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Affordable housing has become a distant memory for many city dwellers. If you’ve used a mortgage affordability calculator and find you’re coming up short on what you’d like to buy, or wind up pinching pennies at the end of each month trying to stay on top of existing household expenses, here are five ways you can keep costs down.

1. Get “smart” about heating and cooling energy

Nearly half of the energy consumed by the average household goes toward heating and cooling. The easiest way to start saving on energy costs is to install a programmable or “smart” thermostat. These allow you to lower the heat during the day while you’re at work or school, and set it to warm up as you walk through the door.

Likewise, at night you can lower the temperature for a more comfortable sleep, and program it to warm up just before your alarm goes off. In summer, save on cooling costs by briefly raising the temperature during the day and overnight. These so-called “smart” units, such as Nest, actually learn your habits and adjust the settings accordingly.

Some provinces have begun offering incentives to encourage residents to go green. In Ontario for example, the Green Ontario Fund has launched a program offering free smart thermostats on a first-come, first-serve basis. Enbridge and Union Gas also have rebate programs for installing new thermostats.

2. Consider appliance efficiency

If you take a look at your utility bill, you’ll notice the charges vary depending on the time of day. In Toronto, there are off-peak, mid-peak, and on-peak hours. Weekends are considered off-peak, as are weekdays between 7pm and 7am. If you can hold off on running energy-consuming appliances during off-peak times, you can save more than half your electricity costs. Off-peak electricity is 6.5 cents per kilowatt hour (kWh), while on-peak (weekdays between 7am to 11am and 5pm to 7pm) amounts to 13.2 cents per kWh.

Other easy ways to save money include only running the dishwasher when it’s full, using the cold water-setting on your washing machine, and air-drying laundry during the warmer months. When shopping around for new appliances, be sure to check out the energy and water consumption ratings. You may pay a little more upfront, but the long-term savings will more than make up the difference.

3. Consolidate debt

Do you regularly carry a credit card balance or miss payments on bills? Not only will this damage your credit score, it will cost you more in interest and penalties. A line of credit enables you to pay off your bills in full when you have a temporary cash-flow shortage at a fraction of the interest charged by credit card companies. If you get a home equity line of credit secured against your house, the interest rates are even lower. 

Note that if your line of credit balance grows every month, you’ll want to speak with a financial planner to get your spending under control.

4. Shop around for insurance

When purchasing a new car or home, you generally don’t settle for the first one you see. So why do the same with insurance? The proliferation of online brokerages makes it easy to get a quote and compare it to competitors’. You should also contact your alumni association to enquire about discounted insurance plans. Or, find an insurance broker to do the legwork for you.

When comparing plans, consider the variables that can help to lower your insurance costs, such as raising your deductible or purchasing multiple policies from the same company.

5. Become a landlord

One great way to capitalize on your biggest asset—your home—is to rent out any space you can spare. If you own a duplex, you can live upstairs and rent out the basement, or vice versa. The rent you earn can cover a portion of your mortgage, enabling you to save money for a larger place down the road (both literally and figuratively).

If you don’t own a duplex, adding a basement apartment is one option. If your mortgage is coming up for renewal, you can refinance to withdraw some of the equity to undertake the renovations. Your mortgage payments will go up a bit, but the rental income should be enough to offset the cost. No money for renovations? Consider renting out a spare room via a home sharing platform such as Airbnb.

Finally, home exchanges are another great way to save money. Rather than paying for a hotel or Airbnb on holiday, sign up for one of the many online exchange sites and you can swap your home with someone else. The only cost is a small registration fee.

The bottom line

Once you’ve had a chance to try out these tips, re-enter your expenses (and any additional income) into a mortgage approval calculator and see how much your situation has improved.

Ratehub.ca is an independent website that compares Canadian mortgage rates, credit cards, deposit rates, and insurance. Its goal is to empower Canadians to search smarter and save money.

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