Cold and messy winter weather can cause consumers to overspend in some predictable ways. Some people come home to a freezing house and crank up the heat. Others take a forlorn look at an empty fridge, then at the snow-covered streets, and call in an expensive food delivery. No matter how well- or ill-prepared you are, rest assured: Winter is coming. To better stick to a budget this season, watch out for these areas where consumers are prone to overspending when the weather turns cold.
When winter weather gets ugly, it's tempting to summon a taxi, Uber, Lyft, or another car service. Instead, allocate extra time for public transportation and be sure to bundle up. If you do give in to the convenience, don't sweat it too much -- for the past few years Uber has experimented with discounted rates in the colder months to combat its "winter slump."
Children typically outgrow clothes and shoes within a couple of years, so it doesn't always make sense to panic over a storm or two and buy pricey snow boots. Unless you live in a region that sees lots of snow, an all-purpose boot is a better buy.
Some people come home and crank the heat way up immediately, thinking this will somehow heat the place more quickly. In reality, the furnace heats the home at a constant rate, so this will likely just waste money and leave the house uncomfortably warm, rather than reach a comfortable temperature any sooner.
Some might argue that it's more cost-efficient to keep your home at a constant (higher) temperature, but that's a misconception, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Setting a programmable thermostat to turn down the heat 7 to 10 degrees when the house is empty all day or asleep all night can save up to 10 percent a year.
Properly insulating a home is probably the most efficient way to save money during the winter -- up to 20 percent, according to the Energy Department. The first step is to identify air leaks. Hire a qualified technician to conduct an energy audit, or at least look for cracks or gaps in the walls, including around doors, window frames, and electrical outlets. For stationary components such as fixed windows, caulk is typically best for sealing leaks. For moving components such as doors, weatherstripping is the way to go. Felt and foam are commonly used because they're cheap and easy to apply, but metals tend to look better and last longer.
When the weather turns frigid, a trip to the grocery store can seem like an Arctic expedition. But don't make a habit of paying a delivery fee plus tip for food. Instead, make trips to the store more efficient. Stock up on non-refrigerated items that won't spoil quickly, such as pasta, cereal, dried fruit, canned veggies, and black beans, so you can always whip up something for dinner when the weather makes shopping out of the question. Some frozen foods can satisfy a craving for easy, junky food at a lower price.
Related: Are Meal Delivery Services Worth the Cost?
It's nice having peaches or blueberries in January, but the costs of making out-of-season produce available year-round are high -- and they're passed on to the consumer. When making grocery lists, stick to what's in season or readily available in the winter: bananas, Brussels sprouts, citrus fruits, kale, turnips, and more.
In a survey during a cold snap last year by the marketing company Fluent, 27 percent of respondents said they did more shopping online. At the same time, 16 percent said they shopped less in bricks-and-mortar stores. Still, it's worth making an effort to do something besides online shopping when you're snowed in or hibernating this winter.
Many experts recommend annual furnace inspections to avoid emergency repairs during the winter. Typically, a technician will clean the system, check the controls for safety, and change the filters for about $50 to $100. The cost is worth it to keep a system working and ultimately prolong its life -- and some utility companies and furnace manufacturers do inspections for free. Reducing the likelihood of wintertime malfunctions can save hundreds of dollars, if not thousands, in charges for an emergency call.
Related: 50 Ways to Save Energy (and Money) This Winter
Prices at the pump don't automatically rise during the winter. But when temperatures drop, so does tire pressure, and driving with underinflated tires is not only dangerous, it typically lowers gas mileage by about 0.3 percent for every 1 psi (pounds per square inch) lost. That results in more spending at the pump. Keep an eye out for sudden decreases in tire pressure. It should be checked at least once a month.