Last winter, we had record highs, little snow and lower heating bills.
This winter, get ready for something different. The Northeast is facing colder temperatures and higher heating costs, according to the annual Winter Fuels Outlook released by the Energy Department's Energy Information Administration earlier this month. Consumers heating with oil could see bills increase by as much as 19 percent; those heating with gas or electric can expect increases of 5 percent to 15 percent.
Food costs are going up too, due to last summer's extended drought in the Midwest.
The bottom line is your 2013 budget is going to take a beating. Extra money is going to have to come from somewhere. (We know, you've already worked to trim your spending. You haven't had a Starbucks in months and take-out pizzas are a thing of the past.)
We've got 10 ways to help you stretch your money even further.
Take a minute and make a phone call to your insurance agent. If you've made home improvements such as adding a security system or replacing your roof, you may be eligible for lower homeowner premiums. And if you took a driver refresher course, started telecommuting and are driving less, you may get a break on your car insurance.
Check your checking account. Are you paying for checking? If you have direct deposit, you shouldn't be. See what your bank offers in the way of free accounts. Don't use bank machines that aren't part of your bank's network. ATM fees add up.
Tune in to your cable bill. Are you paying for premium channels you don't watch? Can you switch to a basic plan that costs less? And if you don't watch a lot of television, consider giving up cable and watching your favorite television shows online with Hulu Plus or Netflix, each about $8 a month.
Save at the supermarket. Don't buy so many disposable things. Cut drier sheets in half, opt for paper towels that give you the choice of a half or full sheet and use just what you need. Have one or two meatless meals each week. Don't waste food. American trash about 40 percent of the food they buy — most of it fruits, vegetables and cooked leftovers. Plan your shopping and your meals more carefully and check refrigerator shelves and vegetable bins often. Switch to store brands. Savings are as much as 25 to 50 percent and most store brands are made by the same companies that produce the national brands.
Use the public library. At your local library, you can download books, take out DVDs and CDs, read current magazines and newspapers and even surf the Internet without spending money.
Do you really like the food in the office cafeteria? Brown-bagging lunch five days a week can save you $100 a month or more.
Cut prescription costs. Always comparison-shop (prescription prices vary from store to store) and go generic when you can. Wal-Mart and other discount, grocery and pharmacy chains offer 30-day supplies of hundreds of generic drugs for $10 or less. Some even offer them free.
Buy and sell secondhand. Find new and gently used items at consignment stores and Craigslist.org. Gather up DVDs, CDs, video games, gaming consoles, cellphones, e-readers, GPS systems and any other electronics you're not using and sell them. Check Nextworth.com, Gazelle.com and SellYourCell.com. Encourage your teens to do the same. Plato's Closet and other teen consignment stores pay for name-brand jeans, prom dresses and footwear.
If you're 55 or older, check for senior discounts everywhere — including at grocery and department stores, restaurants and movie theaters.
Avoid running up your credit card — and credit card interest charges. This holiday season, many stores are offering layaway plans.