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A Penny Saved - cutting the cost of living

When those dreaded windowed envelopes appear in the mailbox, it's usually accountability time. That's fine if the budget is working. If not, there's a tendency to feel exploited, certainly hard done-by. The truth is that the cost of living is continually on the rise and income doesn't always keep pace. There are, however, ways for everyone to economise which won't impact overmuch on accustomed standards and home comforts. All it takes is a bit of thought.

The two most recent Healthy Living articles - Health05 and Health06 - deal with savings that can be made with regard to food purchases, storage and preparation, but the cook isn't the only one who can help make ends meet. During a normal day, consider how often the fridge door is opened and closed, especially after work and school. Each time this happens, warm air enters the cabinet which the appliance has to work harder to compensate for. Leave the door open while trying to decide what to take out, or to ferry stuff in stages to a work surface, and the problem is compounded. Slamming the door shut makes matters worse. This may seem a trivial issue and the extra expense hardly worth worrying about, but a few cents saved each day can amount to $50-100 in a year. That will make a difference to anyone's pocket.

Fresh water is something we tend to take for granted until, for whatever reason, there is a sudden shortage. If you live in a country where charges are incurred for supply and use, wastage becomes a personal money matter. Savings made in this regard not only help conserve one of our most precious resources, but also impact on the household budget. In the kitchen, for example, hot water for washing up is rarely instant. It takes time to come through from the heater. We keep a container to catch the cold runoff - usually about two litres - then either use it to adjust the temperature of the washing-up water, or pour it into the coffee machine. Also, think about hot water, especially for drinks. Whether heated by electricity or gas, a fair portion not used is left in the receptacle to go cold. Transferred to a vacuum flask or airpot, it will stay hot enough for an instant coffee or two later on. Whatever remains after that can be poured back into the kettle for re-heating, and it will take less time to boil than cold water.

Still on the subject of water, most of what we use ends up going down the drain, especially in the bathroom. If there is a choice, having a shower rather than a bath uses far less water, not to mention the power needed to heat it. Even the shower itself can be more economical with a few simple changes. Have a water-saver rose fitted and limit the time taken in there to a reasonable minimum. You'll need to keep an eye on the kids, here. They have been known to spend ages under the spray just to wake themselves up in the morning without even touching the soap. And if you do manage to get them to clean their teeth on a daily basis, mind they don't leave the tap running for the duration. The same applies to wet shaving - a few centimetres of water in the sink is sufficient to rinse the razor.

Savings can be made outside too. Sprinkler systems can be adjusted to ensure they dispense only the right amount of water and don't leave the garden looking like the Everglades. Manual systems can easily be turned on and forgotten. Fit a clockwork timer to the tap and set the duration to suit the seasons. Computerised automatic reticulation should be checked and adjusted from time to time. During wet weather when watering is unnecessary, many have a rain-delay override which puts all programs on hold for 24 hours. If hand-watering with a hose, use a spray head with a trigger mechanism which shuts off when released. This is ideal for washing the car, and if you do it on the lawn, the grass gets the benefit. Better still, forget the hose and use buckets - two or three are adequate for most private vehicles.

As an energy source, electricity is a boon which is becoming increasingly expensive and there are ways other than those already mentioned where its usage can be reduced. Air conditioners are essential to comfort in hot climates and many have a reverse-cycle facility which provides heating in Winter. But there are still times, often weeks and months, when these units sit idle. Even in stand-by mode, they can pull between 15-35 watts of power, and that's 24/7. When not required, switch off the unit's breaker in the power box. Just a few hours will save money. When they are in use, adjust the temperature to a lower setting in Winter and a higher one in Summer - just a couple of degrees will make a difference to your power bill and won't affect comfort levels too much. Sometimes it isn't necessary to condition an entire room when a simple fan or a fan-heater can prove adequate for the requirements of individuals.

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