Look Waste in the Face (and Save More than Money)

By Linsey Knerl on 24 November 2008 19 comments

If someone would have told me that I could save money by living like a prairie settler, I would have laughed.  My time, after all, is worth something.  But it was only after I suffered a horrible year of remodeling (which is not quite completed), that I began to realize how much my family uses, and how that is ultimately affecting my bottom line.  Here are the facts, and how I reconciled what I should have already known. 

Hot water.  Remember when my hot water heater tanked out?  Living in a rural area with gobs of sediment leaves my heater needing a little TLC every year or so.  The last time it went out, I suffered through days upon weeks of boiling my own water for baths, cooking, and even dishes.  Not only was it disgustingly tiresome, it helped me appreciate my hot water usage.  Showers don’t need to be so luxuriously long now.  Kids share a bath.  I have adapted my dish-washing techniques to accommodate dunking instead of rinsing.  My water (and electric bill) sing my praises.  (Check out Myscha’s 60-second shower technique for a jump-start to your own water conservation.) 

Plumbing.  What started as a little ol’ clog in the kitchen sink turned into two months of demo work and whispered cursing from my husband, as he used massive DIY efforts to rebuild our waste plumbing.  Not only did we find out that it was an expensive task, we watched my muscles grow as I hauled full five-gallon-buckets of yucky sink water outside after every household chore.  I became irritated with the process, looked for ways to use less water, and refined my scrubbing and cooking techniques to limit my bucket-dumping.  The effects were lasting.  Two weeks since the final piece was put in place, I still only let the water run in little trickles when I’m rinsing off a single piece of cutlery. 

Food.  Those of you with garbage disposals may be unaware of how much food you are truly wasting.  I was, as well, until the acquisition of a dozen chickens and a few barn cats prompted me to get a little savvy with our mealtime scraps.  With one bowl for chickens (veggies, fruits, and grains) and one bowl for the mousers (meats and dairy), I watch each plate-scraping pile up until the end of the day, when I use our cast-offs as discounted supplemental nutrition for the animals.  Lucky for us, we have a use for our scraps.  Others I know just let it go down the drain, not fully realizing how many pennies and dollars end up in their waste pipes.  Since our little project began, I’ve been serving smaller portions, carefully assessing requests for “seconds” and wrapping up any tiny morsel that could be used as a reincarnated dish.  You pay the same amount for food that you digest as you do for food that you toss….so put it to a very good use. 

Trash.  We live in the country, where trash service is a luxury.  We bit the bullet a few years back, and subscribed to twice-a-month pickup services.  We get 3 bins emptied for $28 a month.  Some weeks, when we do a massive de-cluttering operation, we overflow the bins.  Other weeks, we don’t even come close.  The goal is always to “just make it all fit.”  Last week, however, there was a payment mix-up (meaning that my trash guy dropped my check into the ditch, where I found it many weeks later), and I didn’t get my regularly-scheduled pickup.  I panicked.  Where would I put all my stuff?  We started to get creative:  “Here kids, color on all these envelopes and bills.”  “Let’s throw all these boxes in your room.  I’m sure you can find a good use for them, huh?”  “If I fold this box 100 times, I can possibly fit it inside this other box and toss it into the woodstove.”  You get the picture.  We are now looking into local recycling (which is rarely used and not so conveniently offered to us country folk.)  The waste situation has to improve. 

What if you lost a vital service or utility tomorrow?  What would you do?  How would you cope?  Would it change your perception of resources, usage, and waste?  If so, can you begin to do little things today to change your habits and save dollars down the road?

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Myscha Theriault's picture

Oh man, the water thing. After we had to deal with that and septic issues last winter, we got sick of the bucket brigade as well. The dunking for rinsing or trickle techniques really are biggies. People don't think they are. But if you've just had to lug it all (which you have, as have I) you realize pretty quick just how much you are using. Glad you're coming down the home stretch. I know what a drag it is, Linsey.

Guest's picture

My mom uses a standard plastic tub in the sink to collect rinse water and also serve as a soaking spot for dishes. I've started doing the same, and am amazed at how quickly the tub fills up even when doing small tasks like rinsing utensils.

Great tips, thanks!

Guest's picture

I do the one minute shower during most months, although because I'm miserly with my climate control, I just can't bring myself to take "navy" showers in the winter. Some mornings, the only thing that gets me out of my nice warm bed into the chilly room is knowing that a warm shower (with water running for the whole three to five minutes) is waiting. But, otherwise, I'm pretty conscious about using as little as possible, recycling, saving, etc.

Guest's picture

You might want to try turning an electric space heater on to heat the bathroom only (turn it off and unplug it before you actually start the shower) is cost- and resource-effective if it makes the difference between taking a 5 minute shower and taking a 1 minute shower. That's what I do in the winter, when my house is around 52 Fahrenheit in the winter when I wake up.

Linsey Knerl's picture

I tend to linger a bit in the hot shower when the woodstove gets behind.  One of the few times I "indulge" in much of anything!

Linsey Knerl

Guest's picture

I've seen many good articles on saving money. I have to ask, what do you do with the savings?

Is it to help making ends meet? Do you spend the money saved on what you consider "luxuries"?

What do you put all your hard earned savings into?

Linsey Knerl's picture

But gets spent on a number of things.  Usually, it just goes towards unexpected expenses (car trouble, house repair) that my emergency savings wouldn't cover.  Sometimes we put it toward an opportunity to get something at a very low cost (fabulous sale on insulation, for example).  Or we just throw a little extra into the charity bucket or the kids' college fund.  It really depends on the timing.

Good questions!

Linsey Knerl

Guest's picture

Your article gave me a lot of insight into waste. I never really thought of vegetable odds and ends as so much money, but they are! If something cost $2 a pound, and there's a half pound of vegetable scraps... that's a dollar of waste. What a shocker.

Linsey Knerl's picture

I know!  Before the chickens, I had no idea!  Now if I had no one to feed them to, I think I'd boil the scraps and peels into a soup stock (assuming they are clean and not spoiled) or use the icky ends for garden mulch.  There are ways to use this stuff, you just have to be clever, I think.

Linsey Knerl

Guest's picture

I tend to take showers once a week or once every other week. When I do, I have a lot of shaving to do, but other than that washing my hair (i have dreadlocks) and body are very quick. I usually turn the shower off to shave, and then turn it back on to rinse.

Guest's picture

...that we take so many things for granted, that we no longer really appreciate them, and that we are not even aware of the impact our use has on other things like the environment.

Guest's picture

Good deal! I think it's always interesting to find out what people do with the savings. Thank you for responding.

Have a great Turkey Day!

Guest's picture

When my hot water heater went out, I put in a tankless model. I LOVE it. My gas bill went down and I have plenty of hot water. We had these overseas but I hadn't seen them in the states until ten or fifteen years ago.
This is not exactly a utility but I save money with a pay-as-you-go cell phone. There's no babble when you pay by the minute.

Guest's picture

recycling paper, carton and glass is sort of easy because you can just store it till you get an opportunity to drive by a container (maybe you can find one somewhere in your nearby city?) and just drop it. It won't stink in your basement or garage.

Of course it is a little hassle but the amount of trash you produce will decrease dramatically.

Guest's picture

It is important that we conserve, for saving money for us now, and for it to be there for future generations. We forget that water isn't infinite. We have grown up living that it is, and that we don't need to plant a tree when we take one, to replenish what we use, for later. It is a sad thing when you see a area where trees were at one time, and are no more. Look at the middle east, and other countries that use to have the stuff we have, and don't any more. I read on another blog where it was mentioned that he didn't save that much, but it is more than about how much you can save. There is only so much fresh drinking water on this planet.

Linsey Knerl's picture

I have used the space heater suggestion.  We lived in a rental home for a year that had electric heat built into the wall.  I LOVED it for when I gave the newborn a bath (he got so chilly in that old house.)  Now that we live in our own old farm home, I do put a space heater in the tiny bathroom for a minute or two before I hop in the shower.  You're right.. I don't dread getting out so much.  And it helps save hot water for the next person.

I also really want to get a tankless heater for directly underneath the sinks.  They are a bit spendy, but I figure it will be a good deal in the  long run.  Sediment blows our traditional heaters within 6-12 months from each time we fix them.

Linsey Knerl

Guest's picture

In the winter, I often cook a large pot of homemade soup or slow-cooked food on the woodstove, to save using the electric stove. The heat is there anyway, even though it is a heater stove rather than a cooking range. I use my 10" cast-iron dutch oven (with a cover) as a low-tech slow-cooker, and can control the heat level in the pan by putting an iron hibachi grate or some bricks under the pan, when the stove is hot. I can see a difference in the electric bill, and the slow-cooked food is very tasty.

Linsey Knerl's picture

I've been wanting to try cooking on top of my wood stove.  The closest I have come is to let bread rise in the room where it is located.  I'll have to get some more guts and give it a try.  My cast-iron pans would be perfect!  Thanks!

Linsey Knerl

Guest's picture

Here are a few ways I save money on my utility bills. I love in WA state and blessed and cursed to live in a 2,500 sq ft house. Too much house then necessary but am making do as I can. I am very underemployed after losing my job, divorced with 3 kids so every bit helps.

1. I take my trash to the dump and recycle. I go to the local dump once a month ($17) after loading up my mini-van and toss the trash myself. I recycle all paper products for free. I keep my trash low by cooking from scratch (less trash) and since I use the gorcery bags as trash bags daily I can dispose of a small bag each morning easily. Usually those little bags are the prior nights trash. So I only really have a big amount by week 3 or 4.

2. I have placed a 16oz water bottle in my toilet tanks. Saving me about $10 a month on the water bill. Not alot but every bit helps.

3. My heat is set on 60 degrees. But with cooking the house is normally naturally at 64. Blankets, socks, sweatpants and tshirts...we are very comfortable. Keeping door closed on all rooms also helps.

4. I unplug everything when I am done with it, period....as do the kids.

Next thing I am going to try is placing a bucket in the shower with me. I will just let it sit off to the side and collect water that would have hit the wall and gone down the drain (huge waste..lol). I will then use that water to refill my toilet tank after a flush and see how much money I save.