choosing between frugal tradeoffs

January 10th, 2008

Choosing Between Frugal Tradeoffs

This winter, we’re determined to keep our natural gas bill as low as possible. Last year, we lived in a small and cramped but newer and well-insulated first floor apartment that kept itself pretty warm for not too much money. Yes, the gas bill was not insignificant but coupled with the electric bill we rarely spent more than about $100 a month total. This year, we live in a house that is about twice the size and three times as old as our apartment was, and although I haven’t had anyone in to check the insulation, I am guessing by the temperature of the walls when you put your hand on them that it isn’t the best it could be. A number of the first floor windows are also on the older side (single pane glass with a drop-in storm window behind it) which does not help at all. So our gas bills are much higher in the winter than they were at the apartment. We expected this trend, but we didn’t expect it to be quite as bad as it has been.

So, we keep the heat as low as we can bear. That seems like the smart choice, and it probably is. But in keeping the heat lower – we wear more clothes. A lot more clothes. And blankets. And our increased use of clothing has actually added one to two loads of extra laundry every week. It seems silly, but it is true. Our water bill and electricity bill (we have an electric dryer) will go up to lower our gas bill.

I’m not sure how to calculate the difference, but my gut says the gas savings will outweigh the electric and water increases. In this case, we keep the heat low and we absorb the increased costs elsewhere, with the feeling that we are ending up ahead in the end. But sometimes, the tradeoffs are not so simple to determine. I think I am being frugal but if I did all the math, I might not be as frugal as it seems on first glance.

For example, I shop at multiple stores for groceries. I feel like this is frugal because I get the best value at each individual store, and if I shopped at any one of the three stores individually, my overall spending would be higher. But, shopping at three stores versus one increases my gas cost. And although I have a route I follow in which I don’t really add any extra driving to get home once I get to the first store (the other two are on my natural way home), if I eliminated the furthest away stores and only shopped at the one closest to my house, I might save enough money in gas to offset the increased prices.

Maybe. My gut again says no, I spend less money overall with my current system, but I honestly haven’t done the math to see. And if we factor in the idea that time is money, and going to three stores takes me two hours versus the hour it would take to do all my shopping at one store…

Sometimes choices that on the outside seem frugal really have tradeoffs that may be unconsidered by the average consumer and negate or partially offset the overall frugality. Like driving all over town to save a few cents a gallon on gas.

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20 Responses to “Choosing Between Frugal Tradeoffs”

  1. Can you air dry your clothes indoors? I know it’s winter in some places, so I understand that outdoors is not an option. That will remove some of the electric bill woes.

    Also, some stores will price match with others if you bring in the competitor ad. I don’t receive a Sunday paper (it costs money!), but I do stop by stores during the week to grab their circulars.

  2. Not only will drying indoors help save on the electric bill, but it will humidify the air, which helps it to feel warmer because of the way that heat is conducted through the air. I keep my heat at 63 degrees (I have no children and we’re both outdoorspersons). When I come home from work, I change into jeans and a tshirt, then wear a sweatshirt over it. Since the sweatshirt isn’t coming into contact with my skin, I wear it most of the week, until it becomes dirty, only changing my tshirt every day.
    Another suggestion would be to either sew quilted or heavy curtains or even just hang heavy blankets over the windows at night, opening to let the sunshine help heat the house during the day.

  3. You can get circulars and coupons on line… And the air drying saves a LOT on utilities, I’ve learned.

  4. You can probably figure out the gas vs. the savings at the store pretty easily. How far did you drive vs. how much did you save that trip on sale prices.

    The utilities are a little trickier. In some parts of the country, there is quite a difference between electricity and gas costs…with electricity being quite a bit more expensive. Some time when you are bored, you might go to your utility websites and try to crunch some numbers. How much does drying an average load cost? I’m not quite sure how you measure the savings on a couple of degrees of heat, though….Hmmm.

    If you figure any of this out, let us know how you did it! I’d love to have some information to help me make decisions like that.

    (BTW…I did save quite a bit on electricity by adding power strips to my TV/stereo/computers and then turning them all the way off (cut the power) when we are not using them. Just the TV and the stereo alone saved us about $10 a month !!!)

  5. Have you read the Tightwad Gazette books? The author does the math on a lot of this for you! She also talks about air-drying her clothes in the attic (she lives in Maine). These are great books – a little extreme sometimes but altogether really helpful.

  6. Thanks to global warming, it’s been a relatively mild winter here in Maryland…my heating costs have actually been lower than usual because I simply haven’t been running the heater all too much.

  7. Wow, I guess due to where I live, I never worry about heating costs… gasoline costs are much more of my current issue. Perhaps it’s time for a bit on saving money on gasoline at uncommon-cents.


  8. We live in Massachusetts and its been pretty cold here this winter. I just paid $517 for a tank of oil! I had some oil left over from last year and that got me through New Years. This tank should last the rest of the winter. I’ve kept my heat on 62 during the day – I don’t care how cold it gets. I’m the only one home during the day so I don’t have to listen to complaints. From 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. I jack it up to 64 then down to 58 for the night. 5:30 a.m. gets put on 62 before everyone is up at 6. I always air-dry and unplug EVERYTHING! Showers have been shortened to 5 minutes and I use night lights instead of leaving hall or bathroom lights on at night. We also try and use our outdoor grill most of the winter, its cheaper than the oven and my husband swears I’m having an affair with the crock-pot.

    I found when I’m really cold, I bundle up and take the dog for a walk. I’m not kidding! By the time we get back, the house feels down-right balm-y. I walk the dog about 3 times a day (weather permitting) I save heat and get healthy too, not to mention how happy the dog is! (He gets bundled too – he has little boots and a nice warm jacket.)

  9. We’ve been debating the Gas vs Electric issue this winter: use our [fairly efficient] gas furnace vs portable electric, oil-filled radiators. So far it seems the portable heaters are generally a better bet, especially since, in our area, the cost/therm of natural gas really spikes in the winter. And Amen to hanging laundry in the house! The added humidity really helps maintain the comfort level. We have racks that can go over all the heating vents (or near the portable heaters).
    Also I do the same as an earlier poster, and do not launder my outer layers everyday.

  10. What if each person just had a sweatshirt they wore at home and it would last a week (or some other specificed amount of time). I don’t wash my hooded sweatshirts after every single time I wear them – same with jeans. That way it wouldn’t add so much to the laundry.

  11. Here is an idea for you. You can get (relatively cheaply) window film for those older single pane windows. Basically it’s a green box with saran type wrap in it and double side sticky tape. Place the tape around the window frame (this is done on the inside of the house) and then stretch the film around the window to the tape. Use a hairdryer to shrink it (the directions are in the box)and Voila! Instant insulated windows.

    Buy the box that states “extra large, fits sliding glass doors”. It is cheaper because you can get quite a few regular size windows out of it with cutting.

    We do that here at work and at home. I live in Alaska….so believe me when I tell you it works and will pay for itself several times over again this winter by saving some dollars off of your heating bill. Stay warm!

  12. Raining Change – I wish I could do that! We have those for our garage windows (our water heater is in the garage, gotta keep those pipes toasty lol) but inside, our blinds are mounted inside our window frames. If we did that, we’d have to have the blinds open all winter or shut all winter. Neither seem a good choice to me.

    Any ideas about that? I don’t have curtains yet. 5 windows, 6 feet x 3 feet each… can only afford cheap useless curtains at this time, if that ;)

    @ Ashley and others about layers – the adults, the outside layers only get washed once or twice a week too.

    My kids are messy. And it is crazy to me how fast those little clothes add up. It has only added a load or so of laundry (we used to do three, now we do 4 and once in a while 5 per week) so it hasn’t doubled, just increased.

    Must look for inexpensive drying rack and figure out where I could put it….

  13. I feel your pain and think Raining Change’s idea will still work for you. We had the same problem. Moved from Southern California to Eastern Washington and our gas bill went from $20 to $200! That was unacceptable to us, so we made some changes: We do you the plastic on almost all of our windows, including the ones with blinds. I figured out the right angle for enough light during the day but privacy at night and we sealed them up that way…I did it in all the bedrooms, the basement, the sliding glass doors…all told, I think we did about 4/5 of the house. We also blew in more insulation into the attic this year and that has helped with heat loss. Remember, the goal is to keep the heat you generate. Not only are our bills down by a lot, but the house is much more comfortable. Despite relative new construction, the double-paned windows were obviously not sealed as the house was drafty…no more. For $50 for the whole house, the window films were well worth it.

    As for drying inside, I do at least a load a day and could never find a place to make that happen. FWIW, in spring, I switch to a clothesline for everything but towels.

  14. We have blinds at work and they are mounted IN the window frame so we seal right over it and pop a hole for the twisty thing and tape around the hole. We can still twist the blinds open and closed. Try the idea above if that won’t work. You could always do at least a few windows that you don’t use for light. Being that the sun doesn’t rise until after 10 am right now and sets around 3 in the afternoon, its not like its a big deal for our blinds to be closed! There isn’t much light anyway!

    Good Luck. Ill keep thinking!

  15. My husband and I rant about this often. For example, we forgot to return a movie yesterday (my bad). I was going to get in the car and return it until my hubby reminded me that the 9 mile trek into town would probably cost my more than the .99 cent late fee :)

    I returned it this morning.

  16. You can get those drying racks at Walmart for about $10, I think. Or when garage sale season comes about. You can also hang your clothes on hangers wherever it’s convenient – the shower rod is a common place. I second “The Complete Tightwad Gazette.” It’s an excellent resource!

    I’m willing to bet those single paned windows are costing you a lot in heat! We have some upstairs in our new house, and no matter how much you heat, it’s hard to get it warm. It’s probably going to be in our best interest to replace those three windows and have the cost up front than to try to keep it warm for the person sleeping up there! Can you get to them outside to use the plastic covering? That’s the way my father used to do it. (Although, it probably won’t be much more effective than the storm windows…)

    I really struggle with the cost of gas vs cost of food thing, too. We like to buy our deli meats and cheeses from a cheese factory in town, and our bulk items from an Amish store, so grocery shopping very often takes several stops. Sometimes I wonder if I’m really saving anything, and I can’t figure out how to tell!


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