Friday, June 6, 2014

Saving the Moola: practical tips to drastically reduce your energy bill!

photo credit
Jason and I are huge advocates for doing everything we can to save energy. Not only does this benefit our wallets, but it also benefits the environment. I recently read a fiction book (The Here and Now by Ann Brashares) where one of the characters talks about how everyone in the early to mid 2000s does green things but it doesn't really make an impact on the environment.

I will get to the practical tips, but I just have to say really quickly: anything you can do to save even a tiny sliver of energy is still saving a tiny sliver of energy. You'll also notice it in your bill. If nothing else, at least be happy you're going to save money.

Onto my energy story and tips... this past winter was incredibly brutal in terms of very low temps. We live in about a 1,200 square foot apartment on the third floor. We do have the benefit in the winter of having heat rise from below us. We also have a very large window in our living room, and when the sun comes in, it heats the house up pretty well. But we also kept the heat at about 60 degrees. Honestly, sometimes it was a little colder than I would have liked, but I honestly love winter. I love the cold. I love snuggling up with a blanket and Jason and my girl and my cat and watching a movie, reading a book or knitting something. That is my idea of a good time.

During the winter of '14, I was on a very frugal kick (that kick has not ended, by the way). I did everything I could to save on costs. Here are some of the things I did that resulted in a $0 energy bill for our April usage. Our bill was $0 in part due to a bad estimation from a previous month, but we have not paid more than $140 for our energy total since I can remember so please keep that in mind.

Turn off the lights
At night, I used a flashlight with rechargeable batteries to read or pick up around the house. I also am a huge fan of flameless candles (with rechargeable batteries inside, of course). I also have been known to use our Kindle Fire's flashlight app to read or find my way around the house at night. During the day and even early morning, I often went without lights and used whatever daylight was available. I couldn't quite manage to shower without the lights on, but I do get ready for the day with the bathroom light off. I use Energizer brand of rechargeable batteries, you can buy flameless candles anywhere and most (if not all) flashlight apps are free.

Use your slow cooker and keep the oven off
Slow cookers use far less energy than an oven. According to this article, a slow cooker used for seven hours uses 10 cents of energy and an oven for 1 hour uses 20 cents. Do that four times a week and you'll save $1.60 in one month. Use your slow cooker to make a one-pot meal, and you'll likely save more. There are other good reasons to use a slow cooker. Read about those other reasons here. We own 4 different slow cookers, and if I had more space and money, I'd buy more. Slow cookers are relatively cheap, though, and there are in abundance at garage sales and thrift stores. I highly recommend a 3 qt, 4.5 qt and 6 qt size. There are several great slow cooker books available at your local library. I love the Fix It and Forget It cookbooks.

Use your oven to heat your home
I know that sounds hypocritical, but give me a second to explain myself: if you do use your own at all for cooking, after you've pulled your dish out and turned the oven off, leave the oven door cracked. All the leftover heat from cooking will spill out into your home and add some extra warmth.

Turn off the oven before your dish is done
This is a newer tip I recently started implementing, and it works wonderfully! I wouldn't necessarily do this with baking since those cooking times are often short. A lot of the casseroles we make call for cheese to be added, then we bake the dish for another 3 minutes for the cheese to melt. When the timer goes off for me to add the cheese, I pull the dish out, add the cheese, pop the dish back in, turn off the oven and set the timer for 3 minutes. This saves a bit of energy and the cheese is perfectly melted when the 3 minutes are oven. If you're baking a dish for 30 minutes or more, turn off the oven 3 - 5 minutes before the dish is due to be done and I doubt you'll notice a difference.

Unplug everything*
Really examine everything you have plugged in. I was shocked when I realized how much we had plugged in just in Bug's room (2 lights, a nightlight, and a big power strip for our printer, internet, etc.). We ditched the nightlight and unplugged a lamp. She doesn't sleep in there yet anywhere so the nightlight isn't necessary. We never used one of the lamps so I unplugged that. We also unplugged various other things around the house for good and we also make it a point to keep items unplugged when we're not using them, particularly the KitchenAid mixer, the VitaMix blender and the toaster. I recommend finding a Kill-a-Watt or purchasing one (and if you do and live in the area, please let me borrow it!!). A Kill-a-Watt will let you know how much energy your devices are using. This will help motivate you to unplug them and/or decide if you need a new one. *Please do not unplug your freezer or fridge.

Take out light bulbs
We have two bathrooms and each one has 8 bulbs for the vanity. That's a lot of lighting! We also have a ceiling fan with four bulbs in our dining room. Many have reported taking out half the bulbs and not really noticing a difference. I do notice a difference in our dining room, mainly because there are no windows in our dining room so we have no natural light. But our bathrooms are fine without extra lights. You'll not only save money on the energy, but you'll also save money on light bulbs! Also, this goes without saying I think, but only use energy-saving bulbs.

Line dry your clothes
Set up an indoor clothesline and/or use metal drying racks to dry your clothes. We line dry everything except bedding, and I love it. I had never had line dried anything before we started doing it 3 years ago, and I will never go back. You can read more about line drying here. We have this clothesline and drying racks similar to these. Everyone who has seen our drying racks are highly impressed with them.

Collect rainwater outside
Our water usage isn't included in our energy bill, but I thought I'd throw in some water tips for good measure, too. Set buckets outside to collect water and use that water for boiling pasta, watering plants, giving your pet water, washing dishes, etc.

Collect water from your shower while it heats up
This might just be an us thing, but we have to run our water for a few minutes before we use it for it to heat up. We collect the water from the shower and use for everything mentioned above.

Save water from boiling pasta, potatoes, etc.
We save the water we use when cooking and use that to water our garden. It's a good way to use up the leftover water, especially since it can't really be used for anything else.

Hand wash clothes
There are a couple of different ways to do this. One way is to wash your clothes while you shower. I have personally never tried that, so I don't know how well that works. You can read more about that method here. Another way is to buy this handy-dandy washer tool and wash your clothes that way. Jason and I have done this off and on for a few years, just depending on our current season of life. It is a tool that I will never, ever get rid of. It is too darn handy and useful. Anyway, I digress a bit. You can also use rainwater or water collected from your shower for washing clothes so you're not really using any extra water. It does take a bit of effort, in that it takes more effort to hand wash than it does to put clothes in a washer, but it's a good little exercise and the only energy you're expending is your own. I don't know for certain, but I have a feeling the portable washer uses less water than a real washer.

Hand wash dishes
We hand wash a lot of dishes, and it's not always a pleasant task while I'm doing it, but I always feel happy after. Since you may be using water you collected, it definitely uses less water and the only energy you're expending is, again, your own.

Don't dry your dishes
If you do use a dishwasher, turn off the heated dry component. This is really easy for us to do since ours doesn't work to my satisfaction anyway, but if you do turn off the component, this saves energy. If you want your dishes dried faster, dry them yourself.

Step away from all electronics
We watch very little TV/movies, and you'll often times find our TV tucked away in a closet (unplugged). We also are very cognizant of how much time we spend on devices, even though I'll be the first to admit we spend way more time than I'd like on them. We work off paper for chore and to-do lists, and we mostly read physical books. We do keep our personal and work calendars strictly online. Maybe someday we'll go to a paper-only version of our calendar. The more you're not on electronics, the more you can keep them unplugged. I use my phone as little as possible, and I only need to charge it every 3 - 4 days or 3 hours or so.

Charge your items somewhere else
This is a really frugal tip and not for those who are faint at heart. Take your electronics (like your phone, tablet, computer, etc.) and charge them somewhere else, like McDonald's, a family member's/friend's house while you're visiting, work, etc. I will fully admit: I have totally done this. Multiple times. I do not go somewhere else just to charge my items, but if I'm going somewhere anyway, I do grab my phone charger and Kindle Fire charger with the explicit purpose to charge them where I'm going.

You may find some of these ideas to be uncomfortable. But I find three-digit energy bills to be more uncomfortable. I pick my battles wisely and this is one battle I am definitely winning. It does take energy and effort on your part, but I truly believe that if you're willing to put in the work and make sacrifices, you will see a huge decrease in your bill.

If you have any tips to share, please feel free to do so! I am always looking for fresh, new ways to save money.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Found your blog a few days ago and I'm really enjoying it...your faith and your humor are so evident in all you write.

I'm pretty much on target with all the money saving ideas/techniques, but the drug stores have me somewhat baffled, so I will be scouring your ideas for getting through the maze of redeeming coupons, gaining rewards, etc.

Thank you for all that you so willingly share.

Mindy

Jess and Jason said...

Mindy, thank you SO much for your comment! I'm so happy you're here. A couple of years ago, I did a brief series called "Winning at Walgreen's." In actuality, I think I won far more at CVS than I ever did at Walgreen's :) That might be a good place to start. CVS's Coupon Center is pretty much the coolest machine ever. You can scan your card up to a few times a day and get coupons! I just scan mine three times in a row or until the machine tells there's no more coupons.

If there's ever a topic you'd like me to cover, just give me a holler. Also, feel free to join the party at our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/JandJNewLeaf

I post good deals as I find them on the FB page (a few times a week), but more than not, I post about our zany life.

Blessings and a big hug to you!
Jess

Anonymous said...

Ha! I had no idea I could stand there at the Coupon Center and keep scanning my card. Will give it a whirl tomorrow. This is so exciting! Doesn't take much to get us tickled, does it?

Mindy

HouseLogic said...

I'm always looking for ways to save money on energy, especially during the hot, hot summer!

Jess and Jason said...

I hope some of these ideas helped! We've been using less energy this summer compared to last, so I'm a pretty happy camper.