50 Tricks To Save Big Around The House

This Old House has fifty tips for saving moolah around the home sweet home. Here’s one I like on appealing your property tax assessment:

40. Appeal your property tax assessment yourself. One in three homeowners who do so are successful in getting their fees reduced, according to the National Taxpayers Union.
Cost: $7 for a How to Fight Property Taxes brochure at National Taxpayers Union.
Savings: As much as $400 per year off your tax bill.
Bonus: The tax reduction will last for many years to come.

For 49 more, organized by how much you’ll save, from up to $50 to up to $500, check out the article at This Old House.

50 Nifty Tricks for Big DIY Savings [This Old House via Blogging Away Debt]

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  1. orlo says:

    Good luck appealing your assessment when the people reviewing your appeal are getting paid out taxes. And they need to fund their jobs lest they be replaced by a pentium computer.

    It’s amazing that even property taxes are regressive since everyone pays closer to average value, with low value properties being over-assessed, and high value properties being under-assessed.

    • nataku8_e30 says:

      @orlo: I actually saved $392 when my property tax protest was accepted without question this year. Maybe you’re a little overly cynical about government?

    • Canino says:

      @orlo: If a house very close to yours has sold in the past year, you can use that for a quick and easy appeal. Figure the price per square foot and apply it to your square footage to get a total valuation.

      I did that last year after the house across the street from me sold for $20K less than the valuation on my house with about the same square footage.

      They won’t deny the appeal if you go in there with a timley and fair figure and good documentation – that makes their job much easier.

    • perruptor says:

      @orlo: I also won on appeal. It wasn’t at all difficult.

    • karmaghost says:

      @orlo: My parents used to appeal their assessment every time. I think their success rate was around 3/4 of the time, so that’s not too shabby.

      When I was little and they explained this to me, I couldn’t understand why they’d want to make their house worth less.

    • waystland says:

      @orlo:

      yah good luck, here in Calgary Alberta, our Silly Hall thinks we are still in a BOOM, they incressed taxes 19% and raised user fees on everything….
      hell they still want to spend 50+ million $$ on 2 disiner foot bridges by some fancy architict Santiago Calatrava because it will bring tourists form all over to see our F’in fancy foot bridges…..F that
      [www.calgaryherald.com]

      this is teh BS we have in Calgary………the Alberta Advantage IS OVER!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  2. lockdog says:

    I was thinking about appealing ours five or ten percent lower, but the local paper just ran a story saying that while homes sales are down about 20% in value they are only down 1% in price. Doh! I guess I should be thankful, maybe get around to some of those bigger renovations I’ve been putting off in case the market here totally tanked. Hello front porch and new windows for 2009!

    • Yossarian says:

      @lockdog: How did the local paper determine “value” if not by “price?”

      • Eyebrows McGee (now with double the baby!) says:

        @Yossarian: The two are fairly unrelated, at least where I live. My home is worth probably $150,000 on the market (Zillow thinks $221,000, but I think Zillow is HIGH). For property tax purposes, my home’s assessed value is around $30,000. Which makes a property tax rate of 10% a lot more reasonable.

        I don’t know a whole lot about property taxes, but different types of property are assessed according to different formulas to arrive at a particular value, and of course you can pass laws of various types to incentivize various behaviors. No matter how much solar roofing, for example, increases my property’s value and its market price, it’s not allowed to increase my property value for tax assessment purposes, to encourage homeowners to do green improvements.

        • Yossarian says:

          @Eyebrows McGee: Agreed, the restrictions on assessments for property tax purposes may not precisely reflect market value for any number of reasons, like the ones you mentioned, caps in the rate of increase for property tax purposes, homestead exemptions, and others.

          However, I don’t know whether “homes sales are down about 20% in value” has anything to do with assessments. If it does mean that assessment values are down 20% — that seems extraordinarily unlikely — then lockdog should appeal to get his lowered but it appears he decided not to.

          Perhaps I am just not reading his post correctly.

  3. ZukeZuke says:

    You SHOULD appeal your assessment if you honestly think your market value has gone down. You might even go so far as getting a private appraisal done by a certified FHA appraiser to build your case (~$300). This is not something the Assessor can deny willy-nilly, though if their findings aren’t the same as yours, you may have to present your case before your County assessment appeals board.

    Our local County Assessor is in the process of re-evaluating all properties bought since Jan 2004. In California, this modification to Prop 13 is known as AB-8 (Assembly Bill 8). Preliminarily, they are guesstimating about a $600,000,000 reduction to total assessed values county-wide.

    Long story longer… don’t blow this tip off.

  4. ZukeZuke says:

    I forgot to mention that in California, the AB-8 reduction is not a permanent reduction in your assessed value. It only lasts until market values start going back up. At that point, your County Assessor is not limited to the annual 2%/yr increase; they can ramp it all the way back up as values go up. When it hits the pre-AB-8 adjusted amount, then the 2% annual increase goes back into effect (Prop 13).

  5. Bryan Price says:

    Appeal my assessment? Due to constitutional amendment last year my taxes went from 4 digits (barely) to 3 digits. For the whole year. It got reduced $200 (which has a lot of people upset that they aren’t getting what they thought they should be getting, 25%, but that’s that’s pretty close for me any ways).

    That increase in assessment of 3% or the rate of inflation which ever is less has meant that after 17 years, we’re at about 50% of the market rate for the house. With cheap, cheap property taxes at that.

  6. minsky says:

    Appealing your taxes is a crock of shit. You will never be successful at it, it just doesn’t work. The damn county/city/state/etc. want as much money as they can get. Just another way we get screwed.

  7. Corporate-Shill says:

    Don’t fight your assessment if you intend to sell your property, especially if you will be selling to the government.

    A friend got his business property value reduced. Lowered his taxes. And then the new road announcement was made. Of course the road was going through his business.

    Congrats. His efforts to reduce his property value just major league backfired.

    • karmaghost says:

      @Corporate-Shill: My parents always explained it to me that they had no intentions of moving (at least, not for years and years and years…), so appealing the assessments made sense.

  8. deadandy says:

    Microwaving food instead of using a range is a terrible suggestion. Microwaving is the worst way to prepare food because it kills nutrients in the food. Better to suggest people eat more fresh foods and less meat (large carbon footprint).

    • ribex says:

      @deadandy: What nutrients are you suggesting that are supposedly being “killed”? This is news to me.

    • shepd says:

      @deadandy:

      How does a large carbon footprint prevent saving money again? Because that’s what I’m here about.

    • Lance Uppercut says:

      @deadandy: Microwaving doesn’t kill nutrients more than any other cooking method.

      In fact one of the worst ways, nutrient wise, to cook a vegetable would be to boil it on the stove since it would wash away nutrients.

      Steaming in the microwave is a very healthy way to cook.

    • calquist says:

      @deadandy: I’m killing the nutrients in my hot pockets!?

    • zarex42 says:

      @deadandy:

      You are completely wrong. Microwaving “kills” fewer of the nutrients than most cooking methods, including the range.

    • drewdc says:

      @deadandy: The notion that microwaving kills nutrients has been debunked by many reputable parties, including Consumerist’s friendly parent operation, Consumer Reports ([www.consumerreports.org]):

      “Microwave-cooked food may retain vitamins and minerals better than stove-top-cooked food because the microwave zaps food quickly and without much water. The longer you cook food in liquid, the more nutrients may seep out, which is fine for soups and stews, but it’s a problem if you discard the liquid before eating. One study found that spinach retained all of its folate when cooked in a microwave, compared with 77 percent when cooked on a stove.”

      Of course, microwaves have other, real shortcomings when it comes to cooking, such as their inability to brown or char, their uneven cooking of thick masses of food, etc. But there are ways to overcome some of these flaws, and any decent microwaving cookbook, such as the one cited in the article, will give advice on how to do so.

  9. robdew2 says:

    51) Use your extra time to save money by not reading single-page article spread across too many pages.

    Make you’re own cleaning solutions: I have yet to see an analysis of this tactic that actually verifies the homemade solutions are just as effective.

    Use your laptop: Fails to take into account the wear on laptop computers is far more expensive than desktop computers.

    Cancel phone line: FAIL, invalid comparison. Land lines are not the same product. They are better quality and more reliable.

    Be your own trash service: They just pulled that one out of their a$$. I can’t imagine a dump that is cheaper than curbside trash service. Not to mention this is possibly illegal (accumulating large amounts of trash) in your city.

    Free mulch/tree from your town: Not free, the reset of us paid for it.

    Comparative shop online, don’t buy that new lawn mower: Save money by not spending it and shopping around. Novel ideas.

    • downwithmonstercable says:

      @robdew2: Yeah some of those are a stretch, like the trash service and comparative shop. Unless you don’t care about wasting money, that should be a no brainer.

      • floraposte says:

        @downwithmonstercable: I’m only just realizing that there’s a parallel between the money-saving periodicals and the women’s beauty periodicals, in that there’s a certain amount of generating fluff just to keep the thing running in both media. “Make your own cleaning supplies!” is the tightwad’s “Flatter abs in fifteen days!”

    • geoffhazel says:

      @robdew2: If they are gonna make the mulch, you might as well get some. If you don’t have to pay for it, it’s free, or might as well be. Like “free” public schools. Everyone pays, a few benefit. Heck, if you send your kid to private school and unburden the state, do you get a kid credit? Hell no.

    • mac-phisto says:

      @robdew2: i’m my own trash service. a dump pass is $20/yr. a carload of trash (which is usually about 6-8 bags) costs $10. recycling is free (which reduces the number of paid trips i have to make). i have it down to once every 3 weeks. if i had a p/u truck, i could save even more ($15/full bed).

      roadside pickup is $70/month. that’s $160/yr (my method) vs. $840/yr. i’d say that’s a pretty good tip.

      oh, & that “accumulation of trash” problem? my 6-8 bags fit in 2 heavy-duty garbage cans with locking lids. much less trash than the packrat down the road with 3 junked cars in his back yard.

      & i haven’t had a landline in 8 years.

      so, just b/c it doesn’t work for you, doesn’t mean it won’t work for everybody.

    • goodywitch says:

      @robdew2: Hit the print button so you don’t have so many pages to go through.

      Also, some of the maintenance related advice, like what to clean and examine, is stuff that many people forget to do. Some advice is pretty out there, but some advice is stuff that many people haven’t thought of. So definitely worth a perusal.

    • perruptor says:

      @robdew2: Consumer Reports usually compares cleaning supplies they’re testing to homemade solutions. You can fine the recipes for their homemades on their website:
      [www.consumerreports.org]

    • Outrun1986 says:

      @robdew2: You can buy a gallon of blue window cleaner in the dollar store, same with the orange cleaner stuff. I can’t imagine making your own would be cheaper than this, as vinegar and rubbing alcohol still cost money these days.

      I buy the gallon jugs and just keep refilling the bottles that I already have on hand.

      • Brunette Bookworm says:

        @Outrun1986: Really? Cause if you go to those same dollar stores, you can usually get vinegar and alcohol pretty cheap. I make my own, but part of that is because I try to minimize the amount of chemicals I use in my place. I’ve found that baking soda, vinegar and rubbing alcohol work pretty well for most things. If you want it to smell nice, add a couple drops of essential oil.

        I combine baking soda, tea tree oil, and lavender oil to make my own carpet freshener. If you ever watch “How Clean is Your House” on BBC America (or BBC, I guess, depending on where you live), they make a lot of their own cleaning supplies this way.

  10. R3PUBLIC0N says:

    Warning: DO NOT run your laptop on the battery when it’s done charging. Why? Batteries are only capable of recharging properly a few hundred times before their capacity ramps down and before you know it you have to spend $80 on a new battery.

  11. geoffhazel says:

    We successfully appealed our property assessment back in 1990. We had bought a new house of a certain model in a development, and they had our value the same as all the other ones like ours. However, we got ours 20,000 cheaper due to a market drop and the timing of purchase (end of the calendar year). I appealed to lower the appraised value to what we had actually paid, and won. I’m sure the other owners could have done the same, as they were living in the exact same house, just a half block away.

    Some places do a ‘rolling assessment’ and do a third of the houses ever 3 years, so it might be a while before you get adjusted. (Grays Harbor county in Washington state for example).

  12. geoffhazel says:

    I take issue with “use designers from where you shop”.

    First off, very few designers charge $300.00/hour. Most charge half to a third of that or even less.

    Second, those places hide the cost of the designer in the goods. It’s not exactly free.

    Third, you won’t get the selection of product that you will from an independent designer.

    I’m not saying the suggestion is totally worthless, it’s just worth less than they claim. Much less.

  13. catnapped says:

    Rechargeable batteries *sound* good, but remember they often don’t hold a charge particularly well in non-use (storage). Not good for something you may not use regularly (such as a flashlight) but may need on a moment’s notice.

    • SexCpotatoes says:

      @catnapped: Hybrio batteries hold a charge in storage for a long time. I think I got mine on rechargeablesonline

    • drewdc says:

      @catnapped: The newer generation of NiMH rechargeables has a low self-discharge rate ([en.wikipedia.org]), which means they retain most of their charge for several months in storage, as opposed to days or weeks for the older NiMHs.

      The confusing thing is that low self-discharge batteries are sold under various names depending on the brand. Some of the more popular ones available in the U.S. are Sanyo Eneloop, Duracell Pre-Charged, and Rayovac Hybrid. They cost a little more than regular NiMHs.

      Another reason to buy the $40 La Crosse charger is that it is a “smart” charger, meaning that it monitors the voltage of each battery as it is charging and cuts the current as necessary to ensure that the batteries are not overcharged. Over the long run, this feature saves electricity and extends the life of your batteries compared to “dumb” chargers that just apply a constant current for a predetermined length of time. “Quick” chargers also are said to shorten the lives of batteries because they apply a large amount of current over a short period of time, which can stress the batteries’ chemistry and emit excessive amounts of heat.

    • Outrun1986 says:

      @catnapped: This is a little extreme but to save money on batteries I take all the batteries out of the stuff I buy at yard sales and re-use them. If I am at a sale where I am paying a flat price per bag of stuff I make sure that I fill the bag with as many items that have batteries in them as possible if it is not full from the stuff I want. You can’t always take the batteries out of items right then and there.

      Then I buy rechargeable batteries for the high drain stuff. I already have enough rechargeable batteries here to last me at least 10 years so it will be a long time before I have to purchase any more. The yard sale batteries usually go in stuff like remotes that don’t use a lot of battery power. I do test them with a battery tester to make sure they have some power left so that I don’t put dead batteries into stuff.

  14. geoffhazel says:

    Sorry but one more gripe: I did my own garbage for years, living just a quarter mile from the dump. Our dump charges 15.00 min fee, so if you went weekly, it would be 60.00/month. Our garbage collection is 30.00 /month for three big bins, garbage, yardwaste and recycling. It of course depends on how mobbed up your garbage collection is, back East it’s worse than out West, but this may or may not be a big money saver. I decided to quit the DIY garbage when I realized it was costing the same and took an hour or two a month plus all those cans sitting around until I had a full load.

  15. catnapped says:

    There’s a lot of “tips” over there that may sound good on the surface but in real life either don’t make sense or will cost you more in the long run (despite their claims to the contrary).

    That one tip that suggests something that can help get everyone’s (electric) power usage down may sound good, but when the company’s revenues start slipping (and the stockholders start bellowing), they will raise rates to make up for it.

  16. catnapped says:

    We could spend the day shooting down half of those helpful hints. That one about places paying you to take your old refrigerator/freezer is highly YMMV. Around here it’s $35 (fee) plus you have to prove that the freon has been removed from it before they’ll take it.

  17. SexCpotatoes says:

    YES! Absolutely, appeal that stupid property tax bill, then owe $1000 per month when your bank notices and the “new” value bumped you far above the 80/20 valuation split for needing PMI.

  18. Saboth says:

    Our property tax spiked during the big “housing stampede” when the market was at its highest. My house went from 77k to 105k, which resulted in about $35 a month increase in taxes. I recently refinanced my mortgage though, and it appraised at 120k, so I don’t think I’d have much luck fighting the increase.

  19. highpitch_83 says:

    I refuse to read the whole list because it’s broken up over TEN FUCKING PAGES.

  20. FLConsumer says:

    Some of the ideas on there might work better in some areas than others. Hauling my own trash to the dump? Not allowed in this town. You’re stuck paying for trash service whether you toss one bag a month or 10 bags a week.

    As others have pointed out, their laptop suggestion was a terrible one. They are right that laptops use less electricity, BUT not when you’re running them on battery. They do use less electricity when running them directly on mains ‘though.

    In this area Time-of-Use metering is a farce. It’s an extra $4/mo, then you only get a cheaper rate between 11pm-6am. Not practical in Florida. You can’t heat/cool your home in those hours enough to make it through the day.

    Two ideas on there will NEVER fly with me — turning down the water heater & installing a shower timer. You don’t **** with my shower. There’s two 20+ year old Speakman showerheads in each of my showers. No water-saving features on them whatsoever. Guessing it’s probably 5-6 gals/min per showerhead.

    I’m not coming out of that shower until I’m damn ready to, which means there better be copious amounts of 3rd-degree burn scalding hot water available and no nanny-state timers on them. Friends and guests quickly learn that “HOT” means “HOT!”, but no complaints. They too spend 30 minutes in the showers here as well.

  21. Indecent says:

    Even if you can’t do the tax fight yourself, remember that your average Realtor is desperately feeling the hit themselves right now, and many will do an Opinion of Value report for you for far less than they used to charge.

    Then, whether you pay more for them to attend the hearing with you, or still only go it alone, you have the opinion of a ‘field expert’ that says your property is not worth what your county is jacking it up to.

    I work in commercial real estate as an office manager, and we’ve a flood of OOV reports going in and out right now. We used to charge around 1,500 dollars a piece – but currently, most are being done for 750 dollars.

    Yes, its still kind of a chunk of change – but its better than a $2,000 dollar tax hike on your property.

  22. Quilt says:

    My buddy does tax assessments for the government. He’s told me the number of people who already appeal their house-taxes is insane. If more people were to start doing it? Long story short, they don’t have the man-power to deal with it.