Living on the cheap

Light emitting diodes No doctor’s appointments today thank goodness. Instead, we have the fellow who tends our heating and cooling system over for the six-month checkup.  Theoretically, he switches us over from heating to cooling at this time of the year, although I have been running the AC for a week or so. I keep the house on 68 most of the year, which means we use less electricity in the cooler months, but more in the warmer months. 

In recent years, we have installed new roof, new siding, extra insulation in the attic, and new windows, so the house tends to stay cool during the day in the summer as the temperature rises, but the house does not cool down rapidly at night during winter months.

We also have installed LED lights throughout the house to save energy from light bulbs. Amazingly, despite the low thermostat temperature in summer, our electricity bills are lower now than ever.

The other things we have done to save energy is allow trees to grow to mature heights and shade the western side of the house, and dress in layers of clothing year round to keep ourselves warm or cool (lots of wool and flannel in winter and seersucker and linen in summer).  I wear long sleeves and long pants year round, which is necessary if I step outside owing to issues with sun exposure and previous bouts of skin cancer.

The animals have adjusted.  The parrots fluff out their feathers if they feel cool, and the dogs love the cool floors because they have both fur and hair. Parrots do not have to live in a hot-house. 

We have the water heater set at the lowest “safe” temperature so dishes are clean and sterile but the water heater does not run excessively.  I open the dish washer on the dry cycle most nights (we run it once per day).  We wash clothes in cold water and have for years. We only wash dishes or clothes when we have a full load. 

We turn lights off like crazy although each of my parrots has his or her own energy-efficient cage light.  I use the stove top for cooking, but almost never use the oven.  I make big batches of things, like cabbage soup at one time, and then we reheat bowls of soup at other times in the microwave oven.  Heck, I have figured out how to cook eggs and bacon in the microwave oven, although I usually boil a batch of hardboiled eggs and keep them in the fridge for snacking.

I turn off my computer every day at 5:00 (sometimes earlier) and leave it off all night until around 8:00 the next morning.  We run the TV from 5:00 until 9:00 most nights, and sometimes have it on for an hour at midday to watch a couple of programs on Afternoon Tea with Heather on MPT (local PBS station). Running the TV all day, as I did last Sunday to watch the Ken Burns WWII series was a once in a while kind of thing.  Generally, I detest having the TV on all day, even though David would watch Fox until the cows came home.  

I am fanatical about saving energy and we manage to have a reasonable electric bill despite my keeping the thermostat set at the same level all year (68 by day, 62 by night, summer, winter, fall and spring).  Knock on wood, I haven’t had a cold in years because blowing heated air which dries out sinuses is infrequent. This is a minor miracle because I suffer with perennial allergies, and in the past developed bronchitis or pneumonia about once a year. 

Our electric company allows us to “average” our bill over the year, so we pay the same amount every month.  Generally, our bill runs about $150 per month although we live in an energy expensive metro area. However, the Virginia Power Company has continuously lowered our average payment over the past few years because we keep finding ways to save energy.  I play a little game of using fewer kilowatts each month compared with the same month in the previous year. By now, I can guesstimate how many kilowatts we will use for any activity.


We have done so well with electricity, a year or two ago, I tackled water use.  We installed rain barrels to capture rain in the wet months and use it to water plants it in the dry periods. To conserve the water, over time I have converted the garden from plots to pots.  This way we can do spot watering without waste.  

David and I both stopped taking showers every day.  Whether I thought I needed it or not, I took a bath once a week growing up, and now I bathe about 3 times a week.  David bathes when I get on his case. I have issues with psoriasis (probably drug induced and linked to my use of beta-blockers and calcium channel blockers) and excessively dry skin also drug related, so I don’ t need to get wet more often than a couple of times a week.  When we bathe we do it quickly with water saving shower heads.

To save even more water I had the plumber install water saving devices for faucets and toilets inside and outside taps. We used the taps last summer to keep the new lawn alive, and I anticipate less watering this year as the lawn is established. Besides, it is a bit of lawn. 

We didn’t begin living frugally when we retired, we have always lived like this.  While we were working and making comparatively good salaries, David and I saved at least 10-15 percent of  our pay. We bought a small house so our mortgage payment was small. (We never lived beyond our means.) We drove economical cars. We have always lived as if the Depression was still happening.  Saving all this money allows us to continue to make payments on our long-term care insurance policies, health insurance premiums, medical, dental, and prescription drug copays, and vet bills in retirement. 

My only weakness is begonia corms and other garden plants. Oh yes, and books.

So, do you economize?  If so care to share your secrets? 

17 thoughts on “Living on the cheap

  1. Growing up we learned to live in a manner characterized now as being frugal — just seemed like a natural way of life i.e.light on only if we’re using it. My husband and I continued a similar pattern. When energy efficient appliances started being mfg, we purchased them when we needed to replace others. Our home here had only a wall A/C which was fine until we had to remove the huge shade mulberry tree due to severe allergic reactions my husband experienced coupled with his respiratory problems. We installed energy efficient new furnace along with the A/C resulting in our combined energy bills being the same in total as we had paid for just the old furnace. Since my husband’s death have had to replace oven, washer and dryer to join the newer refrigerator — all energ. effic. I seldom even use the oven which also has convection. Mostly I use the microwave. Computer is on only when I use it, which is also true of TV, radio, music players. Am replacing all my light bulbs with energy savers as old ones burn out, except a couple lamps with 3 way bulbs. Eventually, won’t be able to buy bulbs for them, including the one with mogul base. (Had a vision issue first of year for a few weeks and these new light bulbs didn’t provide enough light.) Did away with grass in parkway so no watering there. Auto I have now gets much better mileage than big car and station wagon we had but less than the really efficient ones now at 40+ mpg., but doubt that I’ll replace the car. Inside temp. at 67 nights, then around 70-72 days summer and winter. I do other little things that have a cumulative positive effect on energy saving.


  2. We have a gizmo that measures how many watts of electricity we are using at any given time. It helps us to play a game of trying to switch things off. Indeed there has been a reduction in our usage since we started this, so we are quite pleased.


  3. You are model environmentalists, both of you.
    We too save energy where we can; in the UK hardly anybody has air-contitioning, so that’s a great saving. We have energy efficient light bulbs, always switch off any gadget or light when we’re not using it; the house is well insulated, windows are double glazed. We have one small car and rarely travel by air.

    We no longer try to save money – not that their would be a lot to save, being pensioners – what there is will have to do. If one or both of us needs care, we’ll sell the house. We are not desperate to leave money to children, all of them have had a decent and costly education. Now we ourselves are our first concern.


  4. You seem very careful except … when it comes to the a/c! (Tho’ you must have your reasons.) But 68 in summer? Brrrr! We use a/c only on the hottest days (>85), never at night. I wear shorts and a short sleeve shirt; open the windows at night. Problem solved.

    Otherwise, we’ve done most of the standard stuff — CFL bulbs, etc. (Do the LED lightbulbs create a lot of heat? I know there’s one kind that does.) We got an HE water-saving clothes washer. B insists it doesn’t do as good a job; but it seems fine to me. Anyway … like you, we’re trying to be responsible, altho’ at some point we have to do something more revolutionary about the cars.


  5. If you have a normal cistern, put a brick in it to reduce water usage.

    Fill the kettle with enough water for your needs, no more. Do you have an electric kettle? More efficient than a stove top type.

    Close doors to keep in heat; and shut curtains at dusk in winter.


  6. My husband is an environmental consultant/engineer so we have done a number of things over the years. We have dual flush toilets, Maytag Neptune washer/dryer, car getting 40 mpg, energy efficient windows and do many of the things mentioned in your article. I do cook and often use the convection oven; especially the fast bake setting.
    Every bit of energy efficiency is a step in the right direction.


    • I love Maytag products. What annoys me is that I bought something else when I went shopping for a new dryer a few years back. The idiot salesman told us there were no energy efficient products. Thanks for the tips. I just ordered a new countertop oven that uses 50% less electricity.


  7. We use CFL bulbs throughout the house. Set the a/c to 78 during the day and to 75 at night. We bought Energy Star appliances, roof, and solar water heater. Reduced the amount of our newspaper subscription by opting for digital as well as just weekend paper.


  8. Our pre-retirement frugality was much the same as yours. The pattern has continued into retirement, although we haven’t been quite as aggressive about energy and water as you have. AC has the biggest energy appetite in our hot and humid region, so we are likely to go the opposite way on the thermostat, 78 on summer days and the same or a little higher summer nights.

    Winter was rarely above 65 until my stroke. Some days during my first post-stroke winter we bumped it up a bit in the day since cold increased my negative tone. Cold was one of the things which caused my hand and elbow to “curl up” and my left leg to feel and act inches shorter.

    Normally I would also wear knit gloves inside and out to keep the skin on my fingers from splitting around nails and knuckles in cold weather, but I couldn’t get a glove on my left hand, never found satisfactory mittens. A sock on my left hand helped but didn’t work as well as the knit gloves that hug each finger. So we occasionally boosted thermostat to 75-78. This past winter was a warm one, so we will see what the next one brings.

    Other frugal practices are tossed aside, hopefully only temporarily. The only way I can manage laundry right now, for example, is to wash more small loads and wash more often. I am happy that I can do that. I think hubby is, too. He is paying the bills and hasn’t mentioned increased water usage. As I progress in my recovery, I will come back and reread your strategies for inspiration for more steps in simplified living.


  9. Am I first? Yes, I am having a ball writing about the Coastal Defense system and it’s various stages. Unfortunately, there’s a lot written on this subject. I’d like to find something new to say on the topic, but it’s been said to death. What I am doing is a short article focusing on San Francisco as my model tho they don’t have any first system forts there, and I am using my own photographs. It’s lots of fun.

    Economy. Sad to say, after a recall, my truck now get’s 17 MPG vs the 30 it used to get. So we bought a car that get’s 40. House: We are living better electrically, not. We shower at the Y. We are there exercising so why not. That saves us about 30 bucks a month. We bought a Bosch that doesn’t have a dry cycle. We bought many bulbs at Ikea at 7, 9, or 11 watts. Two are on all day to fight mold in the stair. We basically live most of the day in one room using three computers. One gets turned off at 5 and the other’s at 8. TV….news in the morning, news at night, and Programs from 8 to ten. Shower has a water saving head. Baked potatoes are our one downfall. We love them oven baked. 🙂

    You have a great day.


    • We both have Toyotas which get good mileage after all these years. The “youngest” Toyota is 8, the oldest 21.

      These new appliances are wonderful energy savers, which goes to show, we can “vote” with our pocketbooks.


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