How to winterize your life, for less

Don't burn your money just to stay warm this winter.
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This story is part of GoMN's 2017-18 Winter Guide.

A Minnesota winter is something to both endure and enjoy. After all, Jack Frost doesn't just nip at your nose, he douses it in liquid nitrogen and smashes it with a sledgehammer.

But the locals are never hardier than when embracing the sub-zero with a smile on their faces and preparedness rivaling any natural disaster imaginable. A new North Face jacket and set of top-tier snow tires can bring a chill to your finances, so consider this your guide to winterizing your life without breaking the bank.

Winterize your entertainment

In the spirit of our burgeoning anti-hygge awakening, the days you do head out into the freezing air needn't cost you much.

For the adventurous, there are cross-country skiing trails across the metro area, with Hyland Lake Park Reserve in Bloomington, Theodore Wirth Park in Minneapolis and Fort Snelling in St. Paul among the highest rated. You need a Great Minnesota Ski Pass to use them, which cost $6 daily or $20 annually.

If you don't have your own skis, equipment including poles and boots costs $12 in Minneapolis (at Wirth Park, Columbia and Hiawatha Golf Courses) and $15 in St. Paul (at Phalen, Como and Highland Golf Courses).

If you want to pay for a pass, you don't need one to ski at St. Paul's golf courses.

You could also try downhill skiing and tubing at Buck Hill (15400 Buck Hill Road, Burnsville), where you'll find cheaper rates if you go on weekdays or weekend night skiing.

Minnesota's extensive state park system also has snowshoeing trails, charging just $6 for shoe rentals, while the Twin Cities is littered with free ice rinks for those looking to unleash their inner Gordon Bombay.

And once Thanksgiving and Christmas have come and gone, the 10-day Great Northern arrives in the Twin Cities from Jan. 26 to Feb. 4. The smorgasbord of wintry events is headlined by the St. Paul Winter Carnival, the U.S. Pond Hockey Championships on Nokomis, and the Loppet Ski Festival on Lake Calhoun.

Winterize your bod

Skip the $300 mountaineering coats. There are cut-price options abound in the metro area.

If you're looking for that technical, outdoorsy merch, then chain outfitter REI (Roseville, Bloomington, Maple Grove) regularly holds garage sales with 50 percent discounts on second-hand gear for Co-op members who pay just $20 for lifetime membership.

Good quality outdoors gear can also be found at Midwest Mountaineering (West Bank, Minneapolis), which has cheaper selections available in its upstairs discount outlet, Thrifty Outdoors.

Got expensive winter clothes you wore so much they're damaged? Take them to Repair Lair (3304 East Lake St., Minneapolis). They will charge anything from $4 to $100 to fix a garment, but even the priciest repair will save bundles compared to buying new. It also sells consignment winter gear for low prices. More thrift options include the Buffalo Exchange (2727 Lyndale Ave. S., Minneapolis) and Arc's Value Village (1650 White Bear Ave., St. Paul, several other locations), and there's always Goodwill.

Winterize your vehicle

A car that breaks down on the roads in frigid winter is not just inconvenient – it can be downright dangerous. Despite what some mechanics might try and push on you, here's the stuff you actually need to do before winter. And it's actually affordable. 

AAMCO says to prioritize replacing faulty windshield wiper blades, fill up on wiper fluid that has low freezing point, and make sure you have an ice scraper handy. All can be remedied inexpensively with a quick Menards or Mills Fleet Farm trip.

Check your oil too. AAMCO recommends that engines run better with thinner oil during the winter. Groupon has oil changes for as little as $18 across the Twin Cities.

Check air pressure and tread depth to extend your tires' performance on snow and ice. If your tires are getting bald, keep an eye out for coupon offers. A new set is cheaper than replacing your entire front end after it embeds itself into a telephone pole.

Give your car some time to warm up. If it was manufactured after 1995, you probably only need about 1-2 minutes to get the engine properly lubricated. So, the time it takes to clear off your windshield anyhow.

Winterize your home

Your three-figure gas bill will tell you winter has arrived. The easiest way to cut that bill is to set your thermostat lower when you're at work. Centerpoint reckons you can knock off 10 percent by turning the dial down 7-10 degrees. Even when you're home, you save 3-5 percent for every degree you reduce the temperature.

Setting your water heater at 120 degrees will also lower energy usage without "sacrificing comfort," Centerpoint says.

Other DIY heating tips include keeping your drapes and blinds open during the day to maximize the sunlight, and closing air vents and doors in unused rooms so your heating system isn't working so hard.

If you can, get a visit from the Home Energy Squad, a partnership of Xcel Energy and Centerpoint. For $70, the squad comes around to your house and highlights areas of inefficiency, and installs up to $200 worth of equipment including weather-stripping on your doors and attic hatches, water heater insulation, a programmable thermostat, water-efficient shower heads, and new LED bulbs.

This story is part of GoMN's 2017-18 Winter Guide.

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