Inspiring ideas from Bottom Line’s experts

Each year, we ask a selection of our Bottom Line/Personal experts to think back on the past 12 months and identify something they did that went so well for them that they would recommend others try it next year. This year’s inspiring responses…

DAVID L. KATZ, MD: I prioritized fun. In the past, I tried to find time for free time, waiting for gaps between responsibilities to appear in my schedule, but those gaps were increasingly rare. This year, I committed to making time for recreation. I scheduled it, then treated it as a commitment.

I also committed to making better use of my recreation time. I thought through what form of recreation gives me the most enjoyment and concluded that it was horseback riding.

Recreation is more than just pleasure—it’s conducive to good health. When we do things we truly love on a regular basis, our stress levels decrease.

ELLIE KRIEGER: I tricked myself into not snacking after dinner. My jeans were becoming snug at the waist, and I knew why—I had been snacking more and more in the evenings, mainly out of habit not true hunger.

At first, it was tough to break the snacking pattern. Then I discovered that if I made myself a cup of herbal tea when I felt a snack attack coming on, I could replace my snacking habit with a harmless herbal-tea-sipping habit. Most herbal teas have no caffeine or calories.

Once I stopped snacking in the evenings, I didn’t wake up in the morning feeling stuffed, so I started enjoying breakfast again, which gave me more energy early in the day. Now I’m healthier and more energized—and my jeans fit better, too.

KARL BRAUER: I self-installed a solar power system in my home. When I started working from a home office last year, my electric bills climbed to between $200 and $250 per month. I looked into having a solar power system installed, but it would have cost $30,000.

Then I discovered that I could put in a simple solar system myself. Everything I needed was available on Amazon.com. I started with a pair of solar panels on my roof, a pair of 12-volt batteries to store the power that those panels generated and a 1,000-watt inverter (about the size of a gaming console) that allows me to run standard 110-volt household appliances off those batteries. To avoid drilling holes down through the house, I connected the panels to the batteries by running their wires through PVC pipes that I attached to the outside of my home. I then ran the wires into the house by enlarging an existing cable-TV hole that wasn’t being used. Once the system was all hooked up, I simply plugged some of my power-hungry home-office electronics into the inverter. I didn’t wire the solar panels into my home’s existing power system or the power grid, so I didn’t even have to hire an electrician.

After I saw that the system worked well, I added additional panels and batteries. In the end, I spent around $10,000 and cut my electricity bills to less than $100 per month. My solar power system should pay for itself in about eight years. As a bonus, I still have electricity during power failures.

A company called Sunforce makes solar panel kits that are offered on Amazon.com, ranging from about $300 for 60-watt kits to about $1,000 for 260-watt kits. You also will need high-quality batteries—I’m using Lifeline AGM batteries (which cost about $850 apiece). Go to www.LifelineBatteries.com to find a distributor.

TERRY KOVEL: I cleaned out my attic. I wasn’t looking forward to this chore—I have lived in my current home for more than a quarter of a century, and my family and I have been stowing things in the attic for all of those years. But I knew I would have to clear out the attic eventually—I’m nearing the age when it makes sense to downsize.

Surprisingly, cleaning out the attic turned out to be enjoyable. I found valuable items that I had forgotten I owned—including a pair of 19th-century carriage lights worth around $1,500. I found still-useful products that I could donate to charity, taking things that were gathering dust and getting them to people who could really use them. I also found memories I haven’t thought of in years, such as the letters my late husband, Ralph, and I wrote to each other when we were courting.

MICHAEL FLOYD, JD: I double-checked my medical bill. I have spent my career ferreting out lies, but even I have to remind myself to be skeptical in my personal life.

Recently I reminded myself to be skeptical when I received a medical bill. The bill was very complex—I had seen a series of doctors—so it was difficult for me to determine if it was accurate. Rather than assume that it was correct, I contacted the provider’s billing department and asked for an explanation of each of the listings—and an explanation of why I had required each procedure. The provider eventually agreed that two of the procedures had not been necessary and reduced my bill by around $450.

STEVEN LAMM, MD: I became much more conscious of my gluten intake. A significant percentage of the adult population—by some estimates more than 5%—has trouble digesting gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley and rye. People who have gluten sensitivity generally experience gas, bloating and cramping when they consume bread or pasta. Other potential symptoms could include fatigue and headaches.

When I put myself on a gluten-free diet for two weeks, I found that my digestion improved noticeably, suggesting that I probably am somewhat gluten-sensitive. I haven’t stopped eating bread and pasta entirely, but I now take an enzyme supplement, such as Enzymedica’s Digest Gold, available online and in health-food stores, when I consume gluten-rich foods.