Tips for reducing your electric bill by up to 30%

Here in PA, we’re ever so fortunate (sarcasm) to be headed into a new era deregulated electricity. Our utility provider (PPL Electric) has announced that they expect most residential electric bills such as ours to rise about 30%-32%! Somehow, this is supposed to be a help to our electricity cost. We’ve not figured that out yet.

As the old saying goes, rather than curse the darkness, light a candle. If your bill is going to go up by 30%, try lowering your consumption by 30% or more. This will not only keep your cost down, but reducing demand lowers prices for everyone.

So what are some relatively low-investment ways you can reduce your electric bill by 30% or more? Here’s a few ideas:

  1. Setup a clothes line. This is the cheapest way to go solar there is! According to Dept. of Energy statistics, clothes dryers account for nearly 6%  of household electric bills (average).
  2. Go Green One Day – unplugging most of your non-essential electricity for one day a week. This could save most households up to 15% of their electricity cost.
  3. Track down and eliminate “ghost loads” of electricity – appliances that use power when not even on (DVD, TVs, Phones, etc). A Kil-A-Watt is a great way to find these. Conservatively, we think this could save most households 1-2%
  4. Install a high-efficiency, water-saving shower head. Doing so appears to reduce our family’s utility cost. This is not direclty reducing the electric bull by a whopping amount, but reduces our utility costs in an amount that equals approximately 5-8% of our electricity cost. This is roughly the cost of one month’s electric bill! See our recent post for details.

So, the above simple steps could reduce your expenses by up to 31% of your yearly electric costs (by our estimates). None of the above are expensive or difficult to implement or require advanced DIY skills.

Have additional tips? Post em’ in the comments.

Why water-saving shower heads are a good investment

Many people might not think to look at their showers as being a source of potential energy and cost savings. That’s unfortunate, because there’s money to be saved in the shower along with natural resources too.

Consider the following scenario: Here’s the simple math for a family of four each taking a 7 minute with an average water-saving shower head (2.6 gallons per minute, or “gpm”):

  • 4 people x 7 minutes x 2.6 gallons = 72.8 gallons per day
  • 72.8 x $.0015/gallon = $.11 per day
  • 72.8 gallons x $.02 to heat it = $1.46 per day
  • Cost per 7 minute shower = $.37
  • $1.46 + $.11 = $1.57 per day to purchase water and heat it for showering
  • $1.57 X 365 = $573.05 per year!

Here’s the math for the savings this family would see by just installing a high-efficiency shower head:

  • 4 people x 7 minutes x 1.6 gallons = 44.8 gallons per day
  • 44.8 x $.0015/gallon = $.07 per day
  • 44.8 gallons x $.02 to heat it = $.87 per day
  • $.87 + $.07 = $.94 per day to purchase water and heat it for showering
  • $.94 X 365 = $343.10 per year!

So just by installing new shower heads, there’s several hundred dollars a year to be saved in water and energy cost. We’ve installed Peerless 76154 1.6 GPM Water-Amplifying Showerhead, Chrome units that cost us less than $15 – money well spent!

As you can see, hot water heating can be a major expense. As we aim for a simpler life, we’re aiming to use less water, and less commercially-provided energy heating the water. Stay tuned for our future posts about our attempts to heat hot water in some non-traditional ways!

Converting Verizon Contract Phone to Pre-Paid

For months we’ve been trying to discover a way to reduce our mobile/cell phone service without compromising on the quality of service, etc. The issue is that one of us uses 200+ minutes per month minimum, the other maybe 50 at most. We’ve been using a Verizon Family Plan for a while that had a base price of $69.99, plus $9.99 for the extra line, plus all the other charges, surcharges, tax etc. It usually ended up being $95-$100/month because of the 18% combined taxes and surcharges.

We find this amazingly costly for such occasional use. We considered many alternatives and finally found that the best option for us was to keep one of us on a Verizon “post-paid” (ie. contract) plan and the other we moved to a pre-paid service. There’s an immediate savings with pre-paid of not paying the surcharges that are customary with contract plans.

We were about to purchase a new pre-paid phone/service with Verizon, but we were wanted to keep our phone number and our phone. After calling Verizon and putting up with their salesperson’s shenanigans to try to convince us that this was not a good move, we were able to get them to admit it was possible and instruct us what to do.

Here’s what was required to turn a contract plan into a pre-paid plan:

  1. Our contract date end date had already expired. You cannot do this without early termination fees otherwise.
  2. We were told by the rep on the phone that we MUST take the phone to a Verizon Store to do this – not a reseller, etc. but a VZW-branded store. I don’t know if this was just a ploy, or truly required.
  3. We then had to maintain our position with the in-store reps that this was what we wanted to do, and further resist additional efforts to get us to stay on more expensive plans. We chose the “Core” version of the Verizon Impulse plan because it includes unlimited mobile-to-mobile with other vzw users, only costs $.99/day that the phone is used, and $.10/minute for all other minutes. Since we use about 5o minutes a month for this phone, that should be less than $7/mo. since many of the minutes used are mobile-t0-mobile.
  4. The rep then disconnected the existing number and reserved it (requiring a call into some sort of main office), then re-established the phone number as a new pre-paid service.
  5. This required the purchase of airtime credit. One can choose differing amounts. We chose $50 in order to have 90 days to use those minutes.
  6. The whole process took 10-15 minutes and cost nothing outside of the minutes purchased.

Watch out for these gotchas
Tricky numbers: In the above process, we noticed that the Verizon rep on the phone used the most expensive pre-paid options when “doing the numbers” to show us how pre-paid would be more expensive. Therefore, they used the $3.99/day option when comparing cost. Don’t let this fool you – it’s a sales trick. Further, they also don’t consider the true cost of contract plans with the included surcharges and fees. These don’t exist in pre-paid accounts. In our state, contract taxes and fees tend to be about 18%. Pre-paid reduces that down to 6% in PA and is also on the minutes purchased, not on a contract fee, therefore it’s less taxes paid than in a contract unless our pre-paid usage exceeds a contract price (which is very unlikely).

Verizon Impulse Pre-paid plans compared: The in-store rep recommended a “cheaper” plan with no per-day charges, but a per minute cost of $.25 all the time. This might also appear good to those with poor math/observation skills, but that makes the minutes cost 250% more per minute than the other plans all to avoid a $1 charge for using the phone that day. Consider this example: A 20 minute call with $.25/minute/$0 per-day charge would cost $5.00. The cost to make the same call with the $.10/minute/$.99/day plan would cost $2.98 – that’s 40% cheaper!  Unless all your calls tend to be less than 4 minutes or less (breaking even with the $1/day plan), it’s not a good bargain to go with the $.25/minute plan. Consider yourself forewarned!

    Give yourself a raise – cut the cable

    Possible Savings: $700-$1,000/Yr.

    Okay, this isn’t new for us. We’ve been off of cable for years. However, I often wonder why people hang on to cable bills in desparate times.

    According to Comcast.com, the main cable provider around here, their cable packages are between $58.70 and $114.90 per month. That’s $704.40 and $1378.80 per year respectively. Dish TV is not much better, starting at around $39.99/mo. and going up to $102.98/mo.

    Just by way of example, if you’re income was $30,o00/year and you had basic cable, dumping your cable would be equivalent to a 2.4% raise if you have basic cable, getting rid of it would be the same as a 4.6% raise. I know countless people who have had their salaries frozen due to the economic situation this year and have been told they won’t receive a raise til things get better. Don’t let that stop you – give yourself a raise!

    Now, we realize that people desire some form of entertainment and we understand what that desire is like. The thing is, there’s plenty of free simple ways to watch tv programming for free:

    1. Go to a friends or neighbors house – you might just make a new friend – (or enemy I suppose 😉 )
    2. Watch your favorite shows online at either the network’s web site, or places like hulu.com
    3. Pay per episode and view your favorite shows using Apple’s iTunes or Amazon. You’d have to watch a lot of shows a month to match the cable/dish prices
    4. Go to public places with televisions and watch there.

    The point is, Cable/Satellite TV is a quick and easy way to put $700-$1,000 back in your bank account. To many families, that could mean the difference between eating or not, a house payment or two, etc.

    Ideas for Lowering the Cell Phone Bill

    We’ve been a long-time verizon wireless customer. While we like their service, we as Americans pay way more for our wireless service than much of the world. This really bugs our family! We’ve always been a 2 -year contract family for VZW and on average, our mobile bill is about $100/mo (that’s $1200/yr for all you peeps who struggle with math).

    We’ve known people who used TracPhones, and pre-paid service for cell phones and have heard that they’ve managed to also have cellular service for far less monthly and yearly cost. At the moment, we’re considering dumping our contract plan and going with something like Trac Phone or pre-paid from Verizon.

    We called today to see when my contract expired – 3/2011! That means, if we cancel, we’d have to pay $170 per phone (we have two lines on our plan) – $340 just to get out of the arrangement. We looked online for some ways to get out of the contract, but most of them seem unethical – not something we want to do.

    So we explained to the customer service rep at Verizon why we wanted to know our contract end date – so we could lower our expenses. She was sympathetic and tried to offer alternatives. Unfortunately, we already had the cheapest plan, so there was no lowering the plan cost. We did decide to remove the text messaging package saving $60/yr.

    Turns out though, that about three weeks ago, they had called and offered to move us to a different, newer plan for no extra fees. It included some extras, etc. By agreeing, we renewed our contract and that’s why it wasn’t up for renewal for 2 years. The CSR informed us that we could still go back to our old plan which had en ending date of August of this year.

    So, we should only have to pay $170, minus $5/month that we’ve had the contract open, so more like $50 if we cancel. Considering that’s only half of one month’s phone bill, that’s acceptable. Most likely, we’ll wait til August then dump the whole thing in favor of pre-paid.

    At the same time, we did signup for CellTradeUSA which provides a service of matching up people who want to get out of contracts with those who want to get into contracts (but don’t want to pay the setup fees, etc.). This way, we can have the financially responsible party changed to someone else thereby having them assume the remainder of the contract. This might end up working which would also get us free and clear.

    Anyone else have experience doing the above? How have you lowered your cell phone expenses?

    Sharing is Key

    Corporations have collectively convinced us all that we need so many things to have an enjoyable, prosperous life. To top it all off, they’ve spent nearly a century convincing us that we each need our OWN [insert widget, product, gadget, etc here] in order to live. After all, if you’re a corporation selling widgets, you need to sell them to as many people as possible, right?

    It’s in a corporation’s best interst that we don’t share with one another, otherwise the market for the item is smaller. Sharing then is the enemy of corporate greed and capitalism (I am not saying that the two are one in the same).

    We’re convinced that a simpler life is highly unlikely without earnest sharing of resources among friends, family, neighbors, and community.

    Think about it for a second. Say you need a shovel. A shovel might cost $20 for a good one. Your neighbor might need one too, and perhaps a close friend. What are the chances that you will all need your shovels at the same exact time? Why not collaborate (work together) with your friends and neighbors, and pitch in to purchase one shovel among you? Yeah, you might need to be a little more patient and flexible to do this – but what is the harm in that? Now you have use of a shovel that cost you 1/3 of what it would have cost, and each person’s expenses are lowered.

    Now apply this same idea to bigger items (lawn mowers, cars, bicycles, computers, freezers, food, homes, gardens) and you can see that there’s lots of room for lowering our expenses and living a richer life by simply sharing with one another. If we all did that, would we need the incomes that we have? Could we live on less?

    We know that there are times when this is not practical or feasible, or perhaps cannot be done for some other reasons. We also acknowledge that this takes a lot of cooperation to pull off. Personally, we’re convinced that this cannot be done without following two commands of Jesus Christ – love God will all your being, and love your neighbor as yourself! Just think how the world would be, heck – even your neighborhood – if everyone just did those two things!

    The beautiful thing about sharing is that it’s something we can all do at least a little bit. We need to learn to share, we need to learn to give, and learn to love our neighbors. In doing so, we’ll learn to live a simpler, sustainable, and more prosperous life.

    Welcome to the journey to simple

    Like many, we’re concerned about where our country is headed. At the same time, we’re excited about the resulting transformations in our own minds that have resulted in a desire for a simpler, sustainable life. We hope that this blog will be a place where we can share our considerations, decisions, successes and failures as we journey towards a simple life.