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:
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.
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!
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.)
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
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!
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.
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.
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:
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.
We’re about 2 months into this journey to financial independence and we had an awesome month in June! We knocked out some serious budgeting, reduced bills where we could and made a serious debt reduction plan.
The fun stuff:
We’re tracking and budgeting with Every Dollar. I can’t say it’s any better than Mint because I haven’t used Mint as heavily. And now I’m too deep into it with Every Dollar to quit. From May to June we spent $7,000 less … WHAT? How is that possible? Home improvements in May: kitchen table, plumber, etc. We’ve only been in this old house a year, so home improvements are definitely a part of the budget for now. (OK. I spent too much on that table, but I love it and we’ll have it forever.) And we had to pay upfront for summer childcare for two kids – this means we won’t have childcare come out of our budget for 3 months. Despite those large expenses, we still came out of June having spent less on “stuff” and more on debt and savings.
Cutting R’s mobile phone data – using wireless where possible (home, office) and not letting the kids use it – cut the bill in half! From $104 to $49 per month! DING DING DING!
Credit card payments – the first one we’re paying off received weekly payments last month. Being our first full month, we weren’t sure what was going to shake out and where. Happily, we were able to make 3 extra payments! That debt pay off schedule is moving on up like … the Jeffersons. (I had to.)
Account consolidation: Definitely a work in progress. We transferred several 401k and IRA accounts from all over the place into Vanguard accounts. Phew. There were some seriously high expenses that I never knew to look for with other institutions.
With that … my fail. July has just begun and already I’m an FI failure! I spent way too much on a frame. That’s right. A frame. It’s a beautiful, old blueprint of our house and it was screaming to get out of the dusty tube and into a frame on the wall. And the architect was the great uncle of a good friend. That same friend who’s married to the person that introduced us. Pretty wild, right? But it’s really big, so … yeah, I’m justifying another big purchase. I promise I’ll be good for the rest of the month. Bring lunch every day, take the train vs drive and park. And perhaps less wine with dinner.