I could really stand to find a million bucks in change under my sofa cushions -- but 65 cents is all I came up with on my last search. So that means I have to find money the hard way: by earning it or saving it. Here are a few ways to turn spare change into sizeable savings in the three most-used areas of your home.
Living Room/Family Room
- Cover it. I'd love a new $1,500 sofa, and something to replace my scratched-up coffee table and end table. But as long as my kids are in the Hot Wheels-racing, jelly-spilling ages, I'll postpone the purchases. Instead, I'm getting a $75 slipcover from a discount store; carefully placed plants and magazines will cover the biggest gouges in the coffee table (my heart was set on one for $279). A $15 fabric skirt revitalizes my old end table, saving the cost of a new one. Total savings: $1,968.
- Clean it. Spills on carpeting and furniture are easier to eradicate if you attack them ASAP (like I did this year, at $4.39 for a can of Woolite Rug Cleaner). If you wait, you may end up having to call in a professional (like I did last year, at about $50/room). If you vacuum frequently, you'll extend the life of your carpet, which can cost upwards of $200 per room. Total savings: at least $245.
- Close it. Ideally, I'd just shut the doors on my entertainment armoire and avoid TV altogether. A more realistic solution: Switching my premium digital cable to a pared-down, basic package. Total savings: $612/year.
- Toss it. I'm almost guaranteed to find something I want and don't need in my endless stream of mail-order catalogs. But if I don't look, I won't buy. Now catalogs go into the recycling pile right away. Total savings: $100-1,000/year.
- Turn it off. "Anything that winks, blinks or nods is using electricity 24 hours a day," notes consumer expert David Horowitz of FightBack.com. Whether it's the charger or transformer for your cordless vacuum, computer, cell phone or VCR, it's draining energy. "I pulled all the chargers out of my wall and was shocked at how it changed my electric bill," Horowitz says. Total savings: probably more than $30/year -- but it varies wildly, depending on the number of chargers.
Kitchen And Dining Room
- Dine in style. Paper plates are convenient, but regular dinner plates are cheaper in the long run -- especially when you realize how many paper plates a family of four uses for snacks and desserts, too. Cloth napkins also save over paper. Washable placemats dress up a table without the fuss of ironing a tablecloth, notes Lauri Ward, author of Trade Secrets From Use What You Have Decorating. Total savings: at least $240/year.
- Glow in the dark. Put your chandelier on a dimmer switch. Horowitz unscrewed two-thirds of the bulbs in his chandelier and put 15-watt bulbs in the remaining sockets to save a few pennies on electricity. Better yet, use candles. Total savings: $12-36/year.
- Cool your meals. Deborah Taylor-Hough used to spend $700/month on food for her family of five. Then she started planning ahead, cooking and freezing meals. In her Frozen Assets books, she tells how to make everything from waffles to casseroles and package them in plastic bags "LP-record-style" to save space. "We've cut way down on pizza calls and drive-through runs," she says. Total savings: $4800/year.
- Get with the grind. If you don't run water in your garbage disposer while it operates, you'll end up needing a new one soon, says Brady Foster of ServiceMagic.com, which hooks up consumers with contractors nationwide. To save a few dozen gallons of water a week, not to mention wear and tear on your disposer, wait until you're done preparing dinner to run it instead of turning it on repeatedly through dinner prep. Total savings: $106 (the cost of a new disposer, installation, and the saved water).
- Erase missteps. Forget fancy cleansers for scuff marks. Teresa Dennison of Dust-B-Gone Cleaning Service in St. Louis, Missouri, swears by a dry pencil eraser. "Most people have them laying around the house," she says. Teresa also advises turning over the dust-trapping Swiffer or Pledge Grab-It cloths. "It's like getting two boxes for the price of one," she says. Total savings: $57.50.
- Perfect the pantry. By organizing my cabinets instead of haphazardly stuffing things inside, I now know what I have and what I don't. I'm using up about-to-expire muffin mixes, realizing I don't need another jar of peanut butter after all, and discovering what happened to that food coloring I knew I had! By resolving to keep the pantry tidy, I'll save money by knowing at a glance what I'm missing and no longer buying things I already have. Total savings: at least $100/year.