Day 8 of the January Money Diet – Lower Your Utility Bills

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!

oil lamp at Happy Simple Living blog

Photo: DonMcCullough

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.


About Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross is a full-time writer and the author of a dozen books about food and home design. She has been blogging about simplicity and sustainable living since 2006.

Day 8 of the January Money Diet – Lower Your Utility Bills

  • Does Cable and Cell phone count as utilities? I was able to lower my cell phone bill by $20 a month and decreased our “bundled” cable/internet/home phone bill by $65. We disconnected the home phone service and decreased our cable to Digital Economy.

  • Dina

    In the winter of 2011, we added insulation to our attic… did not do a lot that winter for warmth, but really helped keep things cooled off during the summer of 2012! In the fall of 2012, we had new windows and doors put in= WOW What a difference that has made keeping us warmer!!! (although we went into debt doing it, it was worth it)
    we were burning wood to heat our home…but it seems with the new windows, doors and extra insulation=we would save money by using our furnace… we still have wood for extra cold nights or nights that my husband and I want to snuggle up in front of a fire…

  • Montica Berry

    Our house was always drafty and chilly so we added insulation to the attic. We were amazed at how the house now holds whatever temp you set it at. We still have not hd to turn our heat on yet!

  • Melissa

    Pushing bedroom thermostat down one degree tonight and will see how that goes. Will continue as long as sleep isn’t disturbed.

  • Deborah Gore

    I like the idea of tracking the utility bills for the year. I plan on doing the spread sheet this weekend. I have already lowered the heat and switched out all of the light bulbs. Planning on checking the doors and windows this weekend for leaks and fixing.

  • WE installed storm doors on our back door coming into the kitchen and in another door that led outside. We were amazed at the amount of money we saved!

  • Mariah O.

    We are bundling up more during the day instead of letting the heater run and we use extra blankets at night. We have CFL throughout the house (even though I really really don’t like them). When we wash our hands we turn the water off while we suds up and place a pan or bowl under the faucet while we wait for the water to warm up. Then the cold water is used to water plants.

  • I have made many of these choices previously. I switched out my light bulbs for CFL and LED having no incandescent bulbs left and even shared the extras with neighbors. I take quick Navy showers, added 3 two liter bottles in the toilet tank to replace the water that gets flushed away, and so on.

    Unfortunately I can’t tell you how much I save as my utilities are included in my rent. The entire building has hot water and heat delivered by a boiler system so there is no way to break down my usage. My next move is to replace the desktop with a laptop to save even more.

  • Anja

    I have to agree with ElainieMay, my bedroom usually has no heat. I have an old sheepwool blanket still from and my grandma that no one in my family wanted and I just love it, as it keeps me comfy and warm when you get out of bed you are awake 🙂

    I don’t have a bill from last year yet as I am only living here for the past 5 month. But I am always for saving and try to do this daily. I have two oil lamps that I frequently use for dinners but also during the day instead of lights. I have a small well in the garden which I use mainly for water but I also collect rain water in 2 massive 50 and 100l barrels. I don’t own a dishwasher or a dryer, which saves a lot.
    I know that I still need to do some work on insulating some windows (or have new once put in) but that is difficult in the winter and rain, so I have put towels and blankets in front of it. I also remember when I grew up we had a massive attic and a lot of cold coming down from it each winter, so my grand-ma usually put a blanket infront of the attic door which helped lot’s too.

    One of the things I recomment is switching of electrical goods completely that you don’t use. I don’t own a TV now but a couple years ago when I did I used to switch it of completely instead of stand-by. Also if possible, switch of internet routers when you don’t use them as they use a lot of electricity too.

  • You know, I used to track our utility bills all the time, but have somehow moved away from that habit. I do have the old bills, though, so it wouldn’t take long for me to get the spreadsheet going again. Thanks. 🙂

  • ElainieMay

    It is so true how these mindful, simple measures add up…quickly. Turning off lights in rooms that are vacant is huge. We found that out painfully when our daughter was home from college and left every light on anywhere she went…it doubled the bill.

    I think it is healthier to sleep under warm comforters and turn the heat down almost all the way at night. We have been doing this when it has been 7 degrees where we live. It is snuggly and fun. Added bonus…when you get out of bed in the a.m. and feel that icy room, it really wakes you up fast!!

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