This joke is becoming old: we have reduced our energy usage, but our bills remain the same, because energy costs keep going up, he said with a laugh. How do we save money?
I was at a Houston area green mixer when I heard that statement. I have made it myself. The mixer was a great gathering. We were touring the Green Resource Building Center. Looking at what was going on with the new building. We talked about various events around town. I was glad to learn why vegetables at farmer’s markets may be more expensive than my local grocery store (a $50 per day license appears to be the culprit). As the weekend progressed, I became aware of rising costs by focusing on them. My wife, who hardly ever goes grocery shopping, commented on how expensive the total was for so little. She was not too happy about filling up her tank either. By Sunday night, I was pondering my consumption habits while taking out the trash can. I had very little garbage in there. A neighbor down the street pulls out to very full cans. I think about my sister-in-law, who is complaining about her own expenses; she has a can and a half of garbage.
We face a disconnect about how much we do consume; how much we need to consume; and how we can save money. During my home inspections, I see people leaving their desktop computers on. They are not using them. My sister-in-law does this. She says this is for convenience. Yet she does not connect that leaving this machine on all of the time is part of the reason for her electric bill being so high. Looking at my own family, I see how wasteful we are when it comes to food. Leftovers sit in the refrigerator, and I am throwing out food left on the plates. I buy books for the children; however, we have so many children’s books which they have not read. I stopped myself from going to buy some home repair items, realizing that I probably had what I needed in the shed. I had an epiphany. Use less for many small things around the house; use up what I already have; and find ways to change my habits.
I guess this could be called saving money by delivering a thousand cuts. I am like everybody else. I want my morning coffee. I want to go out for lunch with the kids. I want a nice standard of living. We do not have to give all of this up though. We all know that brewing our own coffee is cheaper than going to a place to buy a latte, but do you consider how much coffee you brew? I saw a can of coffee rise in price nearly two dollars over a three week period. I am a heavy coffee drinker, so this was going to be an expense. My solution was to brew less coffee. I drink a cup of water instead of having that late morning last cup. For this coming week, I am going to be better on portion sizes served and amount of food prepared. Hopefully this will cut down my outgoing cash.
Around the house, I am looking at other options to apply this thousand cuts strategy. I only bought mulch for a few front garden beds that are in plain sight. For areas with heavy bushes or out of public view, I am using the leaves that I have raked up. Once summer comes, these heavily mulched beds will save water. Instead of buying new plants, I am propagating various plants or moving them around the garden (gardening is my hobby, and I tend to indulge). Another cost saving aspect in gardening is that I have been focusing on perennials and hardy volunteers. Buying annuals can be expensive. This change in habit is doing me good, since I am not buying flats of annuals for each season anymore. (I still have a few annuals in pots as accents). One habit that I strongly suggest to homeowners is simple home maintenance. Being reactive is so much simpler. We see something broken, and we fix it. Being proactive takes so much more effort. We have to look for things to fix that are not broken yet. Why go sweep leaves off of the roof? There is no leak or damage to the shingles that can be seen. There will be eventually. The habit of taking a few minutes to walk around the house can be a great way to save money.
You have to analyze your own life to find where to make these cuts. Like I said, gardening can be my downfall. Going out with the children is also a problem. The idea is not to go without something; the idea is to find ways to decrease those items. Looking at my sister-in-law, I do find a flaw in my advice: how do we connect a habit with an expense. She understands that air conditioning is a big energy user, but the idea of the computer being a big energy user does not click. This may be obvious to you and me, but this is her blind spot. Having the television on all day, with the stereo playing music, is just normal to her. There is the issue to tackle: where is my blind spot? Were is yours? Maybe writing down your expenses for at least one month will reveal the blind spot. A quick look at my own expenses shows that eating out is a bit high in cost, because I have the tendency to pick a fancy place. I will have to work on that one.