Monday, August 5, 2013

Adjusting our Budget for an Empty Nest

My husband and I have been married for 21 years and this is one of those years in which our lives will change dramatically. Our youngest goes off to college and we will once again plan our household budget around just the two of us. With two in college we have plenty to cover in our overall budget, but if we are careful and make adjustments we will end each month with savings that can be set aside for our rapidly approaching retirement years.

Here are the areas of our family finances where I think we can save.

Household Budget

Cooling and Heating

For nine months out of the year we will have an entire floor of our home that is uninhabited. We’ve been here for seven years and we plan to stay until it is time to downsize. That doesn’t mean we have to cool, heat and light up those areas of the house we aren’t using.

Whether your empty nest means a couple of rooms become vacant or an entire wing of your home goes empty, here are some tips for taking advantage of energy savings on the unused portions of your home.

  • Close blinds and curtains - It will stay hot during the days throughout the month of October in our area. To help keep out the heat the first step is to close the blinds and curtains of the windows facing east, west and especially south. Then switch that up during the cold months and open the blinds of the windows that face south. 
  • Close vents - Another step is to close the vents in the rooms that will not be in use. This diverts heat to the common areas that you will want to keep warm. 
  • Close doors - This one is obvious and it is something many energy conscious people do already. As much as I like an open house, it saves energy to keep doors closed so we aren’t cooling or heating areas that aren’t in use. 
  • Change thermostat - The final step will be to adjust the thermostat upstairs. We don’t want to make the downstairs unit work harder, so the adjustment will be slight, but it will certainly help save money each month. 


This may not seem like much, but along with not heating and cooling the rooms that are no longer in use, we will save time and money by not having to clean those same rooms as often. While I make a lot of my own cleaners, the ingredients still cost money. So does the electricity used to run the vacuum. The actual dollar figure saved may be small each week, but when combined with other savings it makes a difference.

Since I’m self employed, the time I save can be used to produce more income. If you work outside the home, this extra hour or so each week can mean a little more time to relax and unwind after a long day at work.


Again, this might seem like a minor savings, but our child heading off to college accounted for more than a third of our laundry expenses this past year because of her very active life. We are already saving a lot with Energy Star high efficiency appliances, but this fall our laundry load will be cut in half. Over time that is a substantial savings.

With both daughters doing their own laundry at school we will save on detergent, water and energy costs. I won’t realize much of a time savings here since the girls have washed their own laundry for some time now.

Gas Budget

As a family we spend very little of our budget on gasoline for our cars. I work from home so don’t drive on a daily basis and while we live in a rural area pretty far from town, we have always organized errands to use as little gas as possible.

Once the kids are on their own and paying for their own gas, most couples will see a reduction in their fuel costs. However, some will fill their empty nests with new activities and may actually get out more. The good thing is that you’re in control of this lifestyle change.

Grocery Budget

Cooking for two may be where many empty nesters can save the most money once the kids move out. Even if you occasionally splurge on expensive foods that you’ve avoided when there were more mouths to feed, careful menu planning can offer serious savings.

No matter how hard you work to keep your food budget low, teens eat a lot and are often the reason many families have snack foods in their pantries. Now is the time to break old habits and revamp your grocery list and the way you buy, prepare and store foods.

  • Check your recipes carefully to see how many servings they offer. If it is something that will not freeze or keep in the refrigerator, or if it is something that won’t be good reheated, don’t make more than you and your spouse can eat at one sitting. 
  • Plan a menu in advance and base your shopping list on this menu. I use to track store specials and I plan my menu around as many sale items as possible. Find a site that lists specials for stores in your area. 
  • Invest in storage containers sized for one or two servings so there is less air in the container. This will help prevent freezer burn. It is also helpful if the container can go from freezer to microwave for defrosting. 
  • Keep a list of meals you have stored in your freezer and rotate them so they don’t go stale or get freezer burn. 

A freezer stocked with meals ready to thaw and reheat offers flexibility to your food budget and your evenings at home.

When your children leave home, life immediately becomes less expensive, so make a conscious effort to take advantage of all the little ways you can save. Pad your savings account with all that extra money so you won’t feel guilty when the lure of dining out or off-season vacation rentals tempts you to splurge.

Betsy Muse is a staff writer for ConsumerFu where she offers tips to help people find ways to earn more and save more. She is the mother of two college-age daughters and spent much of her early career in the banking and insurance industries.


  1. Took advantage of tax-free weekend to buy our youngest daughter's books for college. Even buying mostly used books or renting them it was still $430 for 17 credit hours at a large state university.

    How's that for a bite out of the budget!? We don't take her until the 14th but we are already closing all the blinds and doors upstairs. It's dreary, but it beats cooling rooms we don't use.

    Thanks Dave for hosting my guest post!

    1. I know what you mean. Just had a college graduation. It cost a pretty penny. We rented books also. It does save money.


Join 1000's of People Following 50 Plus Finance
Real Time Web Analytics