(MONEY Magazine) – TIP 1 Pay less for heat--quick!
With heating bills expected to soar an average of 31% this winter--and up to 71% in the Midwest--everyone's got a way to cut costs. Some advice is smart, some is just hot air.
• ADD INSULATION Yes. Start with the attic, the easiest and most cost-effective place to pad your insulation. Most homes need it to be at least six inches thick.
• SEAL LEAKS Eh. Filling cracks near windows won't help, but a full-house "blower-door test" ($300) can find bigger gaps and chop heat bills by up to 15%.
• DON'T REDUCE HEAT AT NIGHT--IT OVERTAXES YOUR FURNACE IN THE A.M. Wrong. Lowering the temp 10°overnight can cut the heating tab by 10%.
• SHUT VENTS, REVERSE FANS Yep. Close heat-sucking bath and kitchen vents after use, and switch to the reverse setting on ceiling fans to push warm air down.
• CHECK YOUR FURNACE You bet. Clean filters once a month and schedule annual maintenance. Furnaces older than 15 years will convert only 70% of fuel to heat, while a new model can get you 80% to 97% efficiency. --CAROLYN BIGDA AND LAWRENCE ULRICH
TIP 2 Fight the flu
Flu vaccines, which are most effective from October to December, are back in the news. Last year, quality-control problems kept 48 million vaccines from being shipped to the U.S. No major shortage is anticipated this year, but past distribution snafus created backups, forcing the government to ask healthy folks under 65 to delay vaccination this fall. Plus, experts say, if fears of avian flu cause a rush on vaccines and on Tamiflu (which targets avian flu), supply may not meet demand.
• WHAT TO DO Ask your doctor about FluMist (flumist.com), a nasal spray vaccine (no needle!) that isn't subject to the feds' request. It usually costs less than $50 and is increasingly covered by insurance. --CURTIS PESMEN
TIP 3 Keep files high and dry
If your home were damaged by, say, a Category 4 hurricane, would you be able to carry on financially? Or would all your records be ruined?
• STAYING SAFE "You don't want a single point of failure," says Jonathan Rosenoer, an IBM risk expert. In other words, don't store all your data in one place. Keep originals of docs like your deed and insurance policies in a waterproof, fireproof safe or bank safe-deposit box, and send copies to an out-of-state relative. Back up electronic data on a USB flash drive small enough to be a key chain. The Crucial Gizmo ($86; crucial.com) and SanDisk Cruzer Titanium ($120; sandisk .com) each give 1GB of password-protected storage. --CAROLYN BIGDA