How We Saved up to 50% on our Energy Bill

I thought we were in cruise control, fully optimized with our recurring, monthly bills. Until I got an email from our energy supplier.

We’re in Philly with PECO as our energy utility/distributor. About a year ago, just pre-FI for us, I made the switch to a renewable energy supplier, sourcing all wind-powered energy. I can’t remember the intro rate, but it was a good rate – cheaper than the traditional energy providers, and I strongly believe in supporting renewable energy.  Plus, they had an incentive of an annual rebate of 3% of your annual charges back in an account credit. If I did my math right, that’s about a $60 credit we’ll get. This rebate email is what prompted my energy bill digging. The email didn’t state the amount of credit was I getting, just that it was there to claim. There was no amount or timeframe. This lack of info was annoying. So, I dug in:

  1. Our bill has been steadily rising. They don’t provide the KWH rate for each billing period (ugh), but I see we’re paying a bit more and not always when we’re using more energy.
  2. I’m pretty sure that whatever intro rate I had has since gone up; I’m going to take my 3% credit and make a switch to a lower cost supplier that is also renewable. You can do this in PA!
  3. Our energy use is rising.

The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission has a program called PA Power Switch which allows electric utility customers to choose from a wide selection of energy providers. They vary by proximity, variable versus fixed price, term length, contract fees, and percent that’s renewable energy. This sounds confusing, but it’s not. It’s a very user-friendly search tool and even I understand it.

Here’s where I’ve landed:

  • Our Current with a Renewable Supplier: 0.1429 per kWh
  • Cheapest Traditional Energy Option: 0.0585 per kWh
  • Cheapest Renewable Energy Option: 0.0725 per kWh with 24 month term

Because of my love for this planet, I’m going to support the renewable energy option that offers a kWh rate of 50% lower than my current. (I don’t mind the 24-month term.)

PECO Billing
Our annual energy costs + daily average temps courtesy of PECO

And the PECO site also offers great energy usage analysis and some easy energy savings tips. We’re are doing the following immediately:

  • Cold water laundry – my boys stink, I feel hot water is necessary, but I’ll switch to cold and see
  • Unplug electronics
  • Turn off power strips – why do we leave WiFi and the other office components on all day when we’re not home?!
  • Adjust TV brightness – apparently the factory default is a “showroom” setting. We have it on 0-2 hours per day, so not sure this will have much of an impact.
  • Tell everyone to turn off the lights when they leave the room!

So, we’re lowering our usage and lowering our rate. It will be very interesting to see how much we actually save per bill. Full transparency: Our last bill was $175 with an average daily use of 25.8 kWh. I will update in a month!

Connecting Financial Independence with Environmentalism

Yesterday was Earth Day. Every day is Earth Day.

A part of the path to FIRE (Financial Independence Retire Early) involves consuming less and this really resonates with me. It’s not being frugal to save money, but it’s being frugal to really think about what you need versus want while considering the true value of each purchase. I haven’t been too great at this lately, but all big purchases get scrutinized for their value.

I’ve written about the every day things we do without – cable, subscriptions, expensive cell phone bills, eating out, etc. – and the big ticket items we’re doing without – kitchen remodel and pretty much any large home remodel that applies to this old house. Obviously none of these things are necessary, so these aren’t tough decisions. We have debt and spending money on anything else seems foolish.

And I can be foolish. This laptop I’m using is physically breaking down with missing parts, dents and dings, and running very slow at times. Couple that with a very persistent, soon to be birthday boy asking for a gaming laptop. And we’re getting one. What’s the value in that? Our family laptop will die and now we have one that the kids won’t complain about. There’s a lot of value in that.

But, I digress. Back to the planet.

nc sunset.jpg

 

Listening to NPR’s Living Green segment yesterday got me thinking there’s more we, as a family, can do. Computers aside, I think we’re pretty good with our environmentally-friendly and frugal and then, sometimes we’re not.

  • Paper products: We use cotton napkins, but we always have a roll of paper towels. Keeping cotton napkins, cloths and rags handy will help reduce that waste.
  • Compost: We don’t. We did in Seattle but in our Philly ‘burb, it’s available, but cost prohibitive. We have room in our yard to do something about this. I’ve composted yard waste, but I’d like to get a vessel so we can compost food waste, too.
  • Food: I’ve been trying to cut out meat during the week, but sometimes the convenience of cooking what we know wins. We can make a more concerted effort on this.
  • Water: We do wash a lot and we don’t have an efficient machine. We adjust the water levels, but it’ll be interesting to see if we save any water by running full loads only.
  • Clothes: I need to find a second hand store I like!
  • Stuff: We have too much! It drives me nuts. I need to purge and minimize. I feel like I’m always doing this, but I’m not making progress. I will start with one room at a time, working from the top (bedrooms) to bottom (basement).
  • Plastic: Stop buying the ziploc bags and use reusable containers and bees wax wraps.

I’m going to see if my library has All You Need is Less – this book was mentioned in the radio show.

I think the food and clothes will yield the biggest cost savings, but it’s not about the cost, it’s about the planet and, in turn, our health.

(Failing) to Save on Heat

Blogging in a sweater and slippers … not quite as chilly as Our Next Life’s 55 degrees, so it’s definitely not our “selectively hardcore.”
We keep our house around 62-64, which isn’t warm! We’re in the Philly ‘burbs and it’s been a very cold winter, so our oil bill was a ridiculous $417 this past month. We could add another layer and lower it, but there’s the beer. We had to move the fermentation from the basement to living room because it can’t go below 62. So, there we go. My very good excuse.

I’m not going to entertain an energy assessment … I know this old house is not well insulated. I think we’ll have to chip away at a few cost-saving measure:

IMG_5188
Warm kitty
  • Convert to gas? No. That’s a minimum of $8,000 just to bring the line to our house; appliances not included.
  • Add a zone? No. An HVAC contractor advised against this because it’s cost prohibitive.
  • Storm windows closed? Yes. And caulked around frames. Although I’m not sure they make much of a difference in this drafty house.
  • Thermostat programmed? Yes. Steady at 62.
  • Furnace maintenance and filter change? Yes, annually.
  • Change providers? Our provider’s rates have increased to$3.09 … I have to shop around!
  • Replace furnace? Yea, yea. It’s probably 30 years old and really inefficient. That would be about $5,000. Our A/C is also old; I wonder if there would be an efficiencies in having them replaced at the same time.
  • Improve insulation? Yes, I’m sure this can and should be done. Add it to the list.
  • Convert fireplace to wood stove?  Probably not. I like them, but I can’t see DH making the switch.

So, immediately, I think we should shop around. Long-term, we have to spend a lot to save a lot? There has to be other ways … I would love, love, love to change from oil. Perhaps I’ll run a breakeven for gas conversion.
Either way, the beer stays at 62.

Save Over $800 per year by Changing Wireless Plans

I had no idea. There are wireless plans available that use the same network as the major carriers, but under different names and for a fraction of the cost. It’s like the generic, store brands of wireless plans. Of course, I learned about this on an ChooseFI podcast then learned more through the ChooseFI Facebook group. (I’m a shameless ChooseFI cheerleader.) Since the Facebook group isn’t public, here’s another resource for information about cheap wireless plan options available.

I compared the costs of several of the discount carriers and chose to go with MintSIM because it was one of the cheapest that fit my usage. (Side note: They have great branding with simple, easy-to-understand information and instructions.) I have my own iPhone, but when I got the SIM card, I couldn’t activate it. I didn’t realize that my phone was locked and I had to wait another 30 days to unlock it. It was locked because I had recently changed jobs and the liability of the phone went from my employer to me. Despite my best effort to understand the fine print and not be locked into a contract, I failed to realize that the change resulted in my phone being locked for 60 days.

It was all downhill from there.

Their customer service hours are basically the hours I (and most of the workforce) work and I simply don’t have an hour in my workday to do this. They do have after-hours support, but not for what I needed: SIM reactivation. And when you call, you don’t get MintSIM directly. Anyhow, the agents I did speak with were great and I was able to get the same one twice (per my request) which is amazing. They just couldn’t reactivate my SIM. Each time, they said it was good and I should try again in 24 hours, but no. It didn’t work. After three calls over three weeks and no success, I asked for my money back. That was the only good part of my experience with them. I got my money back no problem.

I am now on Total Wireless (who uses the Verizon network) and love it. I haven’t had a need to call support, so I can’t compare that service, but it was easy to purchase and activate. It’s $35 per month for one line with unlimited talk and text and 5GB of data. I used a promo code and got $10 off my first month. I was using 12GB a month when I had unlimited data, so I wasn’t sure how I would survive on a data diet. I have 13 days remaining in my first month and haven’t used even half my 5GB data yet. It was easy: I turned off cellular data for everything and then turned it back on per app, as needed. And when I can, I always connect to wireless.

Some day, I’d love to go with Project FI, but the iPhone is (not yet) compatible.

By the end of January, DH will make the switch from Verizon to Total Wireless. A shared plan of our two lines is $60 per month, savings us over $800 per year after we both switch.

The Financial Rewards of Job Arbitrage

​Since my last post three months ago, we’ve hit a bit of a bump, but at the end of the day, it will get us to FI sooner.

Good-bye office view!

At the end of July, I knew I would be out of a job in 30 days. Not really ideal, but also not an ideal job. It was the kick I needed to high tail my job search, seeking a change in industry and location for the reasons listed below. After many applications and even more interviews, I got an amazing job offer just six days after leaving my job. This provided a 4-week, unpaid break in which I was able to knock out a lot of the household “To Do” items, but was a little financially tough.
This career change was necessary for my mental health, but was also FI-driven:

  • Geoarbitrage 1: Change from working in the city to the ‘burbs = save 3.5456% in city wage tax
  • Geoarbitrage 2: Change commute from daily $10/day train or $10/day parking to 25-minute drive with free parking = save $200/month ($2400 annual savings)
  • Job Arbitrage: 8.9% salary increase with signing bonus, annual bonus and employee stock purchase option

This is all pretty awesome and we’re in the process of adjusting our finances to ensure we take advantage of and max out our pre-tax contributions. And, more exciting, updating our spreadsheets and FI timeline.
Another financial advantage of this change was our shift to my husbands insurance. We were pre-FI when we chose our insurance with my old employer. Being on the path, we’re scrutinizing the details. We chose to stay on a high-deductible plan, but switched to his employer for these added benefits:

NEXT: I feel like the list of actions we need to take keeps growing. Here are the top three:

Changing jobs (and changing industries) is hard and it’s a lot of work, but because we’ve made some less-than-financially-ideal decisions in our past, we have to keep working for now. I love my new job and the financial rewards; the path to FI is getting clearer!