Decorating and maintaining a home is expensive, but there are things you can do to cut the cost. Lately it seems that every time I turn on the news, there’s a story about the mortgage crisis or an impending recession. The cost of living is going up, and oftentimes salaries aren’t going up to meet those costs. In response to the money crunch, ordinary people like you and me need to cut costs to make ends meet. I have a lot of experience living on a shoestring, and I’ve put together a list of tips I’ve either heard of or used myself to maintain and decorate my home on a budget. Hopefully these tips are as useful to you as they’ve been to me.

Saving Money on Electricity

1. Set the thermostat at 68 degrees in the winter and 78 degrees in the summer. Use a programmable thermostat to set the temperatures at less comfortable levels when you’re not home or sleeping.

2. Use heavy drapes over your windows. In the winter, it will keep the warm air in, and in the summer it will keep the hot air out.

3. Caulk and weatherstrip the cracks in your house. Our landlord added some weatherstripping around our back door, and it’s made a world of difference!

4. Use ceiling fans. If you get the reversible kind, you can use them to push the warm air down to people level in the winter.

5. Line dry your laundry.

6. Unplug appliances you’re not using. Even if an appliance is turned off, it still uses a small amount of energy, if it’s plugged in. This is especially effective if you’re going out of town.

7. Close the heater vents in rooms you aren’t using.

8. Insulate, insulate, insulate! Our landlord says he went overboard on the insulation in our house, but with heating bills under $80 during the winter, I’m not complaining. You can even make sure your garage door is insulated to save more money.

9. Don’t use the air conditioner in the summer. It’s not real comfortable, but people survived for years without a/c, before it became standard in homes.

10. Switch to CFL bulbs. If you look hard enough, you can find good sales on them. I picked up most of our CFL bulbs on sale for 99 cents a bulb.

11. Wash your clothes less often. I’m not talking about being disgusting here, but many people throw clothing in the laundry after each use, whether it’s dirty or not. If you wear a dress for a couple of hours on a Sunday morning, you can probably forgo washing until after the next time you wear it.

12. Along the same lines, reuse your bath towels before washing them.

13. Have an energy audit performed on your home. Many electric companies offer energy audits free. You can call and have someone come out to your house and tell you about changes you could make to make your home more energy efficient.

14. Install energy saving appliances. I’m not advising that you run out and buy new appliances, but if your refrigerator stops working, look for an energy efficient model to replace it.

15. If you have older windows, make sure you put up the storm windows in the winter.

16. Weather proof your windows with that plastic stuff. Not pretty, but it saves energy.

17. Use small appliances like your crockpot and toaster oven for cooking, rather than heating the entire oven.

18. Keep your freezer full. It uses less electricity that way. If you have extra space, fill it with plastic water bottles.

19. If you do use the oven, cook multiple things at once. Make use of every inch of space in there.

Saving Money on Water

20. Shorten your showers.

21. Put a half gallon water jug in your toilet tank.

22. Let your lawn brown out during the summer. Don’t worry. It will come back during the winter.

23. If you can’t stand the thought of letting your lawn brown out, get a timer for your sprinkler to make sure you never forget to turn it off.

24. Reuse rinse water from hand washing dishes to water plants.

25. Turn off the water while you brush your teeth.

Saving Money on Cleaning and Maintenance

26. Make your own cleaning products. It’s a lot cheaper, and better for the environment, too.

27. Reuse dryer sheets to dust electronics like the TV and computer screen. The anti-static in the dryer sheets will repel dust from your appliances.

28. Do your own house repairs. If you have a good reference book, you’d be surprised at what you can fix yourself.

29. If you can’t learn from a book, consider taking a class at your local community college. It’s still cheaper than hiring a professional, and the knowledge you gain will be useful for the rest of your life.

30. To unclog a drain, pour a cup of baking soda in the drain and follow with a cup of vinegar. Wait an hour and follow with boiling water. I even unclogged a garbage disposal with this method once. Or you could do what my friend’s plumber husband says. Pour bleach down your drains every week. That will keep them unclogged, too.

31. Let your faucets drip just a little bit if you expect the weather to be cold enough to freeze the pipes. Paying for the minute amount of extra water is cheaper than paying for a burst water pipe.

32. Check your local Habitat for Humanity ReStore for home improvement/repair materials.

33. To clean mini-blinds, put an old sock on your hand, dip it in rubbing alcohol, and run your sock-covered hand over the blinds. Works like a charm!

34. To remove lime deposits from a showerhead, pour vinegar into a plastic bag and tie the bag to the showerhead, so it is submerged. Wait an hour, and you should be good to go.

35. Before attacking a remodeling project, talk to people who are knowledgeable about remodeling. Never attempt a project without the knowledge you need to do it right.

36. If your locks are sticking, consider trying cooking oil to fix them. Rubbing pencil lead across your key and inserting it works well too.

37. Turn an unused coat closet into a pantry by adding cheap shelves. I’ve done this twice, and I’m not real handy. If I can do it, anyone can!

Saving Money on the Telephone, Internet, and Cable

38. Drop your land line and use your cell phone.

39. Cut out unnecessary services like call waiting and caller ID.

40. Use email or instant messaging instead of calling long distance.

41. Try a digital phone service like Vonage.

42. Use a dial around number for long distance. I used to use One Suite, and I never had any problems. And at 2.5 cents a minute, the rate is hard to beat.

43. Use a free 411 service instead of paying. One to try is 1-800-GOOG-411.

44. See if you can get bundled savings for your phone, internet, cell phone, and satellite services. Our phone company offers a few different bundles, and it’s a lot cheaper than paying for each service separately.

45. Threaten to drop your cable service. It’s amazing what companies will do to keep you as a customer. Of course you should only try doing this if you are actually willing to drop your service. This works well with cell phone companies and XM radio, too.

46. Actually drop your cable service, and any other services that aren’t absolutely necessary.

47. If you don’t have cable or satellite, and you have an older TV, request a coupon for the converter box you will need to keep receiving a signal after February 17, 2009. The $40 coupon will bring the cost of the converter box down to $10.

Saving Money on Decorating

48. Buy cheap furniture from eBay, Craigslist, thrift stores, or other places that sell inexpensive items.

49. Use sheets to make window coverings. Emily even made a valance out of a $2 tablecloth from the thrift store!

50. You can also use sheets or cloth napkins to make throw pillows.

51. Sheets also make nice cloth napkins.

52. Use family photos for decorating. It’s cheap, and it adds a homey feel to your house. I enlarged a bunch of our wedding photos for our bedroom. It adds a romantic touch.

53. Use your children’s artwork for decorating. One family I know frames a piece of each child’s art, and rotates the art throughout the year. It’s good for your child’s self-esteem as well as your budget.

54. To change the look of a room, paint. There are lots of different paint effects that you can use. Check out a how-to book from the library.

55. For painting small areas, check paint stores for returned custom color paints. They’ll often sell them at a steep discount.

56. If your sofa is in good structural condition, but the look just needs updating, use slipcovers to add a new look.

57. To update the look of a wood dresser, paint and add new hardware. Add a little decorative stamping, if you’re brave.

58. Check carpet stores for remnants if you need an area rug. My mom did this when I was little, and you never would have guessed that our area rug was just a remnant.

59. Use bedsheets in the next size up to make a pretty duvet, if you want to change the look in your bedroom.

60. Use decorative boxes, baskets, or pots to organize things.

61. Only use white sheets, towels, and washcloths. They look better longer, because you can bleach them when they get dingy.

62. Use fresh cut flowers from your garden to add a touch of spring or summer to your house.

63. For cheap, but attractive office organization, cover boxes and bulletin boards with fabric you buy on clearance.

64. Embrace minimalism. Less stuff = Less maintenance = Less money.

Saving Money on Landscaping

65. If your county offers free or low cost mulch, use it! The county where we used to live offered free mulch from the landfill, and we could get as many truckloads as we needed without paying a penny! You can’t beat that!

66. Decorate old containers and use them for planters. You can pick up all kinds of cool containers at garage sales!

67. Use a weedpopper for weeding. It’s cheaper and more environmentally friendly than chemicals.

68. Check freecycle for free plants. I find them all the time. I have a whole row of strawberry plants that I picked up free last year.

69. Ask good friends for cuttings from their plants. Most good friends won’t mind.

70. Grow plants from seed, rather than spending the extra money for starts.

Saving Money in Other Areas

71. Recycle. Most cities have free recycling programs. And throwing less stuff in the trash will cut down on your garbage bill. If you’re really interested in going green, there are a lot of other frugal things you can do, too.

72. Compost. It saves money on both your garbage bill and fertilizing your plants. It’s good for the environment, too.

73. Don’t upgrade your appliances and furniture unless they wear out. The cost per use is negligible if you use something until it dies.

74. If your water heater is old, consider replacing it before it completely dies and something bursts and causes damage to your house. Of course, if you are going to replace your hot water heater, replace it with an energy efficient model.

75. If you feel that your property value was assessed at higher than the actual value of your home, have it reassessed, so your property taxes are lowered.

Do you have any additional frugal home tips? Please share in the comments!

Here is the complete list of participants in the series Home Finance: Mortgages and the Real Cost of Home Ownership:

The following post is part of a group writing project on Home Finance: Mortgages and the Real Cost of Home Ownership. For a complete wrap-up of the project, head to Rocket Finance on Friday, February 1.