I spoke to a client at my job today about making a purchase, and they said something that I found very telling.

"I just can't afford it right now. Because it's so cold outside, my utility bills are more than $300 a month."

When there is a cold snap, like the one much of the U.S. is experiencing right now, it can mean skyrocketing natural gas, electric and fuel oil bills. My home uses natural gas, and I have recently moved to a larger home, so I have immediately noticed a difference in my gas bill. It was $60 last month. This month, it was almost $150. Ouch.

So, how can you keep warm without burning a hole in your pocketbook? The folks over at RealSimple.com have some great tips. Mainly, it comes down to conserving energy and sealing your home to prevent that heat from escaping outdoors (or allowing the cold to come into your home).

When I was growing up on a pig farm in Minnesota, my stepfather was very miserly with the heating fuel. In fact, we rarely ran the oil burning furnace. Instead, he covered all of the exterior windows with plastic. It looked like our home was covered in Saran Wrap. If you have nice, new double-pane insulated fiberglass windows, you probably don't need to take this step, but if you live in an old farm house like we did, it was critical. It really did work. In fact, our screened porch was totally covered in plastic, and on a sunny day we could open the exterior door and sit on the porch, which was a warm and toasty 80 degrees, even though it was 18 degrees outside.

He also put a wood burning stove in the basement. Each Saturday, we would split wood for the stove, and before we went to bed each night, he would throw a few logs in the stove, and they would last until morning.

So if you are suffering from a cold house and high heating bills, check your windows and doors for drafts, seal them up with plastic or the many other products you can find at your local home improvement store, set your thermostat at 67 degrees (hopefully you have a programmable thermostat), set the water heater at 120 degrees and make sure your pipes are insulated. Higher heating bills during a cold snap are almost inevitable, but having a warm house doesn't have to send you to the poor house.


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