Updated on 01.31.07

31 Days To Fix Your Finances, Day 18: Evaluating Your Expenses – Energy

Trent Hamm

The Simple Dollar offers a month-long plan for fixing your finances. All you need is an open mind and an hour each day.

I’m often surprised how many people are extremely inefficient with their energy usage, and when they think of fixing problems, they put in tremendous effort to do things that aren’t much of a benefit, like neurotically keeping their lights off while having inefficient lighting which costs them more for one hour of use than efficient bulbs would cost in four hours of use.

In short, an hour’s worth of effort and a few small tasks can cut a solid chunk out of your home energy usage.

Replace your regular bulbs with CFLs. CFLs are those bulbs that look like small spirals, the ones most people skip by because they’re “expensive” and they’re “saving” because they buy the cheap ones. The truth is that the “expensive” bulbs are the ones that save a lot of money: if you have 15 bulbs in your home (many homes have many more than that) and use them an average of only four hours a day (again, some houses will use even more), you can save $100 a year including the comparative bulb cost if you switch to CFLs. Even better: CFLs rarely need to be replaced once they’re installed.

Install programmable thermostats and learn how to use them. Letting the ambient temperature take over in unused rooms is a fantastic way to save energy; the only problem is that it’s very easy to forget to do it if you’re even doing it at all. If you replace your thermostats with programmable thermostats and spend the time to program them appropriately, you can easily trim hundreds of dollars from your energy bill each year.

Install surge protectors for all of your electronic devices. Not only will these protect your devices during a storm, they also prevent electrical “drag.” “Drag” refers to the small amount of electricity (5 watts or so) that all electronic devices continuously pull out of your sockets when they’re powered off, which can seriously add up if you have a lot of electrical devices.

Turn off your home computer. People who make claims about how powering up your computer uses tons of energy are living in the 1970s. The truth is that modern PCs don’t use any extra energy when powering up, so you’re better off powering down your computer when it’s unused. But if you’re like me, you tend to leave it on and forget about it, so set up your PC to turn off every evening automatically.

Air seal your home. This will take a few hours, but the Department of Energy has a very nice guide for making this process as easy as possible. Make sure you don’t have any drafts that can just slowly drain the heat (or the coolness) out of your home and you’ll save a lot of money.

These four tasks will reduce your energy usage significantly and any reduction in energy usage will bring about some serious savings in your monthly energy bills. In a large home, these tips can save $50 a month easily, a pretty good deal for things that you can do once and forget about them.

Ready? Let’s continue on to the next day.

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  1. Clever Dude says:

    Even though these tips have been preached for years, people still don’t seem to heed them. Luckily, CFL bulb prices have been dropping the last couple years, but they still take some time to warm up. My wife complains that the kitchen is so dark now, which it is, but once we have the bulb going for a few minutes, it’s just as bright as before.

    Keep up the posts!

  2. Matt Brubeck says:

    Surge protectors won’t automatically eliminate phantom power (“drag”). To stop your devices from using power while turned off, you need to flip the power switch on your surge protector, or buy a special surge protector that does this automatically.

  3. j moore says:

    great info; i’ve always knew of the electrical drainage of the power supplies for small appliances and devices but didn’t know how to stop it except for unplugging the power supplies. the unplugging of the power supplies usually involves reaching through a jungle of cords or knocking something loose . that’s why the info on the special surge protectors is so helpful. i am glad to find your website .thank you j moore

  4. Linda says:

    When will the led light be on the shelves?
    They can be purchased now online, are rather
    pricey,but from what I’ve read use less
    electric than cfl bulbs.
    Any info would be appreciated.

  5. john c brown says:

    Great article along woth other great articles on true life frinedly savings tips to live with. Along with CFL bulbs, dimmer switches for your incadescent bulbs. We light them at 40 or 50% power and save 40% power and increase bulb life 50 or 60% in places not conducive to CFL bulbs

    thank you for great reading and education.
    john c brown

  6. Yehuda Draiman says:

    Approximately 22 percent of the electricity consumed in the United States goes toward lighting, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. If 25 percent of the lightbulbs in the United States were converted to LEDs putting out 70 lumens per watt, the country as a whole could save $55 billion in utility costs, cumulatively, by 2025. That would alleviate the need to build 65 new coal-burning power stations. Future LEDs are expected to have twice the efficiency lumens per watt doubling these savings. This is one of the easiest ways to save energy, why don’t we see more efforts in this direction?

  7. Unauthorized Charges on Your Local Phone – Utility Bill?
    How to Find Them, Eliminate Them & Get Your Money Back!
    If your business still gets its phone service through the old “AT&T and Verizon, etc” local phone company (as opposed to one of the newer competitive phone providers) then you need to double check your phone bill each and every month for charges you did not authorize. You may not know it but the local phone company allows other companies to bill you through your local phone bill. And while the local phone company allows other businesses to bill you through your local phone bill, the local phone company does not verify that the charges being billed to you by the other company are valid. When these unauthorized charges fraudulently appear on your phone bill it’s called “cramming”. Unfortunately you as the business owner or manager are the only one that can spot the unauthorized charges and if you don’t comb over your bill every month to spot these unauthorized charges – you’ll pay for them.
    Why does the local phone company allow other companies to pass charges onto your phone bill? “Third-party billing” is supposedly a great convenience in that you only have to pay one bill instead of separate bills for obvious authorized phone related charges like yellow-page advertising in the “real yellow pages”, 411 information calls and long-distance calls from your chosen long distance carrier. Over the years though, some less-than-scrupulous companies have realized that most businesses rarely scrutinize their local-phone bills. To take advantage of this, these companies have come up with elaborate schemes to place
    unauthorized charges on your phone bill that you’ll end up paying for without even thinking. Unauthorized
    charges you can end up paying for include charges for unwanted (and unused) email accounts, web sites,
    directory information calls, directory advertising in obscure publications, voice mail accounts and other
    In theory, before these charges can be placed on your phone bill, the company that is originating the third-party billed charges is supposed to have a verification of the order like a voice recording. In reality though,
    all the company needs to do to initiate the charge is submit your name and phone number to the billing
    entity. The verifications are only required to be produced if a complaint is filed.
    To prevent these charges from appearing on you business phone bill it’s helpful to understand the four
    parties that make unauthorized third party phone charges a costly reality. Party number one is any
    employee who can answer your business phones. The unauthorized charge is rarely random and it usually
    happens after one of your company employees gets a telemarketing call. Employees should be instructed to
    document and report any overly aggressive telemarketing calls they receive. Party number two is the
    telemarketing company that originates the unauthorized charges by trying to get your employee to accept
    some service for which you’ll be billed through your local phone bill. Party number three is the third-party
    billing company that has billing agreements with your local phone company. The name of the third-party
    billing is the one that is prominently displayed on your phone bill. After the third-party billing company’s
    name is the name of the company that is originating the unwanted charges. Party number four is your “former Ma Bell” local phone company that collects the unwanted charges (keeps a share for “Ma”) and then passes the rest to the third-party billing company (who keeps a big share) and then passes the balance on to the company that initiated the unwanted charge.
    Following are some of the top third-party billing names and unauthorized charge originators you’ll find on
    your phone bill. If you see these names on your phone bill you’ll want to call the toll free number listed next to the charge to confirm it’s a charge that’s been properly authorized to be placed on your bill. Following are actual examples that we’ve recently found while auditing business phone bills.
    We recommend customers should review any utility bills issued by deregulated utility companies. (In most instances today, consumers are paying higher charges to the deregulated gas and electric supply companies).
    All Utility – Energy, gas, electric and water bills should be reviewed for proper reading and tariff.
    If you suspect that you have been overcharged ask for detailed explanation and or file a complaint with your State Utility Commission.
    Compiled by: Jay Draiman, Utility & Telecom Auditor

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