First off, let me be perfectly clear that I think that being too frugal, sucks.
I remember some time ago I was chatting with my friend Michelle Singeltary, who writes for the Washington Post, and she was telling me about all sorts of frugal tips readers had shared with her. Right or wrong, I am not cutting the tops off milk jugs to capture shower water to reuse it. Nor am I going to wash paper plates to reuse them. Those might be perfectly good frugal ideas but, I’ll pass for now.
What I have done is really focused on reducing my reliance on the grid. And no, I am not one of those bearded hermits living in the middle of a desert in a shack, armed to the teeth.
This last house that we bought when we returned to America a year ago has a well and septic system. I no longer have a water or sewage bill. Thank goodness. In our house before, that bill just kept creeping up and up, even though our water usage did not.
We’ve also recently embarked on an ambitious journey to reduce our electric bill. The journey did involve making an investment in the house but the pay back will accelerate as energy costs increase. My bet is that as the economy rebounds, which it will, heating and cooling the home will only get progressively more expensive. If we address these issues now, it will be cheaper for us to live moving forward.
So, what have I done so far:
- Added Insulation: We’ve added a lot of additional insulation in the attic and sealed and insulated the crawl space. This increases the coat around our house so it costs less to heat and cool.
- Solar Panels: We have a solar panel system that will be installed on the house. It will generate a percentage of our total power, not all, but we are focusing on reducing our electricity consumption so hopefully the two will get close. With the 65% tax credit of the cost of the system and the power buy back by the utility company, the investment is palatable and will reduce our electric costs by half.
- Replaced Light Bulbs: We replaced all our light bulbs with compact florescent or LED lights to immediately reduce our energy consumption.
- Geo-Thermal: I investigated changing our heat pumps for geothermal but the best configuration of the system is one called “pump and dump.” We would use water from our well, run it through the system and dump it out on the ground. I don’t want to waste water like that and a ground loop configuration is not feasible, too many trees. We could drill new wells for the geo-thermal but that’s too expensive.
- Heat Pump Cooling: We made a small investment in a device that cools our current heat pumps, lowering the air temperature around them as they run. Makes sense but we’ll have to see how it works out. I loved the idea of the Cool-N-Save approach when I was sitting in Athens, Italy at an outdoor cafe. It was so blazing hot out but the small water misters kept us comfortably cool. So we are using the same approach to lower the air temp of the air being drawn across the cooling fins of the heat pump, increasing its efficiency, lowering the amount it would need to run.
- One Car: We only own one car, a Honda minivan, and one motorcycle, for transportation. I ride the motorcycle for fun and enjoy the 50 MPG it gets. If we run into times when we need two cars, which is rare, we just rent one for the day. That lowers our overall transportation costs. No second car payment or insurance costs. Although I am still just a tad bitter that my lovely wife dented the minivan right after we got it. It’s a small dent and on the upside, I no longer have to worry about the first dent anymore and it helps me to find mine with other similar ones parked at the mall.
- Whole House Fan: We are using our A/C much less. The house already had ceiling fans in it when we bought it. So we keep the windows open and the fans on to help cool the house. But we are going to get a whole house fan that will pull air through the house and vent it out the attic. We have some friends that have a whole house fan and their home is comfortable in the summer without running the air conditioning.
- Our Garden: We planted a summer garden filled with all sorts of tasty treats. Not only will we eat better but rather than having to run to the store or dash out for some fast food, we’ll actually have tasty goodies, lazily available just outside our back door. If you follow me on Twitter @GetOutOfDebtGuy, I post regular photos of the garden progress. Here is the last one.
So why am I doing all of this stuff? The lower my living costs are, the less I need to earn. The less I need to earn, the less I need to work. So that means that the money that I earn all comes from stuff I love to do each day instead of dreaded work.
I have no commute, I listen to the birds singing outside my open window, I write, and I help people for free. If I want to take a break I go for a motorcycle ride or go play with my photography.
The secret in all of this is that the less you owe others, the less in debt that you are, the less financial commitments you have to others; the more pleasure you get out of just enjoying life. I admit it, I’ve walked into a blessed life but the lesson to be learned here is that you can too.