It used to be that I couldn't get too excited about spring cleaning. After being cooped up all winter, come springtime I wanted to take my bicycle or bass rod for a spin — not the vacuum cleaner. But when I realized that spring cleaning could save me money, and in some cases even make me money, all that changed. Check out these tips and see if your attitude toward spring cleaning doesn't change, too.
Vacuum your refrigerator's coils: When was the last time you did that? Keeping the coils clean increases energy efficiency, saving you about 6 percent of your fridge's electric bill, according to a study by the Sacramento Municipal Utility District. To get started, unplug the refrigerator or turn off the power. Access to the coils varies by model; some can be reached from the front and others from the back — and you may need to remove a plate or grill first.
If you've never cleaned your coils, prepare to be awed by the dust bunnies in residence there. Use an appropriate vacuum attachment or a brush to vanquish the dust, and wipe the coils off with soapy water if they're gummy. Replace any plates/grills, restore power and presto: You'll get a sense of satisfaction each time you walk into the kitchen.
Clean or replace the AC filter: According to the Energy Department, an air conditioner with a dirty filter can suck up 5 percent to 15 percent more electricity than with a clean one. And filters on most models are easy to swap out. Simply slide out the old one and insert the new one. It's worth the savings to replace filters a couple of times during the cooling season. Sponge-type filters (as opposed to the ridged type) can often be reused a time or two by soaking them in soapy water, rinsing and allowing them to dry.
Clean your vacuum cleaner: Even your household's most valuable cleaning appliance — your vacuum — occasionally needs some TLC ("tender loving cleaning"). I've been able to prolong the life of our inexpensive upright vac to 10 years (that's age 122 in vacuum cleaner years) and counting, just by keeping it clean and in good shape. Once a year, wipe down the canister inside and out with a damp rag; use an old brush or comb to remove string and other debris stuck in the rollers and check the belts for wear and tear (replace them as needed). Be sure to inspect the suction tubes and cleaning attachments to dislodge any clogged material and check for holes — easily fixed with duct tape.
Don't waste money on unnecessary cleaning supplies: Before you spend a bundle on cleansers, look in your cupboards. You're likely to find everything you need. Not only are these homemade cleaners inexpensive, they're easier on the environment than the toxic sprays and pastes you'd buy in the store.
- Clean appliances, countertops and even inside your oven with a simple solution of baking soda and water (one part baking soda to five parts water).
- Polish furniture with a cloth dipped in cool black tea, and brighten dull hardwood floors with a solution of one part lemon juice to two parts vegetable oil.
- Shine your silver with toothpaste. Use ketchup to polish copper.
- Olive oil dissolves tar, a pencil eraser removes heel marks and a wet pumice stone scrubs away rust and other stains on porcelain.
Cash-in on clutter: I've always believed the more organized you are, the less money you end up wasting. If you haven't used something since you cleaned last, consider ditching it. My friend and fellow cheapskate Chris Heiska (aka "The Yard Sale Queen ") says that spring is one of the best times to have a yard sale, and she suggests combining forces with your neighbors. You share the advertising and other costs, not to mention the work. Plus, the bigger the sale, the more customers you're likely to draw.
Donating unwanted items to charities like Goodwill or the American Red Cross is a terrific option, too; you not only support a good cause but also generally get a tax deduction for the donated items — it's the same as a cash contribution. Some specialized charities accept donations of some pretty surprising stuff — check them out.
Now that the house is tidy and clean, and my wallet is a little fatter for it, maybe I'll treat myself to the new bicycle I've been eyeing — or at least go for that long-awaited ride.
Also of interest: Strategies for your next yard sale trip.
Jeff Yeager is the author of The Ultimate Cheapskate's Road Map to True Riches and The Cheapskate Next Door. His website is www.UltimateCheapskate.com and you can friend him on Facebook at JeffYeagerUltimateCheapskate or follow him on Twitter.