Friday, August 15, 2014

When Saving on the Electricity Bill Isn't Saving at All

My Nest Smart Thermostat, showing the A/C turned off and a temperature of 86° in the hall.

I find human beings absolutely fascinating. We will get all hung up about one thing, like saving on the electric bill by not running the air conditioner, and fail to see that what we did to accomplish that cost us more than if we had just gone ahead and turned it on.

Case in point: I used to have a friend who tried to get out of the house in the heat of the afternoon so that she won't need to turn her A/C on. However, she often went someplace where she ended up spending money - the bookstore, the mall, etc. She might buy a small food treat or beverage, or perhaps a book or new pair of jeans.

Now, this is voluntary frugality; she was free to choose to save on electricity by spending hours at a cafe, and to choose to buy a treat while she was there, and it wasn't my business. I didn't make her budget. I make note of it only because I was invited to participate in these outings in an effort to save electricity, and for me the rationale that I would be saving on my electric bill didn't wash.

Likewise, I know many people who choose not to cook or bake because the A/C has to run longer to make up for the extra heat in the house. Often this leads to getting take out or going to a restaurant. I'm pretty sure I could use my oven, cool my house down to ice box temperatures, and still not spend as much as I would at a restaurant.

And so, I bake and I cook. I do have a bread maker so some days I don't use the oven, and I try to make good use of my Instant Pot when it's hot, but I always cook.

My worst electric bill (which auto correct tried to change to electro chill, which sounds kind of fun) ever was $227 in the summer 2012. That month my electricity averaged $7.30 per day. Last summer my highest bill was $165, averaging about $5.30 per day. This year my highest bill has been $132, averaging $4.25 a day. With numbers like those, even the super high bill, there is no way that eating out makes sense to me as a way to lower my electric bill.

Heck, if I drive to Starbucks (to hang out in their air conditioning) and buy us each an iced tea, between gas and the beverages I end up spending a lot more than I saved by having my A/C off for a couple of hours. It's better to just stay home.

(As a side note, this year my utility company raised rates by 8% and I have a big new second refrigerator in my garage, so theoretically I should be spending more on electricity, but my recommitment to frugality extends to electricity as well as money.)

I think it is really important to have a sense of how much you spend daily for electricity. Monthly bill numbers can sound scary when they are high, whereas grabbing cheap burritos for $20 can sound like a good deal to avoid heating up the house, but only because you might be comparing that to a $227 electric bill. But taken in context, eating out one day versus the cost of electricity for one day (which in this example is $7.30), it's easier to see that you don't save by eating out. Plus, all of that $7.30 isn't spent on air conditioning; plenty of it goes to the basics such as running the refrigerator, lights, washing machine, phone charger, etc.

Of course, finding free or very cheap air conditioning to hang out in is a great thing as long as you don't have to spend a lot of gas to get there. I personally like to partake of the A/C at the public library, where I can also read a magazine and refill my water bottle from the refrigerated water fountain. I do like to run any necessary errands when it is really hot; I love walking into the refrigerated produce case at Costco when I have been sweltering all day. Maybe that is what my computer meant by electro chill.

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