4 Ways to Win the War Against This Summer’s Electric Bill
Energy increases are common this time of year, and with many families already struggling to pay the utility bills, it can seem more burdensome than ever. There’s no one-size-fits-all method to kicking your increase to the curb, but these four tips are sure to put a sizeable dent in next month’s “total amount due.”
Avoid the A/C – Yes, I said it. I wasn’t too popular when my first Wise Bread post suggested that consumers leave it out of their summer routine, but no one can deny the negative energy impact (and wallet distress) that the window A/C or whole-home cooling unit can bring. If you’ve managed to make it this far into the season without turning it on, read my tips for keeping it off a bit longer. If you’ve already turned it on for the year and are rethinking that payout of $40-180 a month for cold air, there’s still time to make some adjustments to your routine. It’s not for everyone (especially those in certain climates and at risk for health complications), but many of us grew up without air-conditioning. We can probably get by without it in a pinch, and for those who are finding it hard to put food on the table, it’s a decision that should be seriously considered.
Attack the other Major Offenders – With the air-conditioning issue already addressed, you can look forward to systematically tackling the other energy suckers in your home. Common ones include electric clothes dryers, electric stoves, and your water heater. While no one is suggesting that you quit using them altogether, adjustments can be made to positively affect that utility bill, and many of these habits are complimentary to warmer weather behavior. Some things I do specifically in the higher-rate months include:
- Replace my electric clothes dryer with a Spin Dryer and a clothes line. (I’m still mastering the art of this, and crunchy towels are common. I love the >$15 a month in savings, however, and my clothes are lasting much longer!)
- Skip the stove. If I can’t BBQ outside (which is a flavor-enhancing summer hobby I love, anyway), I choose the crock pot, instead. Slow-cooking is a delicious way to make cheaper meats more flavorful, and clean up is a breeze. (My kitchen doesn’t get as hot, either, allowing me to keep my A/C off even longer!)
- Wash clothes on cold. My “green” friends are doing this anyway, and with the exception of truly mucky farm clothes, we find it to be just as effective as washing with warm. By keeping showers brief and letting my dishwasher handle my cleanup (with a shorter cycle), I’m using my hot water heater much less. (Those of you with “time of use” rates might want to consider putting your water heater on a timer, so that you’re heating your water when it is cheapest.)
- Using power strips with smart controls. It’s not enough to have a power strip plugged in if you’re too lazy to turn it off. My power strips all have master outlets that control the others. (When my PC is off, for example, the printer, speakers, and fax machine turn off, too!) The Lazy Environmentalist, Josh Dorfman, recently told me about remote-controlled power strips. They might be worth checking out!
For additional information on some of the gadgets you can use to identify the energy wasters in your home, see my Green Your Home with Tech: Electricity over at Tom’s Guide.
Pay Your Bill On Time – This one should be a no-brainer, but it amazes me how close I come to the due date every month! Because my electric bill is one of my most expensive home costs, and my utility company is the only bill that doesn’t offer an online payment method, I find that it almost slips my mind each month. Late charges will vary by provider: Some charge only a percentage of your bill, others can slap on a $15 fee or higher. Because electricity is something you can’t do without, it’s easier to pay that fee than to argue – so be sure you get that bill paid on time! (Many utility companies offer level payment plans, so look into this if you find that it’s harder to pay during certain months of the year, or check into non-profit assistance programs in your area.)
Bribe the Kids – I admit to motivating my kids with money from time to time. Since I pay the electric bill, it pains me to see lights left on, the TV buzzing in an empty room, and an unattended dryer lint trap. It does me no good to run around the home and trying to undo all the wastefulness of my children, so why not have them see what I see? Currently, my husband has offered my daughter 20 cents on every dollar of savings over last month’s electric bill. She is VERY excited about the opportunity, and I see her dutifully turning off lights and appliances around the house each day. Sure, I could pocket all the savings for myself, but would there be much to save if I had to do it alone?
Tackling the electric bill is a high-priority in many homes this year. I have just experienced a 7% rate increase, and there’s speculation of more straining energy costs in the near future. Take some time to learn about your energy use, make some adjustments, and keep doing what works. You really only need electricity when you’re using it… so be diligent about conserving it when you’re not.