Pinching pennies is all the rage. With the economy in a tailspin, consumers are looking everywhere for ways to save money. The trick is to cut back without putting a significant crimp in your lifestyle. So before downsizing into a smaller house, selling your car or cutting up your last credit card, consider these five money-saving do-it-yourself projects. Install a programmable thermostat: The average household can save about 10% a year on heating bills by switching to a programmable thermostat, according to the federal Energy Star program. Here's why: You set the thermostat to turn up the heat when it's needed and drop it when it's not, saving heating dollars from being spent when no one's home or everyone's asleep. A typical installation is simple and requires only a few tools and a couple of minutes. For step-by-step instructions, check out this video from ThisOldHouse.com. Change your own oil: Embrace your inner grease monkey and save $30 every few months by changing your car's oil. Here's the drill: Set your car on jackstands or ramps, climb underneath and unscrew the drain plug from the oil pan, remembering, of course, to position a pan underneath the drain plug to catch the old oil. Then, use a filter wrench to unscrew the oil filter and drain the used oil. Finish by putting on a new filter (about $5 to $10), replacing the drain plug and pouring new oil (usually about five quarts, but check your car's manual) into the oil fill cap on the engine. The whole process should take less than an hour. (For more detailed instructions, click here.) Once your oil is changed, start your car and drive to a place where that old oil can be recycled. Many of the oil-change chains will take your used oil, or you can check Earth911.com for a local recycling center.
Do-it-yourself energy audit: A professional energy audit can cost $300 or more, but there's plenty you can do to find the drafty areas of your house on your own. The U.S. Department of Energy offers instructions on conducting a DIY home energy audit, as well as tips on how to shore up the leaky spots once you find them. For example, check exterior doors and storm doors to make sure they seal tightly. If not, pick up some weatherstripping at your local hardware store and add it to the frames around the doors. Embrace meal planning: It's easy to drop $30 or more on dinner from a take-out joint. Instead, save those dollars by sketching out a week's worth of dinners, then heading to the supermarket and stocking up on the ingredients you'll need. One tip: Plan straightforward dinners that don't require a ton of prep or cooking time, especially on nights where you have class or meetings. RealSimple.com offers an entire online section devoted to easy meal planning, from a batch of 20-minute meals to advice on efficient dinner prep. Mow your own lawn and rake your own leaves: Lawn services charge big bucks for something you can easily do in your spare time. And what better way to unwind after a long day at work than by spending an hour or two plodding around your yard? It's exercise, relaxation and frugality all rolled into one money-saving project. But if your idea of relaxation is sitting in a hammock watching someone else sweat, consider skipping the high-priced landscaping service and hiring a neighborhood kid to do the work.