We're heading into the dog days of summer, July and August, when we'll likely fire up our air-conditioners and then wince when we open our electric bills. You can lessen the pain, though. Consumer Reports and budgeting experts give the following tips on how to reduce your cooling bills:

  • Adapt to slightly warmer temperatures. Raise the setting on your thermostat by just 1° F, and you could decrease your bill by as much as 3% or more. Up the setting a few more degrees, and, well, you get the picture. Consider setting your thermostat to a higher temperature when you'll be out for a long time, such as when you leave for work.
  • Send sunlight packing. A sunny room may be cheerful, but it's delivering a heavy dose of heat into your house. Use shades, blinds, curtains, doors, and the like to keep the sun out -- at least in rooms you don't spend much time in.
  • Decrease the effect of other heat generators, such as lamps, dishwashers, dryers, and TVs, by using them less often during the hotter part of the day. Consider replacing traditional incandescent lightbulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs, which create less heat. (They also consume some 66% less energy and last 10 times as long, making their higher price usually worth it.) Microwave or cook food outdoors on a grill to avoid having your stove or oven generate a lot of heat.
  • If you're using an air-conditioner, consider running it during the day and then turning it off at night when nighttime temperatures are cool and humidity is low. On those nights, simply sleep with the windows open.
  • Take care of your air-conditioner. You know it has a filter, right? Well, that needs to be cleaned every few weeks or every month. Keep the area around your outdoor condenser free of leaves and debris, too, and clean its coils occasionally. If your machine is very old, look into getting a new one in the coming years, as by law newer ones will consume much less energy.
  • Consider using fans. Whether on the ceiling or freestanding, they can make you feel as much as 10 degrees cooler and reduce your need for air-conditioners -- but only when you're in the room. They'll just waste energy if you run them in unoccupied rooms.

These steps aren't too onerous and they can save you a bundle, especially because the price of electricity often goes up during the months you need it most. Making matters more urgent, the federal Energy Information Administration estimates that electricity rates may increase as much as 12% by 2010 and another 25% by 2025. Ouch.

Learn what to do with the money you save in our Savings Center, which also features some special interest rates for Fools.

Selena Maranjian is a longtime Fool contributor.