Saving on electricity?

gnltabor
By gnltabor on Thu, Mar 24, 2016 - 7:42pm

Electricity is the foundation of modern living.  We use it to heat, cook, light, and power devices such as phones, computers, and TV's, toasters, coffee pots, etc.  Some people are powering yard equipment like lawn mowers, weed whackers, landscape lighting, decorative fountains, hot tubs, swimming pools, and even PEV automobiles today with electricity.  Now some of you may be using natural gas to cook, run your clothes dryer, water heater, and furnace, but even these devices today usually have electronic ignition, electric powered blowers, and electrically powered circuit boards.  When considering use of Solar PV panels to generate your electricity, it's best to reduce your electrical consumption by installing more energy efficient appliances and lighting beforehand to reduce the amount of PV capacity you'll need to install.  This reduces the capital outlay for your PV array and associated racking, inverters, breakers, etc.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) reports that the average U.S. home uses about 10,000 kwh of electricity annually, with the state of Hawaii representing the low end at 6,000 kwh/yr and Louisiana on the high end with 15,500 kwh/yr.  While Hawaii's low number partially reflects their high price of electricity and balmy weather, it also reflects their high adoption of solar PV to keep their costs down, meaning it's not the actual average electrical consumption, but rather the average supplied from the utilities.

One of the fastest paybacks on energy efficiency is a hot water heater blanket.  This is true whether you have an electric or natural gas hot water tank.  Spending $15.00 or less on a hot water blanket will cut your energy consumption for heating water in half without changing the temperature at the tap and will achieve a payback in a few months.  Of course, dialing back the temp to around 120 degrees will prevent scalding and save money too.  Also, remember to set back the temp while away for extended periods of time such as when visiting family over the holidays or going on vacation.

Lighting typically accounts for 25% of the total electrical consumption of a home when using traditional incandescent and fluorescent tube light fixtures.  While the bulbs are more expensive, LED's and CFL's will drastically cut your electrical consumption versus traditional incandescent bulbs, and also have life expectancies that are 10-25x longer than classic incandescent bulbs.  One exception to this rule is when a fixture will frequently be turned on and off for periods of short durations like in a closet or powder room.  CFL's do not hold up well under frequent, short duration usage, and electricity savings will not quickly pay for the higher costs of LED bulbs. 

A standard LED bulb with 60 watt equivalent incandescent light output will only use 9 watts while a CFL will use 13 watts.  That represents electrical consumption reductions of 85% and 78% respectively over incandescent bulbs.  While dimmer bulbs are not yet justified due to significantly higher bulb costs and a need to replace the dimmer mechanism, most other fixtures, including flood lights, can accept LED bulbs today.  3-way lamps also do not have an equivalent alternative LED or CFL bulb today.  If you can't afford to replace all of your bulbs immediately, replace bulbs in fixtures with the highest hours of usage.  For instance, replace exterior lamp bulbs with LED's as those typically run all night, every night.  If you have children who leave lights on in a recreation room as I do, 10 incandescent flood lamp bulbs will consume  650 watts, while LED equivalents will use only 90 watts.  If you leave certain fixtures on at night for safety or comfort, they will also be good candidates for replacement.  Likewise for lighting in frequently occupied bedrooms dining rooms, kitchens, and family rooms.  Save the old incandescents to replace burned out bulbs in low use fixtures such as closets, guest bedrooms, storage rooms, furnace rooms, garage door openers, etc.  Ballast type tube flourescent fixtures can also be replaced with LED alternatives, dropping power consumption to 40 watts for a 300 watt incandescent equivalent output.  Recessed Flourescent tube lights in kitchens are good candidates for complete fixture replacement if you have the money for such an investment.

I had a whole house audit done last year to look for other opportunities to improve the energy efficiency in my home.  There's much to tell there, but for now, let me point out one item the audit identified for me...  My son had his iphone charger plugged into the bedroom wall with the charging cord lying on the floor.  The FLIR camera the auditor was using lit up that cube like a christmas tree!  Make sure you're not leaving charging devices plugged into sockets when not being used, and use power strips to fully turn off or otherwise unplug other devices that are not actively being used such as computers, printers, copy machines, paper shredders, game consoles, stereos, dvd players, and older style TV's; anything that is not energy star rated.  Here's a website showing typical power consumption of a range of electrical appliances.  If you think you're saving money by using an ancient refrigerator or freezer in your basement or garage because it allows you to stock up on sales, be careful... Check out this document from the Eugene Oregon Utility for typical energy consumption of a long list of electrically powered devices:  eweb.org/public/documents/Typical_res_Cost.pdf

If we assume $0.10/kwh and 2,500 kwh/yr for lighting, a 50% reduction in electricity consumption from switching your highest used lights to LED's will save you $125.00/yr on your electric bill, more if your electrical rates are higher or you go beyond replacing 60% of your incandescent power consumption with LED/CFL alternatives .  In my personal experience, I had been using around 12,000 kwh/yr.  I swapped out all justifiable incandescent lights with LED's and CFL's and purchased a Nissan Leaf in 2013.  I drive the Leaf an average of 8,000 miles per year, while my annual electrical consumption is virtually unchanged.  If I'd bought a traditional gas powered 4-passenger sedan, I'm avoiding the purchase of somewhere between 250 and 350 gallons per year of gasoline.  Depending on the price of gasoline, I'm saving between $500 and $1,000/yr through frugal management of my electricity consumption coupled with driving an all-electric PEV.  Taking it one step further, I installed 6.6kw of grid tied solar panels on my roof last year and have virtually covered 100% of my annual electrical consumption.  While the payback may take 10 years to break even at current electric rates, I'm confident I'm running on renewable electricity, reducing greenhouse gases, and doing a small part to reduce our dependence on foreign oil.

 

21 Comments

David Huang's picture
David Huang
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Joined: Jan 20 2010
Posts: 77
A couple thoughts

A few years ago I did go to an entirely off-grid electric system.  Prior to that I was most certainly all about finding ways to conserve, conserve, conserve!  Once I got my usage down to 100 KWH or less every month for a couple years I made the move to get a photovoltaic system to meet this usage.

One other thing I did with my water heater was to install an easy to access switch so I could just turn it off unless I wanted hot water.  I didn't really need to have piping hot water ready on demand 24/7.  I realize this wouldn't work as well with some people, but I found I mostly used it for a hot shower every other day.  I would be better off with a solar hot water system, but my home is really quite small.  I don't really have a good space for the size of storage tanks needed to make such a system work well.  Initially I had a 30 gallon tank.  This past winter in order to save even more electricity during the short cloudy days when my PV system is just barely enough I asked myself if I really needed 30 gallons.  I decided to change out my 20+ year old water heater with a 15 gallon one.  I was a bit concerned that my showers might get a bit cool toward the end, but there has been no change at all except that I'm now heating half of what I used to.

You noted the various energy vampires that always draw small (or large) amounts of power when plugged in.  I thought I'd add that anything with a remote control will be constantly drawing power unless you have on something like a power strip that you can turn off.  The remote sensing device has to be on 24/7 searching for that signal when you push a button on the remote.  Also, I discovered that some radios, even if they don't have a remote, will always draw power when plugged in, even when they are "off".  I ran into this with my first small off-grid PV system for my art studio.  It took me a while to discover what was drawing power.  Then a friend who working in the audio/video industry told me it was probably my radio, and it was.

I'll share one other oddball thing I did to save electricity that most don't really think of (or want to do).  My water comes from a well, with a well pump.  So for me using water means using electricity.  I went to using a sawdust composting toilet.  So instead of using gallons every time I flushed I've gone to using 2 quarts every week or so when I empty the bucket.  As a side bonus, I'm also recycling the nutrients rather than creating a waste stream, and I don't really have to worry about pumping out my septic tanks anymore either since they have so little real use.

robshepler's picture
robshepler
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Posts: 112
Phantom loads

We tend to put our cell phone chargers and such into a power strip so that we can turn the power off when we are not actively using them.  When we built our off grid home our equipment supplier suggested that we install a dedicated receptacle that would be controlled by a switch with a pilot light. As it is installed, half of the receptacle is hot and the  other half is controlled by the switch. From across the room we can see if the power is on by looking at the pilot light and we can turn it off easily with a switch. We don't have to crawl under the desk any more to turn off the power strip!

If you can lick heating and cooling it is surprising how little power it takes to live. Sounds like you are all over it David!

David Huang's picture
David Huang
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Posts: 77
Heating and cooling

You're right Robshelper, heating and cooling can be big power draws too.  For those I heavily insulated and installed new windows and doors in my home.  That basically eliminated any cooling needs.  Prior to the insulation my home would roast in the sun on summer days even here in Michigan.  After the thick insulation it might get uncomfortably hot a few days a year, not enough to even worry about getting air conditioning.  The fun part is that the major insulation project cost about the same as central air conditioning might have, with no continuing energy costs.

For heating I am fortunate that I work at home so I was able to install a small wood stove and be around to tend it.  The propane furnace is now my back up heater, so I'm no longer using much electricity to run the blower motor.  When I buy firewood I get it from my next door neighbors as a way to support them and build community or social capital.

The dedicated receptacle with a switch that has a pilot light is a great idea.

David Huang's picture
David Huang
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Off grid electric space heating

Oh yeah, one other oddity I've found for heating my home.  There are times it makes the most sense to use electric space heaters!  This really did a number on my brain when I realized it.  I don't know if you do it, Robshelper, in your off grid home.  My PV solar system had to be designed to handle my needs around the winter solstice when the days here are short, cloudy, and snowy.  In the spring and fall when I still need heating the solar system is usually generating plenty more power than I need.  Since it's not connected to the grid where others could use the power the excess just goes to waste.  So now when there are nice full sun days during these seasons I will turn on electric space heaters to heat my home, thus using this power rather than wasting it.

I had gotten so used to always looking for ways to conserve electricity I hadn't at first realized things changed once my off grid system was set and in operation.  Now it's more about power management of what's available which can mean finding ways to use more in a productive manner.  For this reason I've also gotten an electric chainsaw, wood chipper, and weed whacker.  If I really mowed my lawn I'd get an electric lawn mower.  (I just use a scythe a couple times a year on the broad areas instead of mowing.)

gnltabor's picture
gnltabor
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WIndows & Passive Solar Heating

Good exchanges on heating and cooling.  I too began replacing windows last Fall, starting with our upstairs bedrooms.  As part of my energy audit, windows were identified as an opportunity for energy savings.  Our home was built in 1994, so the original builder grade windows were single hung, i.e. they only opened at the bottoms.  While they were double paned, they did not have any special insulating gas such as Argon between the panes, nor did they have any low-e glazing treatments.  To top it off, at over 20 years old, we were blowing seals (condensation between the panes of glass) and had weather stripping falling out of the windows when we opened and closed them, especially for south facing windows. 

Living at 7,000 ft elevation, the nights cool down quickly after the sun sets, but with windows that only opened on the bottom, heat was trapped in the upper half of the rooms during hot summer days.  Therefore, one of our objectives was to replace with double hung windows so we could open the tops to allow air to escape from higher in the rooms.  Double hung windows would also allow us to tilt them in for cleaning, an important consideration as the upper windows on the back of the house were 2.5 stories above grade.

After researching passive solar design recommendations, I learned that south facing windows should have a Solar Heat Gain Coefficient (SHGC) of at least 60 while East or West facing windows should have a SHGC of 25 or less to reflect heat.  All windows should have Low-e glazing treatments and a U-Factor of < .35.  A U-Factor can be converted to an R-Value by dividing 1 by the U-Factor.  For instance, a window with a U-Factor of .25 would have an R-Value of 4.   I researched various glass manufacturers and learned that Cardinal Glass offered a product called Low-E 180 for passive solar applications, which is exterior glass with a single Low E glazing that allowed 80% light transmittance.  Cardinal also offered a new inside treatment to what's known as the 4th surface with Indium that prevents infrared heat from escaping once it's entered the house and a light transmittance of 89%.  Combining Low-E 180 for the outside pane, I-89 for the inside pane, and filling the chamber with Argonne gas provided an SHGC of 62 and a U-Factor of .27, meeting the objectives for our south facing glass.  Using Low-E 272 (double glazed) glass on the front and side windows with I-89 and Argonne gave results similar to triple pane glass with a U-Factor of .25.  Cardinal had a plant in Colorado so the altitude pressure concerns were not going to be an issue.  Now the trick was to find a manufacturer who would use Cardinal glass and allow us to order different glass configurations for our south facing windows.  After calling the Cardinal factory, I learned that Milgard should be able to provide what we were looking for.  Once I had a quote, I found the costs weren't significantly higher than the lowest cost providers that didn't offer the same flexibility in glass configurations so we moved ahead.

Our new windows were installed in early October and the comfort level this winter has been noticeably better than with our old leaky windows, especially when it's windy.  While the change in heating costs have not been dramatically lowered yet, we still have 2/3rds of our windows to replace, but the improved comfort alone has made them worthwhile.  In addition, we look forward to being able to ventilate using the double hung features and save money on window cleaning now that we won't need to be on tall ladders to get to the upstairs windows. 

While we've more than doubled our R-Value for the new windows, we still use blinds and curtains to further insulate the windows at night.  Our plan is to replace the plantation style wooden blinds with honeycomb room darkening blinds upstairs which will add another 2+ to the R-Values of our bedroom windows.  Our cost for the 10 new windows was just over $600 each.  While we won't achieve a quick payback, we have contributed to reducing our energy consumption, overall comfort, and convenience.

 

robshepler's picture
robshepler
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Pasive solar

What a great exchange!

In building our off grid passive solar house I was surprised at how effective the passive solar portion is. It really works well to heat our home. There are times when it can be too effective. We have louvers between our windows that can be raised and lowered, in the horizontal position the louvers cut out enough sun to stop the solar gain. Summer nights are cool where we live and an upstairs window left open will funnel the breeze through out the house. Close it up in the morning and it is cool all day. Closed cell spray foam through out the house, even under the concrete floor.

gnltabor and David Huang, nicely done.

gnltabor's picture
gnltabor
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Rocket mass heaters

Wood stoves can heat a living space while adding ambiance and provide a good alternative heating source during a power outage when electric or electronically ignited gas furnaces cannot run.  I've been studying rocket mass heaters as a super efficient wood burning heater option.  Rocket mass heaters are being used to heat homes, green houses, saunas, and bath houses.  Rocket mass heaters run best on well seasoned dry wood to produce the most efficient burn.

A rocket mass heater can be made with either a j-tube or batch box design for the burn chamber.  From my research, the batch box provides a larger fuel reservoir for longer burning.  A rocket mass heater differs from an ordinary wood stove by providing a large mass to absorb heat, releasing heat slowly from that mass for up to 24 hours after the actual burning of fuel has ended.  This is accomplished by running the combustion through an insulated combustion stack, through a bell, and out a  6" or 8" diameter horizontal pipe that is looped through a bench made out of cob to provide the heat absorbing mass, before exiting through a conventional vertical stove pipe.  The cob bench can be designed for seating, providing added utility.   Optimally tuned, a rocket mass heater offers a super efficient, clean burn with a smokeless exhaust that leaves the chimney at a relatively low temperature.  This form of wood burning device can be run daily for a season on little more than a cord of wood, saving money, time and wood storage space. 

If you're not familiar with rocket mass heaters, do a search on youtube for how to instruction and examples of rocket mass heaters.  Check out www.rocketstoves.com for a how-to instruction manual and further insights into rocket mass heaters.

David Huang's picture
David Huang
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Posts: 77
I envy you, robshelper, for

I envy you, robshelper, for having a passive solar house.  I decided to work with what I had, which unfortunately was an old mobile home oriented it just about the worst way possible for solar gain.  Gnltabor, I really wanted to build a rocket mass stove for my home too, but again that mobile home thing is stopping that.  I just don't see the floor being able to support the tons of weight.

However, the current large homestead project I've started involves building a greenhouse off the south side of a small pole barn, to serve as both a greenhouse and provide some solar heating to the barn.  It's also a building where I have a solid floor so I may just build a rocket mass stove out there sometime.  :)

Thanks for all the info on windows too.  I feel kinda silly for never realizing a big reason for double hung windows would be to let out hot air from the top.

mntnhousepermi's picture
mntnhousepermi
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Posts: 172
frugal heat retention, electric usages

We heat entirely from wood, everyone in this neighborhood does, anything else is too expensive. My house is more comfortable than some due to its layout, it is a story and a half house and heat easily leaves the great room to the upstairs. The difficult houses around here are the ones with hallways with 90' turns from the room with the woodstove, the heat doesnt circulate to the further rooms for those, and my friends use an electric space heater judiciously in the farthest bedroom. The one item that helped this house the most, heat retention wise, was insulating the sill plate (or cripple wall area we would say out here....) rigid foam board foamed in with great stuff, all crwlspace vents covered and closed off, and the baredirt of the crawlspace sealed off properly. There is a a whole thing about this one the things to do part of this web site, good advice that works.

My house has solar, and we have for 18 years, and it provides all the power we use, we are battery backed-up grid intertied. I only have 2kW of panels, the house is all electric (no propane or gas) and we have to pump all our water out of a well. Hmm... habits may be: only laptop computers; power bars for electronics with switch to turn off; remembering to turn wi-fi off at night and when not needed, I estimate it is on 1/3-1/2 of time; LED bulbs; no big screen tv; wash full loads of laundry in cold water in general; we do not own a clothes dryer; solar hot water heater. On the other hand, we run the dishwasher once a day (ASKO); well pump and pressure pump for water; electric stove; electric hot water heater.

mntnhousepermi's picture
mntnhousepermi
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Posts: 172
Cooling

AS far as cooling, when we moved in, this house had 3 window air conditioners, one quite large for downstairs. It gets quite hot here. We immediatelly took them out. The windows were worn and broken, so we replaced them with double hung windows, happened to also be dual pane, low-e -- but we replaced mainly because the old ones were broken. We added a couple operable skylights upstairs, all rooms in the house have vaulted ceilings (no attic) so need openings up high to vent heat. Most nights are cool, so opening sliding doors downstairs and skyylights upstairs vents the house. On the nights that stay hot, well, we just are too hot or sleep out on the deck. curtains on the south facing sliiding doors are closed in the day.  We built a trellis and planted vines on this south side, over the deck, and for a few years, while these grew, we put up shade cloth seasonally on the trellis. At this point the house also has a metal roof with a "cool roof" coating, but this was done when the roof needed replacing when the shingles wore out and for a multitude of reasons ( Fire Safety, extreme long life in harsh conditions, ease of Solar panel installs, good for water catchment, etc...)

Tall's picture
Tall
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Great discussion!

Gnitabor, the .pdf link from your first post is inactive; here is the new active link: http://www.eweb.org/public/documents/energy/typical_res_cost.pdf

gnltabor's picture
gnltabor
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Kill-A-Watt Meters - Test power consumption

Thanks Tall for the assist in fixing the link to eweb.  It's helpful to understand the actual power consumption of common devices used in our homes today and that link provides a quick reference guide to power consumption for a range of devices.  While this gives a good idea of potential power consumption, here in Colorado Springs, our local utility has teamed with the Pike's Peak Library District to provide Kill-A-Watt meters you can check out to test the power consumption of electrical devices.  Simply plug the device into a wall outlet and then plug the electric device into the meter for a reading on how much power is being consumed.  Kill-a-Watt Meters and other similar meters can help you determine the power consumption of devices when powered off and on.

gnltabor's picture
gnltabor
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Savings - Thinking Annually & After Taxes

Often times, when we think about the savings potential of an investment, we tend to think short term, such as monthly.  If an investment can save $30/month, it doesn't seem like much of a savings.  However, if you multiply that number by 12, you'll understand the savings potential of that improvement in terms that more closely align to your annual salary or income..  A savings of $30/mo. becomes $360/yr.  Think about the benefits from quitting smoking for instance.  If you multiply the price of a pack of cigarettes smoked daily by 365, you have a much better sense of what it's costing you and how much you can save by quitting.

One other aspect is to understand the cost of things in terms of the before-tax income rather than just the price you're paying.  For most of us, an incremental federal income tax rate for your next dollar earned is probably 25%.  FICA and OASDI taxes are another 7.62%  From this perspective, every $100 you save is equivalent to a $132.62 increase in income.  If you have state and local income taxes, the number would be even higher. Taken cumulatively, enacting a number of saving strategies can ultimately create enough financial benefits to equal an average annual salary adjustment after tax consequences.

Wendy S. Delmater's picture
Wendy S. Delmater
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Posts: 1988
Often neglected

Very true! Now, multiply that by buying things cash so you do not have to pay interest.

Square it by making or growing things yourself that you no longer have to buy.

We met some folks when we were getting firewood last year who were building a house out of lumber they'd milled on their own land. They were planting southern pines as a cash crop, and got free labor from folks like us who took away the hardwood, for free.

Now that's frugality!

gnltabor's picture
gnltabor
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One man's trash is another's treasure!

Great example Wendy!  You can bet the sellers didn't have a wood burning stove or fireplace and couldn't use the wood if they were giving it away.  Craig's List is another place to look for good opportunities such as you've noted here.  If you can couple that free wood with a highly efficient wood burning device such as a rocket stove heater, you're multiplying the benefits of your frugality and good fortune.  I'm guessing you had to cut the boards into the right lengths, but if you've got a trailer to haul it, it's still free hardwood, a valuable commodity.  The process you describe typically involves three key steps; first, know where to look for deals on things you can use, second, make the investment to monitor for what you need, and third, take immediate action when you see a deal.  He who hesitates is lost.

My newly married son and his wife were looking for mason jars a few years ago soon after moving to the Carolinas.  They found a listing for free mason jars and called for information.  The owners had way more than they needed but and just wanted to get rid of them to anyone who would drive out to pick them up.  All they were looking for was a few jars they could use to make Christmas gifts in, dressing them up with decorative cloth and ribbon to give to their neighbors and friends.  While they had to do a bit of work to box them up and transport them to their car, they drove away with 12 cases of jars.  Some were antiques which they sold on ebay at good prices, and still had plenty left over to make gifts and keep some for canning.

Wendy S. Delmater's picture
Wendy S. Delmater
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Posts: 1988
our electricity saving meaures

First of all, great discussion! Here's what we did to cut power consumption.

  1. Heating: we were using  a heat pump. We now use a very efficient freestanding airtight wood burning stove in our fireplace, with a new insulated flue and chimney cap. Even though we have a short winter (SC) we save over $3K a year. And that's allowing for things like chainsaws and gasoline to go get free firewood (which is everywhere nearby.) 10 months out of the year we use our 75-gallon hot solar hot water tank instead of the electric water heater.
  2. Cooling:  We live in the deep south and were using a heat pump. BUT, here is what we did to cut the cooling bills in half. Best bang for the buck, "eco foil" in the attic a one-time $200 cost cut our ongoing cooling bill by 25%. Another 10% was shaved off cooling costs with a solar-powered attic fan. We got screen doors for nice days and replaced or repaired screens. Passive solar shade cooling included fast-growing deciduous trees on the south side of the house, Insulated shades with heat-trapping box valances and side curtains. Trick: cook when it's cool out and only reheat when you eat.
  3. Lighting: the only incandescent bulbs we have are on a dimmer. Everything else is CFL and moving to LED. We just painted the dark kitchen cabinets light beige and no longer need light in there except at night. We added a tube skylight in the windowless bathroom off the hall and it lights about 5 rooms. Oh, and a mirror at the end of the windowless hall means we almost never need the hall light.
  4. Appliances: We replaced our 30-yr-old fridge with a 3-yr-old fridge and shaved another 25 percent off of the new number from insulation coast reductions.
gnltabor's picture
gnltabor
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Cash -vs- Credit? and Budgeting Software

I agree with the idea that using cash ensures you live within your means, but for those with the discipline to pay their bills on time and in full, there are credit cards that will give you cash back in amounts that can make it worth your while to use one.  In addition, they provide itemized details of all your transactions and provide fraud protection in case someone steals your card, while at the same time, not tapping out your bank account as a debit card would do.  With some companies, you can actually make mortgage payments and utility payments with a credit card. 

While not everything can be paid with a credit card, the vast majority of expenses can be.  With a family of four, the credits can add up to more than $100/month.  Having a good credit score is a prerequisite to get in the game, but if you have a FICO score in the mid 700's or better, opportunity awaits.  Here's a sample of some of the best offers going... Citi Double Cash Mastercard gives you 1% on purchases and another 1% on payments with no limits.  American Express has a card that pays 6% on groceries (not including superstores and club stores), 3% on Gas, and 2% on Department Stores, with 1% on all other.  The card has a $75 annual fee, but gives you a $150 credit if you spend $1,000 in the first 90 days, effectively paying for the first two years in card fees.  Bank of America offers a 3-2-1 VISA card which gives 3% back on Gas, 2% back on Groceries, and 1% on everything else.  This card is limited to $1,500 in qualifying purchases for the higher cash back amounts per quarter.  Then there are cards which give 1% back on everything and run quarterly promotions with 5% back on purchases during the quarter with a limit of $1,500 max in those category purchases for the quarter.  Such cards include Chase Freedom VISA and Discover Card.

Since it's a rebate against purchases, it's not taxable.  Depending on the card provider, you can have them apply the credit against your card balance, or use it to purchase items from major retailers where the credit may be enhanced by doubling the value.

Sometimes you can further enhance the cash back benefits.  Our local grocery store has a gift card program where charging to that card and making purchases from it will give 5% of the amount spent towards the benefiting organization originating that card.  I charge the card with my AMEX card which gives me a 6% cash back, while creating income for my son's marching band program or the team they play on.

Another way to multiply your benefits is by registering your kids with Upromise.com.  This is an education savings website where you can register your card(s).  When you make a purchase from a qualifying merchant, a credit flows to their account on Upromise.  They also have a way to access online retailers through their site and earn as much as 10% towards your Upromise account, while also earning your normal discounts from the card provider.  When all things are added up, I'm saving more than $1,500/yr leveraging and piggybacking programs like these.  Again, these savings are after income taxes, so worth as much as $2,000 in an equivalent salary raise.

It takes discipline, but using credit cards creates immediate margin in your financial situation.  Imagine you've been paying cash for everything.  You apply for and receive a new credit card with cash back incentives.  During the first month you use the card, no cash is withdrawn from your bank account.  At the end of the month, you receive a statement showing all your purchases and providing a payment due date almost a month out.  In the second month, the same thing is happening, charging to the card and not withdrawing any cash.  Now the first month's bill comes due and the cash needed to pay off the bill is provided from not having spent it two months prior.  If you manage it in this way, it's only a matter of timing on when the cash moves and nothing different happens to your total expenditures. 

It helps to use a budget if you're going to try this for yourself.  Having a budget, and actively managing your expenses will ensure you don't overspend just because the credit card has credit available.  I recommend www.mint.com  the free online budgeting software from Intuit.  This software allows you to link your credit cards to your Mint account and automatically categorizes the expenses from the card(s) so you can easily see how you're doing against your budget.  This is especially helpful if you're using cards as a couple, since it consolidates the purchases regardless of who makes them.  You can also link your checking and savings accounts.  Though payments made by check don't automatically apply to an expense category, if you have recurring payments of a set amount to an organization such as your church, you can categorize them as recurring and they'll automatically post to the proper expense category without further updating of each transaction.

gnltabor's picture
gnltabor
Status: Member (Offline)
Joined: Apr 21 2010
Posts: 23
Cash -vs- Credit? and Budgeting Software

I agree with the idea that using cash ensures you live within your means, but for those with the discipline to pay their bills on time and in full, there are credit cards that will give you cash back in amounts that can make it worth your while to use one.  In addition, they provide itemized details of all your transactions and provide fraud protection in case someone steals your card, while at the same time, not tapping out your bank account as a debit card would do.  With some companies, you can actually make mortgage payments and utility payments with a credit card. 

While not everything can be paid with a credit card, the vast majority of expenses can be.  With a family of four, the credits can add up to more than $100/month.  Having a good credit score is a prerequisite to get in the game, but if you have a FICO score in the mid 700's or better, opportunity awaits.  Here's a sample of some of the best offers going... Citi Double Cash Mastercard gives you 1% on purchases and another 1% on payments with no limits.  American Express has a card that pays 6% on groceries (not including superstores and club stores), 3% on Gas, and 2% on Department Stores, with 1% on all other.  The card has a $75 annual fee, but gives you a $150 credit if you spend $1,000 in the first 90 days, effectively paying for the first two years in card fees.  Bank of America offers a 3-2-1 VISA card which gives 3% back on Gas, 2% back on Groceries, and 1% on everything else.  This card is limited to $1,500 in qualifying purchases for the higher cash back amounts per quarter.  Then there are cards which give 1% back on everything and run quarterly promotions with 5% back on purchases during the quarter with a limit of $1,500 max in those category purchases for the quarter.  Such cards include Chase Freedom VISA and Discover Card.

Since it's a rebate against purchases, it's not taxable.  Depending on the card provider, you can have them apply the credit against your card balance, or use it to purchase items from major retailers where the credit may be enhanced by doubling the value.

Sometimes you can further enhance the cash back benefits.  Our local grocery store has a gift card program where charging to that card and making purchases from it will give 5% of the amount spent towards the benefiting organization originating that card.  I charge the card with my AMEX card which gives me a 6% cash back, while creating income for my son's marching band program or the team they play on.

Another way to multiply your benefits is by registering your kids with Upromise.com.  This is an education savings website where you can register your card(s).  When you make a purchase from a qualifying merchant, a credit flows to their account on Upromise.  They also have a way to access online retailers through their site and earn as much as 10% towards your Upromise account, while also earning your normal discounts from the card provider.  When all things are added up, I'm saving more than $1,500/yr leveraging and piggybacking programs like these.  Again, these savings are after income taxes, so worth as much as $2,000 in an equivalent salary raise.

It takes discipline, but using credit cards creates immediate margin in your financial situation.  Imagine you've been paying cash for everything.  You apply for and receive a new credit card with cash back incentives.  During the first month you use the card, no cash is withdrawn from your bank account.  At the end of the month, you receive a statement showing all your purchases and providing a payment due date almost a month out.  In the second month, the same thing is happening, charging to the card and not withdrawing any cash.  Now the first month's bill comes due and the cash needed to pay off the bill is provided from not having spent it two months prior.  If you manage it in this way, it's only a matter of timing on when the cash moves and nothing different happens to your total expenditures. 

It helps to use a budget if you're going to try this for yourself.  Having a budget, and actively managing your expenses will ensure you don't overspend just because the credit card has credit available.  I recommend www.mint.com  the free online budgeting software from Intuit.  This software allows you to link your credit cards to your Mint account and automatically categorizes the expenses from the card(s) so you can easily see how you're doing against your budget.  This is especially helpful if you're using cards as a couple, since it consolidates the purchases regardless of who makes them.  You can also link your checking and savings accounts.  Though payments made by check don't automatically apply to an expense category, if you have recurring payments of a set amount to an organization such as your church, you can categorize them as recurring and they'll automatically post to the proper expense category without further updating of each transaction.

Mike Dill's picture
Mike Dill
Status: Bronze Member (Offline)
Joined: Nov 8 2009
Posts: 28
Cutting power usage

Wendy, I went for the 'spray in' reflective film in my attic, and the summer temperatures up there have gone down by about twenty or thirty degrees. While not 'sexy' these improvments, like insulation, work for as long as you own the house.

I use a heat pump for heating and cooling, as wood is hard to come by here in the (southern nevada) desert. I also put in solar panels, which cut my electric bill in half. Now that I have an electric car I expect my electric use will go up again, but I am looking at a few more solar panels to get to the mythical 'net zero". 

hydrodog's picture
hydrodog
Status: Member (Offline)
Joined: Apr 14 2008
Posts: 22
Your own renewable energy

Gives. ... The individuals who invest .. Energy now .

Insulates ya from price increases .. Relief from paying taxes included in electric bill..
Put in a large enough system and it can provide all energy needs electric power ... Road fuel ,
... Heating .
.etc
Freedom or government and utility tyranny....

jasonsanchez's picture
jasonsanchez
Status: Member (Offline)
Joined: Jun 23 2016
Posts: 1
How to save on electricity?

If you own or rent your home, here are the 10 ways to cut your energy bills and save money during the summer:

1. Install More Plants
2. Cover Your Windows
3. Adjust the Thermostat
4. Select Your Fan Speed
5. Use Permanent Air Filters
6. Use Fans
7. Use a Microwave
8. Upgrade Your System
9. Seal Leaks
10. Sign Up for Energy Programs

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