Take These Costs Off Your Worry List in 2011

By Tom Harnish on 25 December 2010 1 comment

Most of us spend a lot of time and money worrying about things that really aren't problems. For example, violence and oddballs fill our screens because news today is more about attracting eyeballs to advertisers than informing viewers. "If it bleeds, it leads" has been the driving philosophy of the evening news, if not in fact, then in principle. As a result, we're left with the impression that all sorts of terrible things will happen if we're foolish enough to venture out of the house, use our cell phones, get vaccinations, or live near power lines. But that's not reality.

In fact, the rate of violent crimes (murder, rape, robbery, and assault) has continuously declined since 1980. That's true of property crimes (burglary, larceny, and car theft) too. And there's conclusive evidence that cell phones don't cause brain cancer, vaccines don't cause autism, and high-tension power lines won't make you crazy. Sure there are people who get a lot of airtime claiming they know more than everyone else, but that doesn't make them right.

Likewise, as business owners with real problems like cash flow, you may be focusing your worries on cutting costs that don't really affect your bottom line. Here are 3 costs you can take off your worry list.

The Price of Gas

We worry a lot about gas prices and car mileage, too. But fuel costs are less than 20% of the cost of operating your car. The difference in fuel cost for an SUV that gets 20 miles per gallon and an economy car that gets 30 miles per gallon (assuming you drive 10,000 miles a year and fuel costs $2.50 a gallon) is about $35 a month. That's probably half of your cable and Internet subscription.

Or look at fuel costs another way: If you typically need to put 15 gallons in your car to fill it up, and you have a choice of pulling in to a station that charges $2.50 per gallon or waiting in a line for gas that costs $2.40 per gallon, which will you choose? Think about it for a minute. The difference is a buck and a half. And that doesn't include the cost of the gas you consumed while you were waiting or the value of your time. Assuming the same 10,000 miles a year and the higher fuel consumption rate (20 miles per gallon), you'll put 15 gallons in about 30 times. So in a year you'd only save $45 (or about $30 a year if you have an economy car) if you wait in line for the lower price.

Is that really worth worrying about? If you run a company and spend that same time and thought to make a few more sales, you'd cover those small cost differences and a lot more.

Computer Electricity Costs

Do you worry about office electricity costs, for computers in particular? There has been a lot of ink (or pixels) used to warn us about the electricity they waste when they aren't being used. After all, there are about 100 million personal computers used in the United States, and about half are left on all the time. That means that 75% of the time those computers are sitting there doing nothing but using energy and costing money while they tirelessly ask themselves, "Did someone press a key, did someone press a key, did someone press a key, is there any new email, did someone press key, did someone press a key?"

Well, that would be a waste, except computer makers thought about it. They built low-energy and sleep modes into your computer, and your computer spins down your hard drive when it's not being used. According to Apple specifications, a Mac Mini, for example, uses about 1.5 watts when it's asleep. An idle HP inkjet printer uses even less, about .4 watts, the same as your iPod charger. So they cost you about $1.50 a year and 50¢ a year, respectively, if you never turn them off (assuming a U.S. average 10¢ per kilowatt hour). That's compared to about $60 a year that it costs to actually use the computer and an LCD monitor eight hours a day every day — about half what your dishwasher costs if you run it once a day.

Vampire Power

While we're on the topic of energy, have you seen the scare headlines about how appliances “leak” power? Televisions, cable boxes, answering machines, cordless phones, fax machines, video games, and even rechargeable electric toothbrushes do draw power all the time. But vampire power usage isn't very much per device. A cellphone charger uses barely a watt when it's plugged in but not connected to a cell phone. Your electric toothbrush uses less than a watt when you aren't brushing. What about that old TV that uses 10 watts of standby power even when it's off? (Modern TVs all use less than a watt.) Even that sucker is only costing you about a buck a month. In any event, the problem will go away soon as old TVs are junked and more countries require vampire power usage of no more than one watt on new devices.

All told, standby power accounts for only 5% of your energy use. Instead, if you want to worry about something, worry about your heating, cooling, and lighting costs.

Now stop worrying and get back to work.

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Guest's picture

Tom, while vampire or phantom power usage does exist, you make a good point that in order to realize significant savings people should focus on larger changes. The couple bucks per year you could save by unplugging certain devices when they are not in use is far outweighed by the energy savings from replacing all your incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs--up to $50 over the life of the bulb! Check out our other money- and energy-saving tips and let us know what you think!