost of an at-Home Lifestyle
We’re homebodies. My husband and I both work full-time from home, homeschool our children, and entertain from our house often. While we save big money on things like car expenses, fuel, and entertainment, we suffer from other costs: sky-high utility bills, a large grocery budget, and continuous replacement of regular household items. The trade-off is still in our favor, but the cost shift can be shocking at first. Here is how you can asses your expenses and make changes to help absorb the cost of an “at-home” lifestyle. (See also: How to Convince Your Boss to Let Your Work from Home)
Even if you don’t homeschool or work at home, these steps can come in handy. If you happen to home educate, have a largish family (or share living space with roommates or extended family), or work from home, however, these steps are essential:
1. Do a Cost Profile
I opened my electric bill today in horror — it was very large for an off-peak month, and we have been dutifully employing energy-saving measures to lower our usage. After doing a brief online audit of where our energy should be expected to go, we compared it to our actual utility bills. Turns out there wasn’t much we could do to shave the costs, but it set a baseline of what we should budget for the high months. See your local utility provider’s website for accurate energy calculators or use this general one.
2. Employ Cost-Savers Where Possible
We did an energy audit on our small, 1,400 square foot home this year and then did several of the following:
- Used a thermal leak detector to find drafts.
- Put energy-saving power strips on all our entertainment and computer workstations. (If you are not familiar, these not only protect your equipment from power surges, but they also allow you to set your printer, monitor, and other peripherals to turn off when your computer hibernates. The same concept can be applied to video game systems, DVD players, and sound equipment when your TV is turned off.)
- Switched out bulbs that may not be cost-effective. (If you are reluctant to jump on the CFL bandwagon, try downgrading most of your 60 watt traditional bulbs to 40 watts. It helps!)
- Installed water-saving nozzles on our shower and sink faucets.
- Turned down our water heater and insulated the tank.
There are many other steps you can take, but it’s best to just start somewhere and continue making improvements over time. Every little bit helps.
3. Consider Replacing “Up”
One hidden cost to working, learning, and playing at home is the wear and tear to everything. With four little boys constantly running through the home, we’ve found that our 10-year carpet will likely last less than five. Consider the wear and tear you are saving others: schools that don’t have your kids flushing their toilets, office spaces that aren’t absorbing the energy cost of your computer work station, restaurants that aren’t using their own hot water the wash your dinner plates. It’s not that you are using more energy as a home-bound consumer, you are just transferring the usage cost to your own budget. Because you will likely see the useful life of all of your possessions plummet, it’s best to use the replacement opportunity to buy better than you had before. For example:
- When your carpet goes out, consider laminate, tile, industrial carpet (used for churches and schools), or natural recycled hardwoods.
- As appliances die, consider the possibility of purchasing gently used restaurant cast-offs.
- When you find that the typical particle-board furniture offered by most consumer outlets just can’t handle the hard job of serving your family, look into office furnishings from your local Habitat for Humanity ReStore.
Craigslist is also a great place to find these types of replacement buys. Remember, you will likely pay more up front for the high-quality wares your family will need, but you are buying something that will last through the high usage. Keep it budget-friendly by replacing things only as they wear out, or picking one item a month that fits into its own unique budget category. (This is also a great way to teach kids about good stewardship of earth’s resources.)
4. Use Outdoor Spaces When Possible
I have to admit that one of God’s greatest gifts to my family has been the unlimited free use of the natural world. Sending the boys outside to dig, play, and roam not only saves me some much-needed sanity, it keeps my floors going for another few years. If you find yourself getting a little cabin fever with your home arrangement, look for ways to take your business outdoors — especially if your home office isn’t separate from the rest of your house. Patios, sitting gardens, or even just a picnic table can offer fresh air and a different view, and it costs nothing to heat, cool, or furnish!
Having a work-at-home, homeschooling lifestyle took some adjustment for me at first. While I enjoy the money I’ve saved on some of the more frivolous items I used to buy — and love the time I spend with my family — I never imagined I could be using part of that “saved” money on dish soap, propane, and toilet paper.
What are your tips for keeping home costs down?