Work-from-home setup

Have you ever opened a bill and felt as though you’d been punched in the gut? That’s what happened to me after my first month of working from home. Bills that had become predictable in the previous months all the sudden skyrocketed. The reason was simple enough. Instead of using my former company’s heat and electricity, I was using my own. Was this the new normal?

There was simply no way I was accepting that. My bank account was too important to me. It wasn’t that I was poor. Freelancers get a rep for scraping by, but it has more to do with sporadic paychecks than a general lack of funds. In order to keep my account flush, I decided to take action. In the last five years, here are a few solutions I implemented to keep these costs under control.

Power Down

It might seem like common sense to turn off lights when you’re not using them, but limiting electricity use extends to all gadgets and gizmos. There are plenty of little hacks that lead to overall energy solutions. Here are a few easy-to-implement ideas.

  • Put your computer to sleep. Previously, I’d always just let me computer go to sleep on its own. It took only a few minutes, so I wasn’t wasting that much power. Yet all those processes still run in the background for a bit, which consumes power. So make sure you put your desktop to sleep, or close your laptop.
  • Turn off the second monitor. Many freelancers I know use two monitors for work. That’s great, but leaving that second monitor on can consume loads of power. After working hours, when I’m using my computer for leisure, I live with one screen.
  • Watch on a tablet. When I’m watching a Netflix movie, I opt to watch on my tablet. Watching on that, and then recharging it, takes far less power than it takes to run a TV and whatever device (PS3, Apple TV, Roku) is streaming Netflix. This applies to plenty of entertainment options. If I can do it on my tablet, it will save me electricity costs.
  • Cycle the AC and fan. There is no greater electricity drain than air conditioning. Yet it’s necessary for a comfortable working environment. I’ve taken to running the AC for a bit, and then switching it to the fan for a while. When I feel that first bead of sweat, it’s back to the AC.
  • Unplug unused gadgets. Apparently, appliances draw power from the wall even when they’re turned off. This is referred to as phantom power. It’s a minuscule amount, but it adds up. If I’m not using a gadget, and the plug is easily accessible, I keep it unplugged. It probably saves me a few dollars per month

In addition to this, I’ve also replaced my incandescent bulbs with CFLs. Chances are you’ve heard this before, and it’s totally true that they save money. They might be more expensive, but you’ll see a difference in your energy bill. Plus, they last a ton longer — the CFLs in the overhead light in my office have been going strong for 18 months now.

Turn Down the Heat

I started working from home during a winter month, and my heating bill provided perhaps the biggest shock. Before I worked from home, I’d use the automated thermostat to my advantage. The temperature would drop around the time I left the house for work every morning, and it would heat up about a half hour before I returned. But while working from home, I had the heat on constantly. It’s kind of a necessity during the winter in the Northeast.

The solution: turn it down a bit. Instead of having it at 60ish through the day and 68 while I was home, I simply dropped it to 65 at all times. It meant wearing a sweatshirt while working, and sleeping under the blankets. But sleeping under the blankets can be warmly comforting, and I don’t mind working in a sweatshirt — especially when I know that merely wearing a sweatshirt is saving me money.

Add a Landline

Strangely enough, I was able to lower my monthly cable and internet bill by adding services to my account. Most cable companies offer various packages, each with its own level of service. At the start I had just TV and internet, since I had no need for a landline. But after talking to my cable company about ways to reduce my bill, I found that adding a landline and upgrading to the promotional Triple Play package would actually lower my bill. Go figure.

Of course, the promotion expires after a year. But most times you can get them to extend it for yet another year. If you’re still using the same company after two years you can just cut the landline and go back to the normal pricing tier. Hopefully after two years you’re making more money, anyway, and can more easily cover the costs.

Clip Coupons

For some reason I used to find it embarrassing to use coupons. There’s just some stigma attached to it, I guess. But when you’re looking for ways to reduce your costs, you should examine all possible options. Using coupons everywhere, from grocery stores to restaurants to other services I use regularly, has saved me tons.

This goes not just for regular clip-and-present coupons, but also internet ones. You’ll find tons of coupon sites online that allow you to print out coupons. There are even smartphone apps that let you select coupons and then have them scanned and used normally. Think of that: using your smartphone to save money. We normally think of our smartphones as only costing us money.

These are but a few suggestions. There are tons of things you can do to cut bills and gain control of your finances. It’s important for anyone, but especially for an at-home freelancer. Our bills tend to rise when we start working from home, so counteracting those increases becomes all the more crucial.

Do you have any unique ways you stave off the rising bills of an at-home freelancer?

Joe Pawlikowski writes and edits tech blogs on topics such as prepaid cell phones and Android phones. He writes about telecommuting life at A New Level.