October 16, 2009

An $80 Utility Bill!

I’m reposting this for the Frugal Fridays posts at Life as Mom

This week as I was prepping for the mozzarella and yogurt class, my husband called me on my cell phone. He had opened the bills and was pleasantly surprised when he found our utility bill to be $80.  Since $4 of that is a buy in to green energy (an elected added fee), our utility bill was really $76 for the month of September.  We were ecstatic!

We have been graphing our utility usage for the last 3 years to have a visible representation of how our energy saving steps are working.  During the last two Septembers, the bills didn’t even come close to being that low.  The cooler weather and rain had a lot to do with the decrease expense—we know that.  Yet, the gains that we are seeing each month, each year, as we have a different kind of lifestyle is both gratifying and motivating. 

I’ve included some of the energy saving steps we have taken in hopes that this post will inspire you and your family. 

  • We use CFL bulbs in most of our lights and LED night lights.
  • We changed our thermostat to a programmable thermostat
  • We changed out almost all of the windows and doors in the house.  This prevents air gaps in the winter and summer months.  In the fall and spring we open the windows to let in warm or cool air.
  • We use drapes and blinds to help reduce the warmth that comes in during the summer and prevent the escape of the heat in the winter.  Even though we have new windows, this still occurs to a small degree.
  • We use ceiling fans in the summer months to stay cool.  In the winter we enjoy our fireplace.  While a wood burning stove would be even more efficient, we have not yet made that step.  It is a future goal.
  • We use draft dodgers under the doors of cooler parts of the house. 
  • We close off some rooms that are not as often used to reduce heat and air expenses.
  • We have a two story home and the basement is finished and partially under ground.  We sleep upstairs in the winter and downstairs in the summer.  (Warm air rises).
  • We dress appropriately for the weather, use blankets, and sweaters to stay warm.
  • We unplug electrical items that are not in use.
  • I bake more in the winter and use the toaster oven or no-heat meals in the summer.
  • If and when I use the self cleaning feature of the oven, I do so right after I’ve made pita bread (when the oven is already heated up to a very high temp). 
  • I don’t preheat the oven unless it is a sensitive dish like a popovers.
  • We keep the freezer/fridge full so that it runs more efficiently. 
  • We use a rain barrel when we need to water the garden (needed to only 7 times this entire year), potted plants, or wash off dirt from shoes, etc.
  • We try to grow plants that are adaptable to our climate to prevent the need for watering.
  • We take short showers and baths.
  • We wear heavy duty clothes like jeans more than once.  We hang our Sunday clothes up after use.  I did this for all of my childhood, and I’m not traumatized.  We have work clothes, outdoor play clothes, and dress or casual clothes.  At the risk of sounding ancient, people are a little spoiled when it comes to things like this.  No, we don’t wear smelly clothes or soiled clothes, but we are prudent. 
  • We hang items to dry in the house when we can.  (Due to allergies we do not line dried items outside).
  • We run full loads of dishes and laundry to save water and energy.
  • We have turned off the heat dry function of the dishwasher and air dry them.  We open the dishwasher slightly when it completes its cycle to help them dry thoroughly.
  • When entering a room, we ask, “Do I really need to turn this light on?”  We use ambient lighting and task lighting when possible.
  • Instead of washing foods under a stream of running water, I use a basin of water and then do a final rinse with a quick spray of water.  Leftover water from this and cooking goes to water potted plants outside.
  • Leftover glasses of water are used to water the houseplants.
  • We “play chicken” with turning on the heat in the winter and air in the summer.
  • We stay well hydrated in the summer to reduce sensitivity to the heat.  We drink warm beverages and eat soup in the winter.
  • We turn off our computer when it is not in use.  (Ok, ok, it is in use a lot, but we also make a habit of turning it off whenever we will be away from it for a while).
  • We air dry our hair.  This goes a lot faster since I cut my hair for locks of love (sometimes miss the long hair, though). 
  • We use carry over heat when cooking to turn the stove top and oven off a few minutes sooner.  We use lids when heating water. 
  • We turn off the water when brushing teeth—this one I’ve heard so long now, I’m almost sick of saying it.  Really, do people still leave the water on just for the sound??
  • We do not wear our shoes in the house.  This reduces the number of times per week that I need to mop and vacuum.  Yes, I still do those chores at least one time per week.
  • We wash clothes and linens in cold water whenever possible. 
  • When it is really cold or really hot in the house, I make those times of the day the times when I run my errands.  I also try to plan my cooking around those times.  At the coldest part of the day, I do any baking, cooking, or canning. 
  • After the tub has been used, I do not drain it immediately in the winter.  I use the heat from the water to warm the bathroom as I brush my teeth, put on make-up, etc.  BE AWARE NOT TO DO THIS IF YOU HAVE YOUNG CHLDREN AROUND WHO MIGHT BE AROUND.  THE RISK OF DROWNING IS NOT WORTH THE EXTRA MONEY SAVING!
  • We use bath towels more than one time.
  • While it does not save us money, we still try to use the dishwasher and washing machine at night to reduce energy pull from the main station.  Some areas do give a reduced energy rate for certain times of the day.
  • We wear socks in the winter.  I’m a Southern gal and for most of my life went barefooted around the house instead of wearing socks.  My hubby finally convinced me to wear socks to keep my feet from freezing. 
  • We use rice bags to heat the bed. 
  • We do not watch a ton of television and make a point to turn it and other electrical devices off when not in use.
  • When we have needed to replace things in our home like the air conditioner or dishwasher we make sure to replace it with an energy efficient option.

I’m sure I’ll think of some more, but for now, I hope this list will give you some tips and ideas to try. 


  1. Gabrielle, since you're clearly dedicated to effectively saving money on household expenses, I wonder if you've considered cutting down on your cell bill. People tend to think of wireless costs as fixed, but you can tinker with your plan to optimize your features to best suit your usage and often save significant cash in the process. I work in the consumer advocacy division of the company Validas, where we electronically audit and subsequently reduce the average cell bill by 22 percent through our website, http://www.fixmycellbill.com. Put simply, Validas guards against frivolous and unnecessary charges that inflate your cell bill more than it should be for your usage.

    You can find out for free if fixmycellbill.com can modify your plan to better suit your needs by going to the website.
    For more info, check out Validas in the national news media, most recently on Fox News at http://www.myfoxtampabay.com/dpp/consumer/conlaw/lower_cell_phone_bills_072409 .

    Good luck on further savings, especially in light of this unforgiving economy.

    Consumer Advocacy, fixmycellbill.com

  2. It is hard to know what you really saved when you compare the dollar amount of your bill in prior year vs. current year. Energy fluctuates in price per unit of measure. A much more helpful way to compare would be to observe units of energy used in prior year vs. current year.

  3. Perhaps I should have added--
    We have an excel file with multiple spreadsheet graphs. One graphs the monetary amount of the bills, one graphs the amount of water used, another the amount of gas, etc. So, yes, we do know how much we saved and are thrilled with the results. Thanks for the comment, though! It was a good reminder I should have added that information.

  4. We save the bath water and use it to flush the toilet.This alone brought our water bill down almost 10$ a month.That's 120$ a year that we now have to use for other things. mary1day