How this cold snap will hit your wallet

Don't Waste Your Money

Chances are that your furnace has been running nonstop for the past 24 to 48 hours.

There is nothing wrong with that, as furnaces are designed to do so.

But, if you were to add up the cost of running a space heater, gas needed to operate your car, and electricity charges, you may want to budget a bit more for January's fuel bills.

Cold Weather and Your Car

Many people don't realize that your car's gas mileage drops as the temperature drops.

Edmunds says freezing temperatures below 30 degrees can reduce gas mileage by 10 percent or more. This happens because when engines idle, they need more fuel when the air coming into the engine is ice cold.

In addition, seat heaters, your heater blower, and window defrosters all tax the alternator.  When the alternator has to work harder, it actually reduces gas mileage.

Cold Weather and Your Home

As for your home, the Wall Street Journal says natural gas prices are up 15 percent in the past month, and are expected to spike even higher as the week goes on "spot" exchanges.  

However, the good news is if you are locked into a rate, your gas price won't go up at all. Even on a variable plan, rates are already set for January, so you won't see any price change on your next bill.

However, the Department of Energy predicts heating bills could be 10 to 20 percent higher than last January due to this extreme cold. The only way it would balance out would be if we experienced a heat wave.

Space Heater Costs

The DOE also says a 1000 watt space heater costs $2 to $4 to run per day, depending on how many hours you use it.

At $4 per day, your space heater will add more than $100 to your January electric bill, assuming you use it 16 hours a day.

One way to reduce a space heater's cost is to run it only when you are in that room (such as 3 hours per day in a family room), or to set it at its lowest setting, which is usually just 400 watts.

That can keep your space heater cost down to $30 a month or less.
    
Bottom line: Budget a little more for January fuel costs, so you are not surprised and so you don't waste your money.

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