I’m a pusher.
With this blog, I stand on a virtual street corner to sell a beguiling stimulant known as “frugality.”
Frugality isn’t something you inject or inhale. Instead, frugality is something that works best when you swallow it whole—like a big pill. And unlike the pill named “ecstasy,” frugality delivers the genuine article: a full release from the hassles of demanding jobs, office politics, and congested commutes. Once frugality becomes a habit, daily economic turmoil fades away. Hard-core users live in a nirvana of peace and freedom.
As I work my street corner, I see around me a ghetto of overspending. People strive to possess more than they need. They squander precious hours in the pursuit of superfluous dollars. They burden themselves with huge debts. The dysfunctional result: everyone gets profoundly stressed.
Maybe you’re stressed out yourself. Or maybe like me you’re interested in pushing your frugality habit upon others.
Either way, I have a powerful secret to share: an introductory drug that can turn the most ardent consumers into hard-core users of frugality.
TRY A FREE SAMPLE
My unwashed white van is parked right here. Let me slide the door open, pull out a Ziploc bag, and present to you the best gateway to frugality ever.
It’s the utility bill.
Why do utilities introduce frugality so well?
- This Gateway Drug Is Easy to Take. As a pusher of frugality, I get heavy pushback. “This frugality thing you’re talking about,” retort potential customers, “it seems like a hard pill to swallow.” And they’re right. Frugality can’t be consumed in a single sitting. So sometimes you need to start with small doses and build up from there. The utilities fix is easy to swallow because it’s just a small sample of the full-scale prescription.
- This Gateway Drug Doesn’t Require Much Bookkeeping. Frugality involves a lot of accounting. Hard core users invest many hours tracking expenditures, compiling net worth figures, and managing their taxes. But in the case of utilities, users don’t have to dig into many numbers. Meter readers do all that work and they do it every month.
- This Gateway Drug Doesn’t Concern Emotive Expenses. Much spending is motivated by deep desires for status or acceptance. Not so with utilities. No one cares about keeping up with the Joneses’ lavish gas and electric spending. As a result, energy savings sidestep many emotional minefields that surround other spending cuts.
- This Gateway Drug Works Fast. I hear a common push-back from prospects: “Sure, you’ve got all the time in the world to indulge your frugality addiction,” they exclaim, “you’re retired!” Rather than getting into an lengthy argument about this, it’s much quicker to produce a small pill and say: “Here’s something good that enters your system in no time flat.” Utilities deliver a fast frugal fix: by making a few small changes, newbies can enjoy an instant head rush of easy savings.
A USER’S REPORT OF HIS LATEST TRIP
I became a heavy consumer of frugality in the mid-1990’s. But I never paid much attention to my gas and electric bills until after I retired in 2008. I thought I was doing fine by just turning off lights and dialing down thermostats. In this I was wrong. My energy expenses remained unnecessarily high during my first fifteen years of home ownership.
At this late date, when it comes to utilities I’ve seen the light. I’ve swallowed the gas and electric bill-pill twice now. The first time, which was at our old house in the mountains, I enthused about the resulting buzz in this post from 2014. The second time came after Mrs. Moose and I decided to move into the home that she and her brother inherited from their parents. We’ve lived in that house for just over two years now, so I’m able to provide an in-depth report about our mind-blowing savings.
During 2013-14, when my in-laws lived in the house, electricity usage averaged 725 kilowatt hours (kWhs) per month. During 2015-16, when we lived in the house, electricity use dropped by 53 percent to 339 kWhs per month. Here’s a spreadsheet of monthly meter readings:
How did we get such mind-bending results? It boils down to five easy changes:
- The Geezer Freezer. The garage housed an old freezer. Our local utility paid us $50 for it and hauled it away for free. I figure this saved us about 2400 kWh per year (see my gloating post here).
- The Less-Than-Frugal Fridge. The garage also housed an old refrigerator. Our local utility paid $50 for this too. I figure this saved us about 1200 kWh per year.
- LED Dimmable Bulbs. My in-laws favored dimming circuits on much of their lighting. Until recently, dimmable LEDs were expensive, so most of their bulbs were incandescent. But then our utility sponsored a big sale of LED dimmables at Costco. We pounced, buying fourteen LED floodlights for $6 each (retail was $10 apiece) and eighteen standard LED light bulbs for $2 each (retail was $6.66 apiece). This $136 in lighting might seem unduly expensive, but it’s mostly offset by the $100 we received for the fridge and freezer.
- A Taxing Television. We watch TV much less than our in-laws did—three hours versus sixteen hours per day. We also replaced their older Sony, which drew 155 watts, with our newer Vizio, which draws only 86.3 watts. We figure these changes save about 800 kWh per year.
- Lower Thermostats. I’m no expert on gas boilers, but I know they draw electricity for the gas-air mixer, zone valves, and pressure pump. Lower thermostats produce lower electric bills.
We also saved on our natural gas bill, which is measured in Therms—a unit of heat representing 100,000 BTUs. During 2013-14, gas usage averaged 81.54 therms per month. During 2015-16, this dropped by 21 percent to 64.38 therms per month. Here’s a spreadsheet of the meter readings:
Why the 21 percent drop?
- Nighttime Thermostats at 60°F. At night we sleep cozy on a heated mattress pad.
- Daytime Thermostats at 65°F. We wear sweaters, run small electric heaters, and sit under heated throws while watching TV.
- Low-Flow Showerhead. Our utility gave us a free showerhead when we lived in the mountains and they gave us another one when we moved down the hill. These low-flow designs deliver huge savings, which I’ve blogviated about here.
- Low-Flow Aerator. Our utility also gave us a free faucet aerator, which we installed in the master bathroom. The aerator saves only about $8 per year on natural gas, but it saves three times that much on the water/sewer bills. For details, click here.
Lower energy use produces big savings—and a big head rush. During 2013-14 the utility bills on the house totaled $3,978.99. During 2015-16, they dropped by 42 percent to $2311.59—for savings of $833.70 per year. And yes, that gives me a ridiculous high!
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If you’re interested in getting high on utilities savings yourself, I’ve prepared a checklist of all the things you can do to slash your home energy bills. To put it to use, click here.
I’ve also prepared a series of short checklists that you can post on individual appliances. To see those, click here.
Photo by Marc Falardeau