In case you’ve just joined us, the January Money Diet is a challenge to take a 31-day break from nonessential spending. You can learn more about the money diet here — and jump right in!
Here in Denver we have just one utility company for electric and gas power, Xcel Energy. Xcel offers a budget billing service, so you can pay a set amount each month even though your power usage varies. The monthly bill is based on your actual usage for the past year, and in 2011 our monthly bill was $168. We started implementing many of the energy-saving measures below, and in 2012 Xcel dropped our monthly bill to $144. Could you lower your bills, too?
Start by trying to save water. Take a quicker shower. Hang your clothes up to dry. Turn off the water while you’re brushing your teeth. Research drip lines, rain barrels and xeriscape landscaping plants to save money in the garden. Ask for a low-flow showerhead for your birthday. If you don’t have a water efficient toilet, you can retrofit yours this month with materials you probably have around the house and save up to 3000 gallons a year. (Just don’t put a brick in the tank! Bricks break down over time and can damage the toilet.)
See if you can be creative and save some electricity and gas this month. Cook dinner in the slow cooker instead of the stove. Try wearing a sweater and turning down the heat; see how that feels and adjust accordingly. Be vigilant about turning out lights when you leave the room, and unplug appliances so they don’t use power while sitting idle. (Anything with a little power light on is drawing electricity.)
If you have some CFLs or LEDs on hand, are there any old incandescent lightbulbs you can switch out? I was amazed how much our bills went down as we transitioned away from incandescent bulbs. Try eating dinner by candlelight, or light an oil lamp for light once or twice this month (my son loves it when we do this). Throw an extra blanket on the bed at night and try turning down the heater by one degree. Okay? Try another degree. How low can you go? We have down comforters on our beds, and we’ve grown to love sleeping with the heat turned way down, cozy under the covers.
Turn down your hot water heater a degree or two and see how you like it. Maybe it’s fine, maybe another degree or two down wouldn’t hurt — either way, it’s just an experiment. (The U.S. Dept. of Energy recommends a setting of 120 degrees F.) If you already have materials like caulking or weatherstripping on hand, go around the house on a chilly day and seal those drafty areas.
Homework Assignment #8: Get out your utility bills for the past year, and make a simple spreadsheet showing how much water, gas/heating oil and electricity you used each month during 2012. Try to beat last year’s totals each month during 2013. Let January be the month you dabble in conservation, and let us know any steps you take this month to reduce energy or water usage.
Win a Deluxe Happy Simple Living Gift Basket
In honor of the January Money Diet, I’ll be giving away a gift basket chock-full of home and garden goodies plus several books at the end of the month. On January 31, 2012, I’ll draw one random name from everyone who commented during the month and that lucky person will win the gift basket. I hope you’ll stop by often this month and share your own ideas, thoughts and experiences about taking a 31-day break from nonessential spending.