Frugality’s Secret Gateway Drug

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.


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?

Several reasons.

  • 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.


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:

KwH 2013 2014 2015 2016
January 656 754 468 533
February 619 608 360 428
March 565 706 340 335
April 788 1190 283 308
May 754 1105 316 281
June 596 886 225 304
July 851 889 291 316
August 635 796 271 316
September 962 804 290 320
October 631 497 242 338
November 696 364 392 290
December 618 426 476 415
Totals 8371 9025 3954 4184

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.

Natural Gas

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:

Therms 2013 2014 2015 2016
January 181 182 198 175
February 156 146 191 123
March 145 126 89 85
April 102 102 57 77
May 91 51 48 51
June 15 12 24 23
July 10 8 9 6
August 8 9 4 8
September 25 8 8 10
October 55 35 27 34
November 90 63 55 28
December 153 184 121 94
Totals 1031 926 831 714

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.

Massive Savings

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!

Bill  2013 2014 2015 2016
January $204.95 $231.91 $213.83 $170.67
February $186.99 $196.59 $196.30 $127.33
March $174.68 $193.86 $105.00 $99.65
April $173.53 $235.03 $89.16 $91.99
May $162.85 $193.99 $83.58 $75.15
June $103.33 $149.15 $61.14 $66.18
July $145.67 $159.49 $60.10 $60.82
August $108.76 $142.66 $54.17 $62.43
September $174.88 $134.92 $58.05 $64.45
October $137.61 $110.24 $63.63 $79.09
November $163.65 $112.03 $96.70 $71.86
December $194.26 $187.96 $140.59 $119.72
Totals $1,931.16 $2,047.83 $1,222.25 $1,089.34

*   *   *

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

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16 Responses to Frugality’s Secret Gateway Drug

  1. Andrew @ Dollar After Dollar December 29, 2016 at 10:16 AM #

    I will definitely do an energy audit after reading this. Some summer months here in Florida, our electric bill can get to $300. I know this is way too high.

    The savings you’ve achieved are substantial. Keep it up!


    • A Noonan Moose December 29, 2016 at 11:06 AM #

      Andrew: At least you don’t have to deal with the cold. Thanks so much for stopping in from the Sunshine State!

  2. Go Finance Yourself! January 6, 2017 at 4:59 AM #

    Impressive numbers. Nice work! I didn’t know there were dimmable LED bulbs. I’ll have to check those out. We keep our nighttime thermostat at the same level as you. It stays low during the day when we’re at work. When we’re home it goes a little higher than yours at 68 degrees. We do try to keep the AC and furnace off for as long as possible during the spring and fall months.

    Thanks for sharing!
    Go Finance Yourself! recently posted…2016 Review: Where I Invest My MoneyMy Profile

    • A Noonan Moose January 6, 2017 at 11:04 AM #

      GFY–the dimmables we installed were bought at Costco and are made by Feit Electric. The dimmable recessed bulbs put out 750 lumens and are meant to replace 65 watt incandescents. The dimmable omni-directional bulbs put out 810 lumens and replace 60 watt incandescents. Thanks for stopping in!

  3. Physician On FIRE January 6, 2017 at 6:56 AM #

    Solid results and savings, Frugal Fringe!

    Ditching the old appliances and installing the LEDs are great moves. The 65 F thermostat, though? If you’re running electric heat and sitting under electric blankets for comfort, I’m not sure you’re doing yourself a huge favor in terms of comfort or costs. Gas heat is almost certainly cheaper than electric, but you’d have to do the math. Comfort has a value, too. We’ve settled on 69 F in the winter, exactly 98 degrees warmer than the outdoor temperature we woke up to today.


    • A Noonan Moose January 6, 2017 at 10:50 AM #

      Apparently, you and i are experiencing only four degrees of separation—where’s Kevin Bacon setting his thermostats?

  4. Mrs. Picky Pincher January 6, 2017 at 7:11 AM #

    This is a good point. 🙂 Electricity is one of the first expenses we worked on when we started getting out of debt. We installed a smart thermostat, bought energy efficient appliances, and installed LED bulbs. Woo!
    Mrs. Picky Pincher recently posted…Picky Nikki Tries Hello FreshMy Profile

    • A Noonan Moose January 6, 2017 at 10:45 AM #

      Newcomers to frugality get excited each time they “kill a watt.” 🙂

  5. Kraken Fireball January 6, 2017 at 9:06 PM #

    You removed a refrigerator and a freezer, those are some easy wins I can appreciate. I never knew how much LED bulbs can save you over incandescents until I ran the numbers myself. I’m glad there are cold hard numbers here I can point at when I’m pushing the frugality drug myself. Thanks for taking the time to record the facts and share them!

    • A Noonan Moose January 7, 2017 at 9:23 AM #

      Hey Kraken, when you write about “cold hard numbers,” is that a dig on my 65F winter thermostat setting? 😉

      • Kraken Fireball January 9, 2017 at 6:42 PM #

        Haha, I meant it as a play on fridges and freezers but apparently, it works on other levels.
        Kraken Fireball recently posted…Don’t Quit Your Day JobMy Profile

        • A Noonan Moose January 9, 2017 at 10:22 PM #

          Either way, you have a cool sense of humor! 🙂

  6. Xyz from OurFinancialPath January 19, 2017 at 8:23 AM #

    I’m not sure about DEL lights… They are quite expensive to purchase so is there still savings to be made after the purchase price?
    Xyz from OurFinancialPath recently posted…Maximize Home and HappinessMy Profile

    • A Noonan Moose January 19, 2017 at 9:12 AM #

      Xyz: you’re right that the bulbs are typically expensive—unless, of course, they’re at a Costco sales price which is heavily subsidized by the local utility, as they were in our case. Also, the utility gave us yet a further subsidy of $100 in exchange for an old fridge and ancient freezer we allowed them to haul away. Counting all the subsidies, we paid US $1.12 per bulb on the 32 dimmables we installed—which i regard as a solid score in the cheapness department. But wait, there’s more. Our net cost of $36 for the 32 bulbs represents what we pay here in Colorado for 327 kWh (at US $0.11 per kWh). The bulbs were installed in November, 2014, so if they’ve saved us a measly 12.5 kWh per month, which i believe they have, then at this late date we’ve already recouped the $36 we originally paid for them. So the net price of the bulbs is ZERO. But wait, there’s still more! Going forward from this point in time, the bulbs are actually making us a little money each month, thus throwing further “light” on the “power” of a frugal energy strategy. 🙂 Thanks for stopping in!


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