Hey everyone – How about that gorgeous weather last week? I don’t know about you, but I loved the opportunity to throw open the windows and let in a blast of fresh air. Heaven. Along with all of the great news on the weather, however, was sobering news reports regarding fuel prices, power costs and their expected climb for the foreseeable future.

I’m already receiving emails from local consumers requesting suggestions to offset spikes in power costs, especially as another summer rolls around. Let’s face it, if this summer proves to be anything close to the utility headache this winter was, it’s never a bad idea to come at July with frugal forces blazing to keep costs to a minimum. In my pursuits, some of my power-saving strategies were a definite hit, others were filed forever in an ever-expanding “Cost-Cutting Comedy” file. Here are the tactics that packed some proven punch:

(1) Research alternative energy providers. Yes, many of us got stomped with the (approximately) 30% rate hike last year. Boo hoo. Pity party over. In defense of local utility companies, rates hadn’t been raised in ages, and I’m certainly not going to begrudge a company the right to make a reasonable profit. That being said, the timing stinks. Unemployment is up, people are dipping into personal savings just to keep at the status quo, so any strategy we can put in play to combat higher utility rates is going to be a good move.

Until now, when it came to energy providers, we went with the one automatically provided. Since the rate hike, I was BOMBARDED with mailers from alternative providers. When our household switched over to an alternative supplier last September, we were guaranteed savings of 15% over current rates (a nice dent in the 30% rate hike). If you’re getting hit with stacks of mailers from these alternative companies as well, take some time to tear a couple of them open. Do some number crunching and see if any might be a good fit.

Somewhat related note: I’ve come across an energy-analyzer that can tell you pretty much what every, single appliance in your home (from freezer to hairdryer) will cost you to run & use. You go in thinking you’ll spend 30 seconds to determine what a new hot water heater would save you, and suddenly you’ll become obsessed by how much the light in the fridge is costing you whenever you open the door (or maybe that’s just me). Take a look when you get a chance: http://www.energyguide.com

(2) Reducing electric dryer dependence to almost nothing. Those of you familiar with my blog already know I’ve been drying my clothes, the kids’ clothes, sheets, towels, etc on our clothesline for over a year now, and it’s taken down costs fabulously. To create even bigger savings this year, I’m going to try to do more towels on the clothesline, even though significant-others-who-shall-remain-unnamed really aren’t crazy about the final result.

Yes, I’m the first to admit there is a marked difference in air-dried vs. dryer-dried towels. Basically, it takes the concept of exfoliation to the level of a North Korean torture camp. That being said, towels are an energy HOG to dry in the dryer, especially when I watch the meter just outside the laundry room window spin like a Russian skater on steroids. Who needs that? I’ve heard from fellow frugalistas that putting air-dried shingle-like towels into the dryer for 5-10 minutes has them coming out fabulously fluffy. Sounds promising. Stay tuned.

(3) New-fangled light bulbs. I replaced eighteen 60-watt bulbs with the new squigeldy GE Energy Star bulbs (they’re 13 watt bulbs that light like 60 watts). Boiling down the math as described on the back of the package, I’m supposed to save approximately .92 per month per bulb, so these bulbs alone should save me around $17/month, or $204/year. I’ve had these in the house for a while, and believe it or not, they do seem to be bringing down costs. That, and their reputation would suggest they’ll last somewhere into the 23rd century. Okay, not that long, but the savings are there, and significant, so it’s a good move if you want to bring down costs.

(4) No more dishwasher use. Again, I’ve had this strategy in play for over a year, to great success. Energy costs came down huge, this even though I have an “energy efficient” dishwasher! At this point, I’m using my dishwasher strictly as a drying rack, and running it once every two weeks on low settings just to keep it in good shape.

(5) Turning into the Power Nazi. At night, and when I leave the house during the day, the computer goes OFF. When it’s a bright, summertime day, there’s no need to turn on lights, unless complicated surgery is being performed in the same room. If I’m cooking on the stove, I cover pots & turn the heat down to simmer. If I’m baking like a crazy woman (my kids are muffin hounds and I’m often on cake detail for family celebrations), I use only one of the ovens in my (yes, ultra-spoiled) top/bottom convection wall unit (purchased when I was part of a “Dual Income, No Kids” household. Ahem). If I’ve got a lot of different things to bake, I’ll now keep it to one oven, alternate pans on different racks & switch it up halfway thru the baking time.

Now, with all of these strategies in play – and they really are pretty easy to implement – utility costs here at the house have been reduced by about 20-30%, easily accommodating the recent spikes in rates. If I can do it, anybody can. If you find your pretty little blue utility envelopes giving you an itch between the shoulder blades, try any or all of these tactics for a powerful punch in savings. Frugal On!

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