By Beth Buck I am writing this while watching the first snowfall of the season with some chagrin. It's really snowing, and that means I can no longer pretend that we're still holding on to the last vestiges of summer. It's time to get really serious about winter, and all that comes with it: cold, sleet, sniffles, the whole nine yards. Not that winter is completely awful; I just don't like being cold. But as much as I hate being cold, I hate paying large amounts of money for my heating bill even more. My town home has about as much insulation as an outhouse, and a lot of the heat from our furnace goes right through the walls to warm the great outdoors. We have had to be creative to stay warm while also saving money. Our methods have paid off – I have it on good authority that our monthly heating bill during the winter is significantly lower than that of our neighbors. 1) Set your thermostat lower. This might be a “well, duh” sort of thing, but in practice very few people actually do it because no one enjoys being cold. In the winter we keep the temperature of our home to 68 degrees Fahrenheit during the day. By lowering your thermostat, not only will you be saving money, you will also be reducing your carbon footprint. 2) Wear wool sweaters. And when I say “wool” I don't mean sweaters made from acrylic or cotton. You cannot beat the insulating power of wool. Wool is also flame resistant and can absorb 30% of its weight in water without feeling wet or damp. You need not equate wool sweaters with itchy misery – nice wool is soft and delightful against your skin. Look for wool sweaters labeled “merino,” which denotes the breed of sheep the wool comes from. Merino sweaters can be a bit on the pricey side – about the cost of one month's heating bill if you crank your thermostat up to 75 degrees when it's below zero outside. A sweater, even a nice one, is cheaper in the long run. (N.B. silk thermal underwear is also extremely effective in keeping you warm.) 3) Heat-Shrink plastic insulation for windows. We swear by this stuff. If you don't have storm windows in your home, a pack of this costs $6 at your local hardware store. Stick it around your windows and shrink it with a hair dryer and you're good to go. 4) Rice bags. A cloth bag filled with rice is great as an inexpensive heating pad. Just stick it in the microwave for a minute or so and it will retain heat for an hour or more. If you're handy with a sewing machine you can make a fancy one with this tutorial. Otherwise you can just put some white rice (NOT instant rice! It will cook when you microwave it.) in an old tube sock and tie a knot in it. I have one for each of my kids, and on cold nights I send them to bed with their rice bags to keep them warm while they're drifting off to sleep. What strategies have you employed to keep your energy costs down in the winter? Beth Buck has been involved with emergency preparedness since her very earliest years. She enjoys hiking, martial arts, reading, and writing about food storage. Beth lives in the Intermountain West with her family.