Saving Pennies and the Planet

Although I love the responsibility and privilege of living on my own, there are a few dreadful things that come around periodically that require attention: bills. Yes, it’s true. No matter how hard I try, I just can’t get rid of them. And it stinks, because I don’t like to give all my hard-earned money to someone else. Do you know how many hours I have to work to afford my cell phone??

As I work toward that 60% Solution Paola mentioned in her column, I’m looking for ways to whittle down expenses. And fortunately, my job with a utility company has taught me some not-so-obvious little things that add up to big difference in my own utility bills.

First, the obvious: reduce use. When it comes to utilities, the less you use, the less you pay for. Here are some tricks I’ve learned:

  • Unplug anything with an indicator light: your cell phone charger, laptop charger and even your microwave.
  • Turn your surge protector to “off” when you are not using anything that is plugged into it.
  • Wash your clothes and run the dishwasher in the cooler evenings to save in two ways: one, you are not putting more heat into your home while your air conditioner is working the hardest to cool it; and two, you can save by waiting for off-peak hours to use a lot of electricity.
  • Insulate as well as you can. This can be tough when you rent, but some things you can do are invest in thermal curtains and leave curtains and blinds closed during the day.
  • Invest in energy-efficient fluorescent bulbs (the swirly kind) that use a fraction as much energy as traditional incandescent bulbs.

Last winter, I used space heaters and an electric fireplace to supplement my central gas heating system. Since electricity is cheaper than gas right now (although this can and does fluctuate), I heated only the space I was in and used cheaper energy to do it. No sense in heating the whole house if I’m only going to sit in the living room. Oh, but careful with those space heaters! Keep the area in front of them clear of anything combustible.

If you want to steer clear of space heaters or already heat with electric, consider shutting the vents in the spaces you don’t use as much and closing the doors on them. Also, adjust your thermostat so that you’ll be comfortable in the room you spend the most time in. This saves money in the hot summer months as well.

A friend of mine keeps her thermostat set low in the winter – like in the 60s – and she can do this because her bedroom is toasty compared to the rest of the house. Then when she’s at work during the day, it doesn’t matter that the rest of the house is cool. So she only needs to crank the heat for a few hours in the evening and on the weekend.

Talk to your landlord or lady about getting a programmable thermostat too. They only cost about $40 and you can save that back in the first month of use by setting the heat and air to work minimally while you’re away, kick in when you’re home and moving about, and then settle down again when you do at night. You program the thermostat once and then it takes care of adjusting the temp for you all season long.

Last summer, I couldn’t figure out why my gas bill was so high when I only use gas for heating. I learned that, first of all, there is a minimum charge even if I don’t use any gas, so I shouldn’t expect a $0 bill just because it’s hot outside. Secondly, my water heater is on natural gas, so unless I take cold showers, I will always have at least a small bill. But how could I reduce this? The simple answer is to use more cold water. But how?

Unless you are one who waits for the water to get warm before you wash your hands (which can waste a lot of water), you probably are not going to wash in warm water even if you turn on the hot side of the faucet. But, when you turn on the hot side of the faucet, you are indicating to your water heater that it needs to fire up. If you don’t plan on waiting for the water to warm anyway, you might as well turn on the cold faucet – same hand-washing experience, uses less gas.

When it comes to conserving water, remember that moderate-length showers use significantly less water than most baths. If you hand-wash your dishes, wash them in a sink full of soapy water and set them aside to rinse together at the end. Rinsing each dish individually uses more water than rinsing the whole sink at once. If you water your plants, you might check the forecast first. There is nothing more annoying than watering my plants right before it rains! For more on saving water, visit the various links on how to save water in the bathroom, kitchen, laundry and outside at http://www.saveonutilities.com

One final tip: recycle! Do you know I actually save money because I pay for a weekly recycling pick-up service? Rates will vary greatly depending on where you live, but I pay a small fee for recycling that includes cardboard, paper, plastic and aluminum, which makes up about 75% of my trash. On the flip side, the less garbage destined for the landfill that I put out, the more money I save with my garbage service. The amount I save by having less trash greatly exceeds the amount I spend for the recycling service.

The most important thing with any of your bills is to be conscientious. Most utility companies have literature to teach about conservation: get it, read it and start saving!

Although my primary motivator for reducing use is monetary, I’m also trying to be a steward of God’s earth. Regardless of your political position on “going green” and preventing global warming, you can’t argue with good stewardship. God gave us dominion over all the earth, but that doesn’t mean He gave us carte blanche to trash it! Let’s be grateful for creation by using as little of it as we have to. Among the positive results will be a little extra green in your bank account each month.

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