Harder times appear to be on the way, even if lawmakers succeed in unclogging the nation's credit system. It's time to look around our homes and do what we can to cut costs, avoid unnecessary repairs and preserve cash.

Share story

Harder times appear to be on the way, even if lawmakers succeed in unclogging the nation’s credit system. It’s time to look around our homes and do what we can to cut costs, avoid unnecessary repairs and preserve cash.

Normally I would add “cut debt” to the chore list, but I’m not convinced that’s the smartest strategy during this anything-but-normal period. New loans are hard to come by. If you can comfortably manage the payments on existing debt, you may be better off sticking to your regular payment plan and saving the cash that would have gone toward prepayment.

If you’re already struggling under the debt burden, however, put every effort into paying off those loans right away so you could better manage a short spell of unemployment or another hardship.

Here are some other tips:

• Take a break from mortgage prepayment. Just in August, I advocated prepaying the mortgage as an alternative to risky stocks. But the money world has changed. Keep your cash where it would be easy to get at — in an FDIC-insured bank account — should trouble arrive at your door.

• Consider borrowing from an existing home-equity line of credit — but with caution. Let’s say you were planning to tap your equity line to pay a big tuition bill six months from now. With credit availability so uncertain, go ahead and use your equity line, and deposit the cash in the bank.

• The latest thing in kitchens: less remodeling, more cooking.

• Tone down the holiday decorations. Fifty bucks on a fog machine? Not this Halloween. Pare back in December, too.

• Count the holiday kilowatts. If you need new holiday lights, choose LED bulbs.

• Switch to compact-fluorescent bulbs throughout the house.

• Boost your homeowners-insurance deductible. Raising it to $500 typically cuts a premium by 10 or 15 percent; going to $1,000 could save 25 percent, says the Insurance Information Institute, a trade group.

• Shop your insurance. You might save hundreds. Shop auto and homeowners policies because there are substantial multiple-policy discounts.

• Tend the fireplace. You closed the flue after the last fire, right?

• Trim the trees. Clear tree branches away from the house; they can rip up roofing tiles in a storm — or worse.

• Get the furnace serviced and get the service contract.

• Bulk up window coverings. They keep rooms less drafty and will help keep your sofa and carpets from losing color.