Tips on Conserving Energy and Saving Money

In spite of the fact that economists called the recent United States recession (December 2007 to June 2009) over, economic forecasts continue to decline, taking their losses from recent housing starts and persistent unemployment.

Even worse, household incomes have fallen 6.7 percent. That means, in an inflationary cycle where food prices have risen on average 4 percent (according to those same economists), incomes have fallen almost twice that percentage.

The 4 percent cited seems a little on the light side to American shoppers, who saw many common household foods (salad dressings, cereals, fruit, vegetables and meats) jumping closer to 20 percent. Of course, one must remember that ‘official’ economists are encouraged to look on the bright side, lest people panic and start hoarding.

Panic and hoarding are actually beginning to look like a good action plan to some. The U.S. drought in America’s heartland affects two-thirds of the nation, with exceptional dryness in the middle of the Great Plains state – a situation that is likely to boost food prices another 6.2 percent or more for the next year, not only in the U.S. but around the world given Europe’s heat wave and India’s severely reduced monsoon rains.

Food up. Fuel (notably corn/ethanol blends) sharply up. Wages down across the board, though more so for those without a college education. The cost of electricity up. Is there any way to survive? Absolutely.

First, with the exception of air conditioning in those places where the heat index is dangerously high, limit electric use to the hours 6 a.m. to 10 a.m., or 9 p.m. to midnight (or however late your job, your kids and your circadian clock lets you stay up; see chart below).

These off-peak hours represent blocks of time when electricity use is reduced and thus costs less. The same applies to weekends and some holidays, namely Memorial Day, Independence Day, and Labor Day – three holidays that fall in spring and summer, when temperatures are higher. Or, if you don’t want to play electricity policeman (or woman), contact your local utility for what are called time-of-use meters.

This kind of nocturnal or early morning behavior may take some getting used to, but experts say it could save almost 10 percent of your electric bill. In my case, for example, my July electric bill was $193. Ten percent is almost $20, or one tank of gas. And while you’re at it, try changing the way you use your costly electricity: wash in cold water, dry clothes on an outdoors clothesline in summer; take five-minute showers in cooler water, or take military showers (wet, soap up without running the shower, and turn it back on only to rinse). Use fans and ice trays to make up for higher thermostat settings (and less AC); cook in a convection oven, which cooks faster at lower temperatures.

When it comes to food, try generics. We shop at a discount grocer and save between 10 and 20 percent a week. The corn flakes are as good as anything Kellogg’s makes; the sandwich spread is another story, as is t he coffee, but we can buy excellent cuts of meat, and superior 90/10 ground beef for 30 percent less than the big-name grocers. The fruits and vegetables are locally sourced, from non-genetically modified (GM) crops, and one must pick and choose carefully to avoid bruised or past-ripe items, but the prices are enough to cover the cost of an occasional bad apple. And in summer, shop at your local farmer’s market. Also read our article on how food choices impact the environment.

Another big cost for families and singles is vehicle fuel. There is no generic brand of fuel available, but you can get together with neighbors and coworkers and car pool. If your company is small and coworkers few, consider running an ad on Craigslist or even Freecycle. Or consider biking to work – good for you, good for the atmosphere. Walking a few blocks is even better, nothing to buy and maintain but your legs and heart.

Want to discover more energy-saving green tips? Go online and join a forum. Start a neighborhood eco-group. Listen to your children, who come home from school with all kinds of eco-friendly ideas, some weird and some quite wonderful!

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