3 Ways the Government Made Me Richer

Photo (cc) by Aunt Owwee

It’s supposed to be a punchline: “I’m from the government, and I’m here to help you.” But for me, it’s not a line at all. While many Americans just paid their taxes and might be wondering where their money went, I’ve already cashed in on these little-known free services…

1. Energy audits

If you’ve never heard of an energy audit, it’s not at all like a tax audit. Your state’s Department of Energy Resources is probably like mine in Massachusetts: It works with local utility companies to offer freebies and incentives so you’ll save electricity. One of those is the home energy audit, which is just a fancy title for finding out how you use electricity, then offering ways to save.

Last winter, I called an 800 number I found on the Mass Save website. A couple of weeks later, a nice man was at my house. He spent 90 minutes drawing up a personalized report explaining how I could become more energy-efficient. He even replaced my incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescents (CFLs), added door sweeps, did some caulking, and installed programmable thermostats and low-flow shower heads. All for free.

He also pointed out that my unused second refrigerator was costing me money. Someone at work had given me this old appliance, but I hardly ever used it. He gave me a $50 cash rebate for recycling it, and estimated I’d save $150 a year on my electric bill.

So let’s add up my free visit…

  • Four programmable thermostats: $49.99 each (I have zone heating and cooling in my home – another energy saver.)
  • Two low-flow shower heads: $34.97 each
  • Three door sweeps: $10.70 each
  • CFLs: $150 worth
  • Recycling fridge: $200 ($50 cash plus $150 savings on electric bill)
  • Getting year-round savings on my utilities bills without hiring a handyman: priceless

That’s more than $600 in savings, plus lower energy bills in the future.

2. Soil analysis and advice

I can’t wait for the weather to warm up so I can get my hands dirty – in my garden. It’s a source of both pride and produce, but my beautiful flowers, herbs, and vegetables aren’t a credit to just my green thumb. I received free advice and a low-cost soil analysis from my local Department of Agriculture Extension Service.

For $10, the analysis let me know what’s in my soil – its acidity, nutrients, and contaminants. And the folks who performed the analysis also told me what fertilizers I needed to start using and which ones I needed to stop using. All of this came from the Cooperative Extension System, a nationwide network based at land-grant universities around the country, with regional offices staffed by experts. Find the extension service office nearest you by using their search tool.

Warning: Some local lawn services offer “free soil testing,” but there’s often a catch – you must sign up for their service or at least listen to their sales pitch. And not surprisingly, the test determines that you need the products they’re selling. So stick with the government, which (in this case anyway) has no reason to lie to you.

3. Unclaimed money

“State agencies are currently holding more than $32 billion in unclaimed property,” Money Talks News reported four months ago in Finding Unclaimed Cash.

But even with those odds, I knew I’d never find my name on any list of unclaimed property, because I keep such a close tab on all my money. But it couldn’t hurt to look. So I checked out National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators, which lists all the unclaimed property in all 50 states, plus Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico. To my surprise, I did find my name.

Years ago, I left my job at Home Depot and picked up my last check – or what I thought was my final one. Turns out, the company issued another check for my unused vacation time. That check sat in the store until it was eventually sent to the state treasury as “abandoned funds.”

After fetching that check, I investigated every state I ever lived in – and found another instance of the same thing. I also checked under my children’s names and found a small savings account opened when my oldest daughter was a baby (she turns 36 next month) that we forgot when we left the state. The total for all three claims was $358.

The most common types of abandoned property are utility deposits, credit balances, inactive checking and savings accounts, uncashed dividends, payroll or cashier’s checks, and life insurance policy proceeds. When making a claim, make sure the website ends in a “.gov” – you don’t need a website that offers to find your missing money for a fee.

Disclosure: The information you read here is always objective. However, we sometimes receive compensation when you click links within our stories.

Read Next
13 Affordable Products for a Better Night’s Rest
13 Affordable Products for a Better Night’s Rest

These Amazon products can help you finally catch 40 winks — or more.

21 Thrift Store Gems You Can Cash In On
21 Thrift Store Gems You Can Cash In On

Here’s what to look for at that overstuffed thrift store — and how you can make money from it.

26 Work-From-Home Jobs That Pay $100,000
26 Work-From-Home Jobs That Pay $100,000

These lucrative gigs let you work in your slippers.

21 Items to Cut From Your Budget That You Won’t Even Miss
21 Items to Cut From Your Budget That You Won’t Even Miss

Start off the new year by implementing these small-but-smart savings strategies. They’ll soon add up.

13 Small Gadgets Under $20 That Make Life Better
13 Small Gadgets Under $20 That Make Life Better

These inexpensive electronics will make your day-to-day life a little easier — and happier.

View this page without ads

Help us produce more money-saving articles and videos by subscribing to a membership.

Get Started

Most Popular
11 Things Retirees Should Always Buy at Costco
11 Things Retirees Should Always Buy at Costco

This leader in bulk shopping is a great place to find discounts in the fixed-income years.

Over 50? The CDC Says You Need These 4 Vaccines
Over 50? The CDC Says You Need These 4 Vaccines

Fall is the time to schedule vaccines that can keep you healthy — and even save your life.

9 Things You’ll Never See at Costco Again
9 Things You’ll Never See at Costco Again

The warehouse store offers an enormous selection, but these products aren’t coming back.

11 Senior Discounts for Anyone Age 55 or Older
11 Senior Discounts for Anyone Age 55 or Older

There is no need to wait until you’re 65 to take advantage of so-called “senior” discounts.

11 Household Items That Go Bad — or Become Dangerous
11 Household Items That Go Bad — or Become Dangerous

When you get the impulse to stockpile these everyday items, pay close attention to their expiration dates.

8 Things You Can Get for Free at Pharmacies
8 Things You Can Get for Free at Pharmacies

In this age of higher-priced drugs and complex health care systems, a trip to the pharmacy can spark worry. Freebies sure do help.

These Are the 4 Best Medicare Advantage Plans for 2020
These Are the 4 Best Medicare Advantage Plans for 2020

Medicare Advantage customers themselves rate these plans highest.

7 Ways to Boost Your Credit Score Fast
7 Ways to Boost Your Credit Score Fast

Your financial security might soon depend upon the strength of your credit score.

The 10 Most Commonly Stolen Vehicles in America
The 10 Most Commonly Stolen Vehicles in America

A new model parks atop the list of vehicles that thieves love to pilfer.

19 High-Paying Jobs You Can Get With a 2-Year Degree
19 High-Paying Jobs You Can Get With a 2-Year Degree

These jobs pay more than the typical job in the U.S. — and no bachelor’s degree is required.

5 Ways to Get Amazon Prime for Free
5 Ways to Get Amazon Prime for Free

Hesitant to drop $119 a year on an Amazon Prime membership? Here’s how to get it for free.

10 Reasons Why You Should Actually Retire at 62
10 Reasons Why You Should Actually Retire at 62

If you can, here are several good reasons to retire earlier than we’re told to.

3 Ways to Get Microsoft Office for Free
3 Ways to Get Microsoft Office for Free

With a little ingenuity, you can cut Office costs to zero.

14 Things That Are ‘Free’ With Medicare
14 Things That Are ‘Free’ With Medicare

These services could save you money and help prevent costly health problems.

26 States That Do Not Tax Social Security Income
26 States That Do Not Tax Social Security Income

These states won’t tax any of your Social Security income — and in some cases, other types of retirement income.

5 Keys to Making Your Car Last for 200,000 Miles
5 Keys to Making Your Car Last for 200,000 Miles

Pushing your car to 200,000 miles — and beyond — can save you piles of cash. Here’s how to get there.

5 Things That Make Life More Meaningful for Retirees
5 Things That Make Life More Meaningful for Retirees

Retirees agree: These are the things that give them purpose and fulfillment in their golden years.

10 Things You Should Never Do With Bleach
10 Things You Should Never Do With Bleach

Does the pandemic have you reaching for bleach more than ever before? Learn the ins and outs of using this powerful disinfectant.

15 Amazon Purchases That We Are Loving Right Now
15 Amazon Purchases That We Are Loving Right Now

These practical products make everyday life a little easier.

View More Articles

View this page without ads

Help us produce more money-saving articles and videos by subscribing to a membership.

Get Started

Add a Comment

Our Policy: We welcome relevant and respectful comments in order to foster healthy and informative discussions. All other comments may be removed. Comments with links are automatically held for moderation.