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An Echo Press Editorial: Easy ways to save money

Looking for a little extra cash? There are better options than scrounging around for loose change in the sofa.

One sure way to slowly build up your savings is to save on energy costs.

As part of Financial Capability Month, the Minnesota Department of Commerce is reminding Minnesotans about basic low-cost measures people can take to reduce energy use, cut utility bills and put more money in their pocket. Here are a few ideas:

• Use a programmable thermostat to reduce your heating and cooling costs.

• Turn off computers and monitors when not in use.

• Plug home electronics, such as TVs and DVD players, into power strips and turn the strips off when equipment is not in use.

• Turn off lights and fans when nobody is in the room.

• Close your fireplace damper when not in use.

• Take short showers and use low-flow showerheads.

• Turn your hot water heater down to 120 degrees F.

• Wash only full loads of dishes and clothes, and air dry both when possible.

• Replace incandescent lights with much more efficient lighting, such as light-emitting diodes (LEDs).

• Look for the Energy Star label when purchasing new appliances, lighting, and electronics.

• Have a home energy assessment to identify ways to make your home more energy efficient (weather-strip doors and windows, seal air leaks, add insulation, and more).

• Go to work via carpool, use public transportation, or telecommute.

The commerce department points out that simple behavior changes such as turning off lights, air drying clothes outdoors and setting your hot water heater at 120 degrees don't cost you anything. But applied together, they can shrink your utility bills and grow your bank account over time.

Here's an example: Replace an old energy-hog refrigerator with a new high-efficiency model. The new refrigerator will likely pay for itself in seven or eight years via energy savings, and you will enjoy additional energy savings for the life of your appliance.

Likewise, a properly installed and operated programmable thermostat will pay for itself in as little as one year with energy savings, according to the commerce department.

For more energy-saving tips, check out the Minnesota Department of Commerce Home Energy Guide (.pdf) or the U.S. Department of Energy's Energy Saver Guide(pdf).