$206 was my highest electric bill this hot summer

Yes, that’s my thermostat.  It’s reading 92°.   No, I don’t want to turn my air conditioner back on.  One cool day is all need to motivate me to turn it off until the heat is needed.  I’m tired of the high electric bills.  I’m fine in the low 90’s down in Mexico, why not here as well?  Honestly, for the record breaking hot temperatures we had, my utility bills were substantially lower than many people I know, even with similar sized houses.  How is that?  My highest bill this summer was $206.  That’s with a non-efficient 1,780 square feet.  What I mean by non-efficient is that I have 18′ ceilings with a loft floor plan, cheap windows with broken seals, exterior doors that don’t fit properly and crappy insulation.  So $206 isn’t bad at all really, but it could be better.  How did I achieve that low bill?  Here’s a few things:

    • Programming the thermostat.  I keep the programs high, like 82°.  Sometimes that’s comfortable, sometimes I turn it down.  If we’re not home, at least it’s not cooling the place to low temperatures.  Good to change your filter each month too.
    • Involve my kids.  Their incentive is any utility bill under $50, they get $10 each.  No doable in the summer, but it is in the winter.  I also charge them for leaving lights on.  Sounds mean, but it works.  Sometimes they turn off the lights, other times, they’re willing to contribute to the cost of the utilities.
    • Cook all at one time & outside.  Cooking several meals to freeze and microwave works well.  We limit the oven use too.  Sometimes we use one or two burners on the stove and rotate pots off the already heated cooking elements.  We also use the outdoor grill much more than cooking inside.
    • Laundry limits.  We do laundry after dark when it’s a tad cooler.  Full loads only with a partial dry cycle.  The damp clothing dries very quickly in the heat, but the clothes are still soft to the touch.
    • Use fans.  Only when in the room.  I don’t run them unless we’re in front of them.  I also added a fan in the kitchen, which helps while cooking.
    • Energy-efficient lighting.  90% of the bulbs in my house are the energy-efficient type.  This costs a bit more, but well worth the conversion in the long run.
    • Fix the ridiculous stuff.  The attic access in my house was putting out so much hot air, you could feel it when you walked under it.  I spent $6 and added weather stripping to it.  And even though my doors fit terribly, I replaced the weather stripping around them.  $40 made them a lot better until I can afford to replace the doors.  I sealed and caulked the large gap under the door that goes to my garage.  It cost me nothing, as I used leftovers found in my garage.

These are a few simple things we did that must have worked, because in the past, I’ve had electric bills well over $300 when the heat wasn’t near as bad.  Every little bit helps.  :)

back to school… supplies & demand lessons

Yes, it’s time to start preparing for back-to-school.  My kids are in denial that they’re going back soon.  I’m in denial that I have to spend a lot of money on school supplies.  Of all the challenges a year of no retail shopping posed on our lives, school supplies was the most difficult and time consuming.  (You can read about this: Back to school [day 58] and School supply update [day 83])  I think the difficulty is because of the specific list of “must buys” from the school district.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not opposed to providing school supplies for my kids, I just don’t understand why they require brand names and why they don’t let the teachers make their own specific lists.  We have the technology now to do that.

Back to school for us means going through all of last years’ stuff.  On the last day of school, my kids ran in the house, threw all of their school stuff in the back of the closet and it hasn’t seen the light of day since.  I pulled it all out.  My 1st find was a lunch bag… with a partially eaten sandwich.

Lesson #1:  Go through this stuff before it goes into the closet.

On to the backpacks and reusable shopping bags that are filled with who knows what.  Yikes!  Could they really have used this much paper??!?  All of this went into the recycling bin.  Can’t these workbooks be designed to be used more than once?  Is there a way to use less paper?  I’m not a teacher so I’m not even going to pretend that I could suggest a better way.  I think teachers are a huge blessing to our kids.

Lesson #2:  Get backpacks with wheels to avoid future doctor visits for back problems.  Continue reading

a not-so-edible mini challenge

My new mini-challenge… no fast food through the end of the year and no eating out for a month.  (one exception: my friend’s birthday dinner)  It pains me to see all of the paper waste from eating fast food.  Not doing the fast food thing through the end of the year should give me a good idea why I’ve done it in the first place.  It’s convenience, but is it really necessary?  I really dislike cooking, but I will have to cook more now.  As for the not eating out for a month, that’s more due to money.  We ate out almost everyday on vacation, so it’s time to cut back for a bit.

We really don’t eat a lot of fast food anyway, so my kids won’t go into culture shock… at least I don’t think they will.  Fast food is not really healthy either, so this is a good choice to make.  Here’s a few tips I’m using to make this work:

Menu planning.  I will have to plan meals a little better than I have in the past.  I won’t do this everyday, but I will have to do it more often than I do now… which is never.

Get the kids involved.  What do they want?  And my boys need to learn how to cook, although Cole will probably tell me his future wife will cook for him, right before she washes his dishes.  Yes, he really said that.

Travelling and field trips.  These things will have to be planned in advance.  I could bring a cooler and / or pack a picnic.

Wish me luck!  Here we go…

minimalist challenge update… 88% depreciation?!

With a goal of 365 items, downsizing one item a day over a one year period, has proven to be more difficult than I imagined.  With the exception of my garage, there’s just not much left to downsize in my house.  When I open a cabinet or a drawer, thinking I might be able to find some things I’m not using anymore, I’m rarely able to find anything.  This is good, as I don’t have a lot of clutter and a lot of stuff, but on the other hand, I still have 214 items to go.

Now I still have a lot in my garage.  Way less than I had a few months ago, but still way more than I need.  The problem with that right now is the heat.  It’s too hot to clean anything out, as my garage faces west. It’s a sauna x3.

At 150 items, here’s some financial info… that makes me want to cry.  Think we don’t spend a lot on stuff we don’t need?  Take a look at this.

If I bought these 150 items right now at the store, full price, it would cost me $12,320.36.

I paid $8,523.89 for these items, mostly shopping second hand and discount stores.

I didn’t sell much, as I gave most of it away.  I have made $180.00, with an estimated potential of $1,487.00.  Best case scenario, my stuff depreciated by 88%!!  If this isn’t a reality check, I don’t know what is.

Wow.  Even I’m astonished at these numbers.  Even though I’ve had much of this stuff for many years, it’s still a disturbing snapshot of how much money I can waste.  Have you ever added up how much money you’ve spent like this?  If so, please share.

The 3 most difficult things to part with so far 

Continue reading

…and what should break next?

On the last day of my no retail shopping challenge, I started my day as I do everyday.  I turn on my espresso machine so it will heat up to make my latte.  I got one latte out of it before it started constantly running, trying desperately to fill itself up with water, but to no avail.  I’ve had this sweet little machine for over 6 years now.  It’s not one you replace, it’s one you take in to get repaired.  (You can read my cost analysis on this here)  Just guessing, this machine would cost more new than what my 15 year old car is worth.  I wouldn’t buy a new car unless I had to, so I’m not going to buy a new espresso machine either.

My little Pasquinni is safely seatbelted in the front seat of the car, ready for his trip to the repair shop.  Should I have put him in the backseat?  Hmmm, he’s pretty tough and could probably handle the air bag.  When I called the repair shop, the lady on the phone had to be the nicest person I’ve ever spoke with in a repair place.  After making my arrangements, she asked me, “Do you have a back up plan?”  I love her!!  She gets it!!  Yes, I’m a coffee addict and I have a back up plan.  Awesomeness.

I have no idea how much this is going to cost to fix, but it has to be cheaper than buying a new one.  6+ years with no problems and I use it everyday.  I call that good.  If I have to get it repaired every six years, I can live with that.  Honestly, if I was better about cleaning it, I might not be taking it in this week.

Ownership of pretty much anything requires maintenance and repairs at some point.  I just had the hot tub fixed, now the espresso machine.  I hope things don’t really come in threes.  If so, let me count the repairs to the pop-up camper we just got.  Off to make a latte… on my borrowed back up machine.

you can learn a lot from a dummy [day 358]

I get teased pretty often about my use of paper towels, or should I say lack of use?  Over the last year I might have used almost 4 or 5 rolls and 3 of them were in the first part of the year.  I don’t have any now.  When people come over to eat and I did have paper towels, I would tear them into smaller pieces.  Now I use cloth napkins.  I clean my house with dish towels, not paper towels.  If I’m out somewhere and I get extra napkins that I know will be throw away, I take them home.  I might go a little toward the extreme side of things, but there are ways to cut down on disposable paper products, ways that aren’t difficult or time consuming.

When I cleaned out my garage a couple of months ago, I found an individually wrapped paper towel.  I keep this in my (minimalist) junk drawer.  It freaks people out that I would even have something like this.  I don’t know where it came from, but I make jokes about it being my emergency paper towel.  Continue reading

it might be new [day 349]

I’ve done over 5,000 transactions on eBay.  Not recently, and not all purchases either.  I had an eBay business from the late 90’s until about 5 years ago.

I still shop on eBay and so do my kids.  I just had an interesting observation.  Many of the items I have searched for recently on eBay are listed, but they’re not used.  It looks like eBay is becoming more of a place for new items than used items.  I have no idea what the ratio of new to used is, but there’s much more new stuff out there.  Not that this is a bad thing, as most of it is priced at or below retail, but it is a little bit of a challenge when looking for used items.  There is an advanced search that allows you to pull up only used items.

I found season 5 of Dexter, used.  I would have rented it but it’s nowhere to be found around here.  Now it will be on actsofsharing.com, after I watch is of course, and I’ll share it with all my friends.