Unplug And Save

High gas prices may be forcing some Americans to rethink summer vacation plans. But don't forget, higher energy prices means the cost of staying home has also gone up.

To help you stay cool before you see your energy bill, Ray Hennessey, editor of SmartMoney.com offers up four tips to help reduce costs.

First, if you can, sign up for a time-of-use plan. These plans usually give you lower rates for the overnight hours. In some states, you can pay a third per kilowatt hour during off-peak time, so it makes sense to run dishwashers and do laundry during those periods.

"You can save up to 30 percent in your kilowatt hours just by going into one of those plans," says Hennessey.

Secondly, keep watch over the thermostat. Make sure you program it so your air conditioning isn't running at full blast when you're not at home. For every degree you let the house warm up, you can save two to three percent on your energy bill.

Keep your appliance dust free. Air conditioners and fans don't work as efficiently when they're clogged with dust and dirt. A dirty filter in the air conditioner makes the unit use more energy. Also, vacuum out the coils of your refrigerator.

And finally, free your outlets. Just because an appliance isn't turned on doesn't mean it's not draining power. A big culprit lately are charging units for cell phones and portable music players. If you go away on vacation, pull the plug on the TV, microwave and stereo.

"You can save up to 30 percent on your summer bill just by doing these steps and a couple of other things," Hennessey adds.

For additional and more extensive investing and personal finance content from SmartMoney.com, click here.
by Ray Hennessey and Jenn Eaker