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5 easy ways to stay green during the holidays

Now that Thanksgiving is over, the vast majority of Americans are gearing up for the winter holiday season. For many, this means stringing up lights and inflating lawn ornaments that will bring cheer to the neighborhood all month long. It's important to keep in mind that all the outdoor decor is going to use more electricity and result in higher utility bills for the month. With all the other expenses of the season – gifts, parties, dinners, travel – finding ways to cut costs where you can will be paramount come January when the bills start to roll in.

1. Opt for decor you don't have to plug in.
Perhaps the easiest way to curb electric costs around the holidays is to steer clear of any decorations that require an outlet. That's not to say you have to skip decorating entirely, as there are countless ways to make your home festive without singing Santas and inflatable Frostys. Lawn ornaments, pine garlands, homemade wreaths and strings of popcorn or construction paper can be just as enchanting without raising your bills. Plus, many decorations can be great do-it-yourself projects to create a fun family tradition and save on the cost of purchasing pre-made items.

2. Choose LED over incandescent bulbs.
If you can't bear the thought of a holiday without twinkling lights, it may be time to reconsider the lights you're using. Light-emitting diodes are superior to traditional light bulbs in a few different ways: They last longer, shine brighter and use a lot less energy. In fact, according to Consumer Affairs, you can power two 24-foot stings of LED bulbs with the same amount of energy it takes to power just one 7-watt incandescent bulb. So you could effectively swap out one string of 30 traditional bulbs and wind up with more than 1,400 feet of lighting for the same cost. That might be more than enough to make your home look like Clark Griswold's.

LEDs can be a great, energy-saving replacement for traditional bulbs.LEDs can be a great, energy-saving replacement for traditional bulbs.

3. Use solar powered lighting and decorations.
Even if you don't have solar panels, you can still harness the sun's power in your holiday decor. There are numerous products, from strings of tiny bulbs to spotlights that can illuminate your home's facade, that are powered by small solar panels. The cost of these products might be a bit more than traditional versions, but when you consider that nothing will need to be plugged in, turned on or off, or otherwise monitored, you'll be saving in the long run. Who knows? This could be the start of your journey to installing solar power in your home, leading you to start looking into solar financing in the new year.

"Regulate the amount of time everything is on."

4. Set a schedule for your decorations.
If you simply can't resist your motorized reindeer or don't want to replace the decorations you already have, another option is to regulate the amount of time everything is on. It might seem simple to think you will just remember to turn everything off each night, but investing in some preset timers can save you a world of effort. Bankrate pointed out that these timers typically cost less than $20, and then you can set and forget your timers so your holiday lights and decor turn on and off at the same time each night. Keep the window of time everything is running as modest as possible to see the biggest savings.

5. Cut back on how long your decorations are on display.
It can be tempting to start hanging your holiday decorations the moment after Thanksgiving dinner ends, but holding off might be worth it to reduce energy usage. Wait until it's closer to the holidays before you start decorating and lighting up your home, or even start slowly, adding a little at a time so you're not running your holiday lights at full power for the whole month. If you can't wait to decorate, consider building up your display by powering it only on weekends until the holidays get closer. And, once the season is over, start taking your decorations down, or at least stop turning them on. These steps can help keep costs low.

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