Quick questions: Would you rather spend $50 on unnecessary electricity, or on a share of stock that will help provide for a more comfortable retirement? Would you rather spend $100 on an unnecessarily inefficient refrigerator, or on a night out with your loved one? These are not toughies, I think.

Still, many of us, myself included, continue to spend more than we need to on energy. And given that energy expenses are rather steep these days, that makes even less sense than it used to. So, submitted for your consideration, are some ways you might cut down on your energy costs:

  • Replace old windows. If you've got old-fashioned single-pane windows, you could save up to 25% of your heating bill by replacing them with modern, energy-efficient models.
  • Add insulation. Use caulking to seal cracks and holes in your home. (But be aware that some ventilation is a good thing -- perhaps open your windows now and then, at strategic times.) Seal ducting and insulate it, too, if it's not in a temperate area. Consider adding attic insulation. Many homes have less than 6 inches of it, when a foot is often better. Wrap your water heater with insulation (they make special "jackets" just for this purpose) -- and insulate the pipes running to and from it. Add weather-stripping to any windows and doors that need it. Insulation can even be added between your inner and outer walls, and can pay for itself within two years.
  • Get a new refrigerator. Old refrigerators can use a lot of energy. Poking around on the Internet, I learned that switching from a 20-year-old model to a new Energy Star refrigerator can save you more than $100 per year in electricity. I also learned that one of the most efficient kinds of fridges is in fact a chest freezer. You'd have to set it at a less-than-freezing temperature, of course, but it offers several key advantages: For one thing, they tend to be more insulated than regular fridges. And better still, since cold air falls instead of rising, they keep most of their coldness in when opened, unlike regular fridges, which release cold air into your kitchen rather wantonly.
  • Get programmable thermostats. These permit you to set different desired temperatures for different times of the day and for different days. Why fully air-condition your home for the 10 or so hours when you're at work? Why have the heat on at a comfy level for the eight or so hours that you're asleep under your covers? You can save up to 20% of your heating and cooling costs this way. For many of us, that can add up to thousands of dollars over the years.

Even simpler
I'll concede that many of the above ideas will take a little effort on your part. (They're probably well worth it.) But there are additional things you can do that take much less effort. Here are some ideas, many from the National Resources Defense Council:

  • Turn off lights when you're not using them. Turn off fans when you're not in the room. They don't cool a room -- they only cool off the people in it.
  • Unplug electrical items that you don't use too often, such as a refrigerator in the basement or a dehumidifier in the winter. Unplug chargers for phones, cameras, cordless tools, etc., when you're not using them. Similarly, unplugging or using power strips to turn off TVs and stereos stops them from using significant amounts of electricity in their "standby" modes.
  • Set up your computers so that they enter "sleep" or "hibernate" mode when not in use.
  • Employ smart curtain management. In the summer, keep shades drawn during the day, to keep warming sunlight out -- especially in rooms you seldom use. In the winter, keep these shades and curtains open during the day. Close them at night to prevent heat loss through windows.
  • Don't set the temperature on your water heater too high. In fact, set it as low as you can. With a little trial and error, you might find that your hot water needs are met just fine when the heater is set close to its lowest setting. That can save you a lot of money by not making the heater work harder than necessary. (It might prevent some scalding, too.)
  • Clean your dryer's lint filter after every use. Use cold water whenever possible in your washing machine. When possible, dry your clothes on a line outside.

If you're interested in more home-related issues, visit our Home Center. Longtime Fool contributor Selena Maranjian is happy to receive feedback from readers.