Breaking Even on Rechargeable Batteries

My computer mouse uses two AA batteries. Our television remote control does, too, as does our DVD player remote. Our son’s fish tank filter uses two AA batteries as a backup. Our small flashlight uses AA batteries, and our large flashlight uses an adapter that allows it to use AA batteries. I don’t even want to speculate how many of their toys use AA or AAA batteries, but it’s quite a few.

I could go on and on with this list. Suffice it to say that we use a fair amount of AA and AAA batteries around our home.

At our house, we use rechargeable eneloop batteries. These work wonderfully for our needs. They tend to last a very long time on a single charge and recharge quickly.

The problem with rechargeable batteries – at least ones that are well made and hold charge – is that they’re expensive. An eight pack of eneloop batteries costs $20, making the batteries cost $2.50 each. If you really shop around, you can find them for as low as $2 each, but you have to really watch for sales.

On the other hand, you can buy a jumbo box of Maxell AA batteries for $0.29 per battery.

In other words, you can buy seven Maxell AAs for the cost of one eneloop AA.

But that’s not all! You have to also pay a small amount to recharge an eneloop each time. According to my observation, it takes about 450 watts to recharge an eneloop battery, which adds up to about $0.06 per recharge. If you add in the cost of the recharge, the eneloop doesn’t get cheaper per use until after the eighth recharge.

It takes that long for the rechargeable batteries to start beating the generic batteries.

Where the rechargeables start to really come through is when you start looking at a lot of recharges. Let’s say you take a single AA eneloop and you’ve recharged it 30 times. Since an eneloop is usable out of the package, that’s the equivalent of 31 batteries.

If you use the cheap Maxell batteries, that’s $0.29 times 31 batteries, adding up to $8.99 in total expense.

On the other hand, with the eneloops, you’re paying $2 up front for the battery and recharging it 30 times at $0.06 per charge, totaling $1.80 for the recharges, bringing you to a total cost of $3.80. It’s about $5 cheaper once you get to the thirty recharges mark.

Here’s the scoop: rechargeable batteries can end up saving you money but you have to commit to the routine. When a battery runs out of charge, you have to get in the routine of charging it. You need a system in place so that you’re not left without batteries when you need one.

Our system was simple. We switched pretty much everything all at once. When we ran out of batteries, we bit the bullet and loaded up on eneloops up to the count that we thought we needed, along with a charger. Our goal was to have enough batteries so that when we need one, we can just put the old one in the charger and grab a new one out of the drawer, which meant that we needed a few extra AA and AAA batteries.

The up front cost of this was almost $100. That’s a painful amount.

What happened after that makes it all worthwhile. When our batteries run out, we put four of them in the charger, use up maybe a quarter’s worth of electricity, and we have four perfectly good batteries. We put them in the drawer and just grab them as needed.

It will take us ten or so uses of each of these batteries to get the cost down to where it should be. That will likely take us about fifteen months, based on our usage and our battery replacement habits. After that, it’s incredibly cheap.

What’s the lesson here? If you can pay more up front for lower upkeep costs over time and you’re sure that you’ll use the item enough that you’ll easily recoup the upkeep costs, go for the more expensive up front cost.

The lower your maintenance costs and your replacement costs as time goes forward, the more flexible your monthly budget becomes. At this point, for example, we don’t buy batteries. In exchange for that, our energy bill is just a touch higher, but it’s essentially unnoticeable. We’re essentially spending less money in perpetuity.

It just takes a while to recoup the extra cost.

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