5 Surprising Ways Shorter Days Affect Your Budget

by Katherine Swarts

Does it seem like your budget gets tighter as the days grow shorter? Here are 5 things that may be to blame and what you can do to keep these sneaky costs in check.

For many people, autumn is a season of low energy bills. The air conditioner is no longer running nonstop, and days when the heater will be constantly on are yet to come.

However, another well-known characteristic of autumn (days getting shorter) can lead to higher bills in other areas of life.

Home Lighting

When it gets dark earlier and the sun rises later, electric lights stay on longer. Even if no one is home, security may require keeping the house from looking empty when everybody is out past sunset, which is a strong possibility in “9 to 5” households this time of year.

What you can do:

  • Use light bulbs that return the most electricity for your money, not necessarily the ones with the cheapest per-bulb price. (Consumer Reports has an online section on choosing the best bulbs.)
  • Turn off the lights in any room you aren’t currently using. If you’ve been leaving every light on all day even in summer, don’t wait any longer to change that habit!
  • Install a timer, so you can come home to a well-lit house without burning the bulbs all day.
  • Take advantage of natural light when it’s available. Open your curtains! If you worry about heat leakage or privacy, there are many inexpensive window coverings that insulate and shield, while still letting in sunlight.
  • Use lamps with adjustable brightness when you need light in only part of a room.
  • Enjoy dinner by candlelight now and then!

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Transportation

Taking public transportation to work is a great money saver, but the prospect of walking home alone from the bus stop drives many people back to private cars once the “foot path” is shrouded in darkness.

What you can do:

  • Don’t automatically rule out walking home after sunset. Check out personally how well lit the route is, what businesses are open into the evening, who else is home, and what the area’s actual “trouble level” is. Practice walking confidently and looking alert.
  • If you’re still nervous, consider getting off at a different stop with a better walking-route option. Or have someone meet you at your stop.
  • Or, use a park-and-ride lot to shorten your drive distance.
  • If public transportation is not an option, look for (or start) a car pool.

Medical Bills

Chances of injury and extra medical bills increase when you can’t see where you’re going.

What you can do:

  • If your home has stairs, install light switches at both top and bottom so you can turn the stairway light on and off as needed.
  • Have photosensitive lights (which automatically go on at dusk and off at dawn) on walkways and porches.
  • Avoid walking rapidly in dim light and watch your step. Even familiar stretches can surprise you with litter, fresh sidewalk cracks, or damp spots.
  • Wear shoes with good traction. If autumns are frosty where you live, consider keeping strap-on cleats handy (a pair in the house and a pair in the car).

Comfort Food

Many people feel “down” when days grow short. Many even develop full-blown seasonal depression (sometimes called Seasonal Affective Disorder, officially named Major Depressive Disorder with Seasonal Pattern). Too often, the “solution” chosen is to spend extra money on not-particularly-healthy snacks and similar indulgences.

What you can do:

  • Try healthier means of cheering up.
  • Spend extra time with loved ones.
  • Make yourself a cup of herbal tea or a bowl of nutritious soup.
  • Exercise or practice yoga.
  • Listen to some happy music or watch a comedy program.
  • Soak in a hot bath.
  • And if “down” feelings are particularly painful and persistent, see a doctor.

Home Entertainment

Chances are you spend much of your post-daylight time at home, often in the company of a television or other “screen.” There are options for enjoying indoor evenings without putting additional kilowatts on the electric bill.

What you can do:

  • Read a book (the old-fashioned hard-copy kind) together as a family.
  • Play board games.
  • Play Charades.
  • Tell stories or sing songs.
  • Chat over coffee and dessert.
  • If you live alone, invite some friends over. Or snuggle with a pet.

May your autumn be bright and budget-friendly!

Reviewed September 2019

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Subscribers get a copy of our ebook Little Luxuries: 130 Ways to Live Better...For Less for FREE!

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