Saturday, July 30, 2011

July Summary Advice

Here's a summary of advice from July.




July 1 Check out how much electricity your appliances use
July 2 Figure out how much money your appliances use
July 4 Keep track of electric use on line
July 5 Store water jugs in the back of the refrigerator
July 6 Energy use is almost invisible, but not inexpensive
July 7 Make wax-covered pinecones for fire starters
July 8 Teach your children to make t-shirt bags for money
July 9 Pack ID, Credit Card, and Meds (plus trail mix)
July 11 Have your children pack their own suitcases
July 12 Make a backpack out of old jeans
July 13 Organize family activities with a three-choice list
July 14 Buy durability wisely, even if it costs more
July 15 Pack a lunch with precycled bags
July 16 Pre-pack your suitcase with those things you always forget
July 18 Make granola
July 19 Hide the "to do" pile; just show the list
July 20 Make lists to help with repetetive decisions
July 21 Seek out shade trees
July 22 Make hummus
July 23 Decline plastic bags (if possible)
July 25 "Fry" an egg with a cardboard solar cooker
July 26 Use a black hose to heat water outdoors
July 27 Start a Mommy Dollar Bank Account
July 28 Brushing well is more important than using toothpaste
July 29 Encourage friendships between your kids and your own friends


Friday, July 29, 2011

Nannies first; children second

Why people don't consider [childcare] before they take the very first step toward having a child, Miss Manners cannot image.  Nannies first, and then babies, seems to her the natural order of life.
      -  From p. 122 of Judith Martin's Miss Manners' Guide to Rearing Perfect Children.
When my first daughter was born, people often exclaimed, "Oh, how cute!  I love babies!"  My standard reply was, "Would you love babies Friday night at seven?"  Sometimes they'd just laugh; sometimes they'd say "yes", and I had myself a sitter for an evening out.

You could have expected that I'd lean toward "swapping" babysitting with other parents rather than paying for a sitter.  You would probably guess that my primary motivation was financial -- saving a bit of money.  On those two guesses, you'd be only half right.

We live in a world that is increasingly segregated by age, especially for our children.  Children seldom have a chance to interact socially with adults.  Their sports and extra-curricular activities usually group them narrowly into clumps of kids their own age -- they don't even get to play with kids a few years older or younger than themselves.  I think this segregation impoverishes our children and our society.

I remember when I went to college that I was faced with some really morally consequential decisions.  A big part of the way I made my choice was by thinking, "What would Mrs. Horvath think?"  Mrs. Horvath was the mother of my sister's close friend, but she was also someone I talked to and looked up to in my own life.  I think my choices were more mature because I cared about what she thought as well as caring what my friends thought.

So I've surrounded my children with my own friends, in hopes that my kids can likewise transcend their own age group.  I feel incredibly fortunate for our whole family that my friends seem to enjoy their roles.  Randy is a groundskeeper who sends my boys his old sports and travel magazines.  Kristie, a professional dancer and teacher, invites my teen-aged daughter out for ice cream and earring swaps.  Ximena invites my boys over for pizza and movies and spoils them terribly (I pretend to be horrified, and I'm only partly acting).  My husband's racing buddy Jan (a guy) cheers for my boys at their own bike races, just like they cheer for him.  Amanda and I send our children back and forth between each others' homes for sleepovers and vigorous wrasslin' time.  Linda and Bill's sons are grown, but they invite my boys over for "lego time".  Timmy's dad is taking his son and my boys to a Philly's game on Sunday.  My boys play mostly with people their own age, but they both get special trips out with people my own age, with or without me.

And here's how I know that somehow this strategy is working.  My older son, who's a bit of a ladies' man already, decided to quiz me on how to make himself even more devastatingly attractive to his adoring female classmates.  I upped the maturity of the conversation by asking the boys to think about qualities of my own friends that they like.  (I wanted to keep the conversation FAR away from their own classmates, for obvious reasons).  We batted around qualities like generosity, friendliness, encouragement, etc. with a lot of specific examples.  And then my younger son said, " . . . like Mrs. Achor."  She's a mini-driving mom of several who offered to watch my son occasionally while my husband was in Iraq.  I hardly know her (my loss, obviously), but she looms large in my son's social sphere.

Do your kids have friends who are your friends?  I'd love to hear your own experiences with inter-generational friendships.


Thursday, July 28, 2011

Toothpaste or not toothpaste? That is the question.

I visited my dentist this past week for my regular 6-month check up.  The oral hygienist cleaned my teeth and declared (as she usually does), "Your teeth look great!  There's hardly any plaque!"


Once she had said this (with no prompting from me), I ventured to tell her, "By the way, I stopped using toothpaste a year ago."  She nodded, continued cleaning my teeth, and then she tentatively added, "So, actually . . . we recommend that our patients use toothpaste."


I had read in the Tightwad Gazette (not the final authority on dental health, I know) that the physical act of brushing is the most important part of cleaning teeth.  Toothpaste adds some fluoride and a bit of abrasive powder to that act.  Over the years I've been using toothpaste less-and-less frequently, curious to see what would happen.  I've flossed regularly, and I've brushed very carefully and thoroughly.  So far, even my dentist seems to see no change in my teeth.
Where's the toothpaste?
I asked the oral hygienist WHY she recommends toothpaste.  "Fluoride" was her answer.  Isn't the fact that I drink city water -- which is fluoridated -- enough, I asked?  She said that there is both ingested fluoride (the stuff you drink) and topical fluoride (the stuff that touches the outside of your teeth), and adults need both.


Maybe it's because I have a PhD in math that I think that I can challenge professionals in other fields, but I wasn't sure I believed her.  So I went to the American Dental Association website to see what they say about toothpastes and fluoride.  


They recommend toothpaste, but not because of the fluoride; they recommend it for removing plaque (which my dentist thinks I do just fine).  That is, they seem to agree with the Tightwad Gazette:
Toothpaste, also called dentifrice, is essential to your daily oral hygiene routine. Toothpastes are pastes, gels or powders that help remove plaque, a film of bacteria that forms on teeth and gums. Toothpaste improves the mechanical brushing and cleaning power of a toothbrush.  [From http://www.ada.org/1322.aspx]
What does the ADA say about ingested versus topical fluoride?  That by drinking fluoridated water, I get topical fluoride anyway:
Systemic fluorides are those that are ingested into the body and become incorporated into forming tooth structures. Systemic fluorides can also give topical protection because fluoride is present in saliva, which continually bathes the teeth. Systemic fluorides include water fluoridation or dietary fluoride supplements in the form of tablets, drops or lozenges.  [From http://www.ada.org/3088.aspx]
What do I have against toothpaste?  Nothing really.  I'm not an anti-toothpaste crusader, just a curious experimenter. My kids, whose teeth are still developing, drink city water AND use fluoride toothpastes regularly -- I'm not experimenting on them!   I'll probably start using toothpaste every once-in-a-while again myself, but I'll do it for the taste or the fun of it, if-and-when I do it.  


The moral of this story, if you want to take one away, is that it's the act of regular flossing and brushing -- and brushing well -- that cleans your teeth, not the act of sticking some toothpaste in your mouth and swishing it around.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Mommy Dollars and BoMama

By popular demand (with a tip o' the hat to the excellent Get Rich Slowly blog), here's an update on Mommy Dollars.  I've written before about
Any economist will tell you that to make a local currency work, you have to make it more powerful at buying what people want than other kinds of currencies.  Now that we've been doing Mommy Dollars for nearly 9 months, these are the things that my boys still spend money on:
  • TV time ($40 per hour); they buy this about once a week now.
  • Fines for not cleaning up their messes (okay, that's not fun for them, but this is the most effective way I've found to change their behavior without constant nagging.  I just take their football out of my garden, store it in the trunk of my car, and make them pay $5 to get it back.)
  • Surreptitiously competing with one another to see who has the most money.
  • Getting extra library books out of the library.  (I allow them 2 books for free, and they pay me $2 for each book above that limit.  For some reason, this makes them want to take out MORE books, not FEWER books).
  • Converting 100 Mommy Dollars to 1 US Dollar, and blowing it all at a yard sale.
  • Investing in the Bo-Mama.
  • Bedtime snacks.
This last item is a complete sell-out on my part, I know.  I'm not going to regale you with the long, convoluted story about how we got to this point of affairs, but I'll confess that I sell my boys 10 gummy-bears for $16 at bedtime.  If you can put aside your revulsion at the store-bought, processed, sugar-laden bribery of it all (sigh), I'll point out that these treats have the effect of ensuring that my kids pester me about Mommy Dollars each night.  (See the above note about what economists say).  And this, in turn, keeps accounts up-to-date, and it encourages the boys to earn extra money the next day so they can continue to get their snack each night.  

About 4 or 5 months after I introduced the Mommy Dollars themselves, I opened (with great fanfare) BoMama:  the "Bank of Mama".  This is how my boys get to invest their money.  They had to fill out a horrendously long and laborious (to them) form -- they had to write down their name, address, phone number, and birthday.  With a minimum deposit of $100 (Mommy Dollars, of course), they could open an account.  They earn interest at a Monthly Percentage Rate set by the banker (me), and that interest gets paid out in US dollars.  It's a great deal for them, but they're so young and impulsive that it's still hard for them to take advantage of it.  Which, of course, is why it's such a great learning experience. I'll post more on the BoMama if people seem to want to hear more details.  
The BoMama Account Register (click to enlarge).

The horrendously long, complicated form that the poor applicant has to fill out ALL BY HIMSELF.  (Click to enlarge).  


Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Turning off the hot-water heater

Last Friday, my family and I went to a wonderful pot-luck party at the home Emily and Elias, friends-of-a-friend of mine.  The conversation turned to conservation (which somehow it often does once my mouth starts moving), and Elias mentioned that his family has turned off their hot water heater for the summer.

Of course my ears pricked up immediately.  I had lots of questions.  These were the first three:
  1. Do you take cold showers?  E and E said, er, yes.  They have 6.25 children now (Emily is just starting to poof out with kid number 7), and for the kids' baths they compromise by heating some water on the stove to mix with the cold tap water.  
  2. Do you have a dishwasher?  I don't know whether our dishwasher heats the water itself or needs the water coming in to be hot, so this part has me doing a bit more research.  Emily says she wishes she had a dishwasher, but she does dishes by hand; again, she heats water on the stove.
  3. What about laundry?  I asked this question with an anxious eye toward my husband, who is the self-appointed Laundry Tsar in our home.  To my surprise, my guy was the first to answer:  "I wash almost all the clothes in cold water anyway."  (I heaved a huge sigh of relief).  E and E agreed.  They have a neat set-up for hot washes, though.  They have a black garden hose, and the sun gets the hose so hot that they can run it down to their washer.  They have a front-loader; they just stick the hose into the soap dispenser to fill the machine.
They were motivated by attempting to save money (last year they spent about $2000 on heating oil) as well as by the desire to get away from using foreign oil.  It's hard to know how much less money they're spending -- obviously, they don't heat the house during the summer, so the hot-water part of their old bill is less than $500 for the three months of June, July, and August.  The use of the stove and the person-time required to heat water are costs of different kinds.  I know they're thinking more and more about solar water heating.

I am not one to let an intriguing idea go to waste.  My own green garden hoses don't quite reach the edges of the garden, and since I've been toying with the idea of getting longer hoses anyway, on Saturday I went and bought a 50-foot length of black hose.  [Aside.  This is one of the first times I have been in a store for several weeks.  Actually buying a new object is a Miser Mom way of saying something big is happening here.]
My husband thinks I look great in black hose!

Sunday morning I got back from a hot and humid run, stripped down to my running shorts and jog bra, and gave myself an outdoor shower with my new black hose.  It was warm and wonderful!  I can't imagine ever going back to indoor showers during the summer again.

I've modified this a little bit now.  I have a "shower basket" by the back door with conditioner, comb, soap, a razor, and a little nylon mini-skirt.  (I wear the skirt so I can get clean without scandalizing the neighbors).  The yellow spray head on the end of the hose works great, and it has an on-off lever so I can run the hose only when I need the water.  For some reason, I feel much cleaner and fresher after showering outdoors.  I also like that I'm not steaming up the house -- I'm not heating up the house at the same time that we're trying hard to keep it cool.  And to make this even more perfect, the waste water goes right to my tree and its water-seeking roots, not into the sewer.

My boys have started taking outdoor showers, too.  They think it's hilarious.  Jubilation all around.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Passive solar cooling - update

We have no air conditioners at all in our large home.  No central air, no window units.  I wrote back in June about how we use passive solar cooling (covering windows and closing the house up during the day, and opening up the house at night).  How's it working?

Well, Friday morning I walked out of my home at 6 a.m. to find that it was warmer outside than inside.  That's probably normal for people with air conditioning, but really unusual for us.  It means that we haven't been able to use the cool nights to chill our house -- because the nights haven't been cool.

Have you heard the expression, "It's hot enough to fry an egg?"  On Saturday, I did exactly that:  I cooked 6 eggs outdoors in my solar cooker -- essentially a cardboard box with a storm window on top.  (Some of you might recognize this set-up from my wax-covered pinecones project).  Here are some pictures to prove it.
Here's my solar cooker. 
I checked on the eggs two hours after I put them in the cooker.  This is what they looked like then. Were they done?

Yes, here's a yolk I picked up.  It's so hot, you can cook an egg outside.  These eggs were part of our lunch.


The temperature here in central Pennsylvania has topped 100 degrees a couple of days in a row.  Our house started this heatwave at 72 degrees and ultimately got up to 83 degrees inside.
Is that comfortable?  Well, no and yes.  My husband has been doing some pretty vigorous exercise, including a 20-mile bike race with an extra 20 miles of warm up/cool down.  He comes home and is honestly pretty wiped.  He's hanging in there because he loves me, but he's not peppy.  On the other hand, we had some friends drive in from out of town and remark with surprise, "It feels nice in here!"  They'd been in a minivan whose air-conditioning had broken, so maybe they're not the best judges. But still, our home is nowhere near as hot as it is outside.  I find that if I'm just sitting still and there's some kind of a ceiling fan, I'm very comfortable.

Am I ranting that because we do it, everybody has to give up air-conditioning?   No.  But here's the point.   What I AM saying is that other people could WAY reduce their air conditioning load by putting heavy curtains on their windows.  Our family survives through this massive, record-setting heatwave by covering our windows and doing almost nothing else.

Everyone reading this blog knows the experience of getting into a car parked in the sun where the seatbelts buckles are too hot to touch.   I managed to cook eggs with a black pot, a cardboard box, and an old window.  Windows are powerful.  In a battle between your air conditioner and your windows, your utility bills will be the loser.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Plastic bag world

I've written before about how I hardly ever buy plastic bags -- I can "precycyle" by reusing the ones that come into my house "naturally", if that word even makes sense.  Even so, I always feel we're overflowing with bags, and so I try hard to reduce the number that are coming into my home.  To me, this is so obvious a way to live that I forget sometimes that there is another world out there.

There's the time I went to the store and the clerk started pulling out a plastic bag to put my small item in.  "I don't need the bag," I said, "I've brought my own."  The clerk looked confused, said, "Oh, okay", and promptly put his unused bag in the trash.

Our newspaper comes in plastic bags.  I wrote to the customer service center, asking
Here's my question:  is there a way to get our paper delivered WITHOUT those plastic bags?  I'd be happy to do a little less damage to the environment, and have a little less trash to throw away.
They wrote back:
I'm sorry, but the carriers are instructed to use the bags to protect the papers from bad weather and rough surfaces. Maybe if the bags are in decent shape you can collect them and offer then to your carrier for reuse.
So I called my delivery guy to ask if he wanted the bags back, and he said,
No, don't worry at all about that.  They give me those bags for free, so I don't need any more!
 I don't want to create hassles for a guy who makes his money delivering papers, so I'm not going to try to bother him about giant floating islands of plastic.  But I'm still wondering whether I can convince him to defy his bosses and toss me an un-plastic-ed paper every morning.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Cooking with the refrigerator

Summer got much sweeter for me when I finally realized I don't need to buy strange concoctions to make hummus, one of my favorite spreads.  (Maybe "tahini" is not a strange concoction to you, but it's not something I have seen in any recipe except for hummus).  Here's the recipe I use.  I mix together in a blender:
  • a bunch of beans (default = 2 cans)
  • onion and/or garlic (default =1 small onion, 3 cloves garlic)
  • bread crumbs (default = 1/4 cup)
  • mustard (dijon, 1 Tbsp)
  • lemon juice
  • olive oil (1 tsp)
  • spices (basil, or thyme, or parsley, or cilantro)
  • maybe a dash of salt, and 
  • a bit of water if the blender has trouble mixing the ingredients
I've made this recipe with slightly different amounts every time, and it's always come out great.  The original recipe calls for white beans, but I've used chick peas a few times, and I've had great success with black beans, too.  

Hummus in the grocery store is pricey (maybe it's all that tahini?).  I just made up 9 cups of hummus starting with 2 pounds of dried beans ($3.50 at our local farmer's market), plus two fist-fulls of home-grown parsley, and the other ingredients.  

It's so very, very warm outside, and the vegetables coming in from our weekly CSA delivery (that's a Community Supported Agriculture group) are the kind that taste great cold -- less of the kale and potatoes, and more of the tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers.  It's good to be able to "cook" by using my refrigerator and not my stove.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

A poem lovely as a tree

When I went with my sons' class to Washington D.C. this past June, I remember being grateful for the trees along the walk to the Lincoln Memorial.  The rest of the Mall is smothered in hot sun, but the walk to the memorial was cool and breezy.  For some reason, all those biblical praises of the "Cedars of Lebanon" kept popping into my head.  I could imagine all those desert-dwelling Israelites praising the shade trees.

Now that it's pushing 100 degrees here in Pennsylvania, I don't know much about the Cedars of Lebanon, but I'm very thankful for the Sycamores of State Street.  Along the campus walk, athletes and construction workers are taking noon-time naps out in the shade of our college's trees.  My home is cooler because of the poplar and oak on either side of it.  These trees were planted long ago, but the shade and cooling they provide on these hot summer days is still here with us.  (We have no air conditioning, not even window units.  The trees are an important part of our passive solar cooling strategy).

I think this is part of the reason I just hate shopping malls--the parking lots are vast tar pits with no shade in sight; they're a place where people go to bake their cars while they spend their money.  Locally owned stores, at least in my area, have tiny parking lots (if any).  But even if you drive instead of walk to these, there's often some shady tree to aim for.

Last summer I planted some fruit trees around my yard -- there's a peach tree shading my southern window, a pair of apple trees tucked in sunny corners of the front yard, and a fig tree working its way up along my chimney wall.  Those trees have borne fruit this summer -- not enough that I recouped my investment yet, but there's promise for the future.

This evening, the boys are playing with a friend in our back yard, moving between a wading pool (I trash picked it last week) that is under our poplar tree, a tree house we had built as an adoption gift, and the shaded lawn.

Summers are a rotten time for planting trees -- fall and spring with their cooler wetter weather are much better.  So trees are a great example of frugality: their plantings took a bit of up-front foresight and work followed by years of patience.  Almost makes you want to be a tree hugger, doesn't it?

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Why More is List

 You've probably used "to do" lists as a way to keep from forgetting important tasks.  You've probably used shopping lists as a way of controlling your spending (even if it's just to avoid making several trips to the grocery store for that item you keep forgetting to buy).  Yesterday, I wrote about how making lists helps me control desk clutter.  All these reasons show why lists are important tools for a frugal person.

But lists can be so much more powerful than that.

Here's why.  Barry Schwartz, a sociologist at Swathmore College, has written a bunch of books and articles on something he calls "The Paradox of Choice". He says that, although we believe that more choices are better, the sheer enormity of the choices we face overwhelm us.  He gives example after example of how people who are given more choices make worse decisions than people who are given almost no choices.

Think about this in your own life:  you come into work on a day when there's no one thing that's extremely urgent, but there are lots of little jobs that are hanging over you.  Every time you think about starting one task, you worry about whether that's the right thing to work on first . . . so you clean your desk and sharpen your pencils and play computer games until something suddenly becomes urgent.  The day goes by and there's just as much to do as when you started.

Then you come home from work, open the freezer, and see a bunch of frozen globs.  What to have for dinner?  You are so exhausted from work that you can't make up your mind, so you decide to go out to a restaurant.

If there had been one urgent job, one massive deadline approaching, there's no question about what you would have done at work.  If there were only one or two clearly labeled containers in the freezer, you might have grabbed one of those for dinner instead of spending money and time at a restaurant.   But the number of choices itself made a good choice hard to come by.

Another example:  people who have only one or two outfits to wear do not stand in front of the closet for 15 minutes wondering what to wear that day. They don't try on several outfits before deciding on the right clothes to wear.

So, you can either get rid of stuff (your clothes, your food, and the tasks at your work), or you can figure out a way to overcome the paralysis of too-many-choices.  The power of a list is that you can get all of that messy stuff in front of you in a neat format, and you can organize it and prioritize it.  You can decide ONCE, and then follow your list.

Am I saying that I'm anal enough to make prioritized lists of the food in my freezer?  Well, actually, yes. I don't do it all year round, but as we got close to summer this year I wanted to clear out all the food I'd prepared and stored up the previous fall.  I really didn't want to keep mystery food in the freezer for several years.  So I did an inventory of the freezer, and then I reorganized the list into weekly menus, listing about three meals per week.  (I knew we'd start getting fresh vegetables from our CSA--Community Supported Agriculture--plus a few invitations to friends' houses, to fill out the other meals).

A small amount of the food in my freezer was just not very yummy -- the squash ginger soup didn't magically get better with time, unfortunately.  The weekly list gave me the impetus to finally toss that food -- its time had come and gone.  But most of the food I'd stored away (stuffed peppers, pesto) was like finding buried treasure.  Mmm, mmm.

The point of this post is not to say that we need to write down lists of everything we do.  But if you're dreading facing the same decision over and over again, a list might be a good way to help you decide on a plan once, and save your brain power for more important things.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The lure of lists

I love writing things down.  I love making lists.  Lists and organization are a very important part of a miser-mom lifestyle.

One of the most important things that lists do for me is to help keep things neat (and out-of-sight), while still allowing me to not freak out about forgetting them.  Here's an example:  my office desk.  Like many people, I used to have many different stacks of paper; a new important piece of paper would come in, and I would put it in its own place on the desk so I wouldn't forget I had that important thing to do.  

The problems are obvious.  When I was at my busiest, my desk was full of stacks of paper.  I didn't have much space to work; there was a lot of visual distraction; important papers got lost anyway.  

Now I make one single stack on the bookshelf of all those important "to do" pieces of paper, and I make a small list of what is in that stack.  The small list stays on my desk, and I can easily read that list to see if there's something urgent.  In my busiest times, I can let that stack grow, doing only the most immediate tasks;  but in calmer times I can work my way through the list-and-stack, making a new (and shorter) list when the old list gets too cluttered.

Here's an example of a "to do" list, each of which has a paper or magazine in my stack.
  • Call dentist
  • Write to a former student who got married.
  • Fill out a form for my boss.
  • Read a brochure and see if I want to file it or toss it.
The list is short because it's summer (I'm not uber-busy right now).  It also uses verbs (things I should do), not nouns, which help me to think about doing something about those pieces of paper.  

Monday, July 18, 2011

Granola girl

We're back from vacation, ready to immerse ourselves in the very warm weather of home.  I tell my friends, now that the temperature is going up, we're REALLY saving money by not having air conditioning!  It's a weird sense of humor, I know.  The passive solar cooling is still doing well -- we haven't gotten to August yet.

My sister -- who is not as extreme about money as I am -- says her girlfriends call her "crunchy granola girl".  So I thought I'd share this picture of a yogurt and granola face; my sons designed this breakfast for themselves (there is both raspberry and plain yogurt).

We make our own granola, using a recipe from the Tightwad Gazette, but there are lots of variations on-line.  It's very easy to make, and WAY cheaper than buying cereal in a store.  We use a whole container of oats; the granola expands, so we use a pair of former oat containers to store it when done.  The kids love it during the summer, when it's too hot for waffles or muffins.

Here's the recipe we use:

  • 10 cups oats (one round container; NOT quick oats)
  • 1 cup dry milk
  • 3/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1-to-2 cups brown sugar
  • 2/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup honey
Mix this together and spread out on pans.  Bake at 375 degrees.  Cooking time is about 1/2 hour for me, but it depends on how thin you spread the mixture; it should get light brown, but not burnt.  After it's cooked, add raisins, or coconut, or other dried fruits as you like.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Traveling by the book

I keep repeating  the mantra, "the only things I can really need to remember on a trip are ID, credit card, and medication."  Nothing else I leave behind will really ruin my trip.  Still, I admit I've made some expensive mistakes in the past by not packing right.

Swimsuits are close to the top of my mistake list.  I love playing in or near the ocean, and even more, I'm a sucker for hot tubs, especially hot tubs that contain my husband.  Three times in the past five years I've broken down and bought a swimsuit while I was traveling.  This is expensive for a pair of reasons: I already have suits at home, and even if I didn't, I could have bought them cheap if I'd planned ahead.  My cheapest travel-bought suit was $45; my yard-sale suits (brand new racing suits) cost $2 each.

Books are another thing I have thrown away a lot of money on.  In this case, I mean "thrown away" literally. I'm a fast reader, and would often buy a novel in one airport, read it on the plane, and toss it at the next airport.  (Actually, I'd leave it at the side of a trash can, just in case another traveller wanted it).

I get yard-sale books for a quarter apiece, but I used to read them as soon as I got them . . . until finally I wised up and started storing my yard-sale novels in my suitcase, instead of on my bookshelf.

So now my suitcase, when I store it at home, contains these five items:
  1. A toiletries bag, refilled after each trip;
  2. A swim suit
  3. A pile of books
  4. A pair of travel pajamas
  5. A clear plastic bag with a paper saying "chargers".
(The last is to remind me to pack my computer and phone chargers).  Your list might be a different one, but the idea is the same: learn from silly mistakes and store those things you just-gotta-have so you'll have them when you gotta.

Friday, July 15, 2011

A bag of trash

On Wednesday, the family gathered for our annual photo, and then we traveled to Yellowstone Park to see Old Faithful.
We packed sandwiches and fruit for our lunch stop, and wrapped these in an assortment of pre-cycled bags, reusable containers, and aluminum foil, much of which we could use again.

It is hard to know how much money we spent making these lunches, or how much we would have spent if we had stopped instead at a restaurant.  But one visible evidence of how little we wasted came when we had to haul away all the trash we created at lunch.  
Here is the trash that 14 people created at our lunch stop.  A good bit of what's in this bag is apple cores -- at home, we'd compost that, but we saw a bear from the window of our car, and signs everywhere warned us to throw away all food scraps.

Yellowstone was such an incredibly beautiful park.  It was the perfect place to encourage saving the earth's resources, and not just our own money.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

How to buy expensive things

Today my husband is giving my brother-in-law advice on buying bicycle parts:  buy the expensive components, not the cheap ones.  The expensive ones last so much longer than the cheap ones -- which break often -- that he'll save both money and time with them.

Two weeks ago, my husband came home with two new shirts on which he had "saved" $130 ($65 each), by spending only $139.99.

So now is the time you might expect me to start shuddering or foaming at the mouth.  But in fact, I approve.

As far as the bike stuff goes, I myself would describe it as a contrast between "durable" and "flimsy" rather than "expensive" and "cheap".   My brother-in-law uses his bike to commute, and bikes are a lot less expensive than cars.  It's hard to yard-sale for high quality bicycle components.  So I agree he should think long-term.  (It's the equivalent of buying cloth napkins once to avoid paper napkins in the future).

And those clothes?  Well, I don't ever buy $70 shirts.  But I don't have to.  Nice clothes for women and children are very easy to find at yard sales and thrift shops.  Clothes for men are much harder to find; really nice clothes for men are just about non-existent.

 I'll also add (cautiously, because I don't want to set off any snob alarms) that my husband has to dress to different standards than we do.  He does PR, and his whole job is about making a good impression, often with people who make (and spend) lots and lots of money. My boys are in school -- suffice it to say, they're not wearing suits and ties each day.  The people that I work with tend to be 18-year-olds who live in dorm rooms, not 68-year-olds who live in pent-house apartments.  As a professor, I am able to dress slightly more formally than my colleagues while still spending so little.  That doesn't mean my colleagues dress like hobos, it means that Americans tend to be wasteful people who get rid of lots of useful clothes simply because their closets are so full.

And, like the bicycle components, my husband's shirts last longer.  These are the 3rd and 4th shirts he's bought since he came back from Iraq in January 2010, and he was able to wait until he found them on sale at just over half-price.  It's a different kind of frugality than I've been writing about, but it shows he's not living on an entirely different planet.

So, the hundred-dollar bike parts and shirts: I approve.

But the "Vitamin Water" he buys . . . well, nobody's perfect.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

More glimpses of my family

More snapshots of my family vacation, taken from a miser point of view.

*********
My father's girlfriend, whom I love dearly, listened very politely as I told her about using t-shirt rags instead of something disposable.  (See my post on "A paper towel panic").   She turned to my husband and said, "I've already got your Christmas present, but if I didn't, I'd know just what to get you!  A BIG BOX of paper towels!"

Poor guy.  It's nice to know somebody pities him.

******
My daughter knits constantly.  She's had a lot of fun making bags out of bags.  She starts with plastic grocery bags that she cuts into strips, which she winds into balls, which she crochets into bags.













******






We always start the week of our family vacation by reading over brochures about local attractions and  writing out a giant list of all the possible things we could do in the week.   Then, for each event, everybody writes her or his symbol in one of three columns:
  1. Yes, I absolutely want to do this.
  2. I'll do this, but just to be with other people.
  3. No, I don't want to do this.
After we know what everyone thinks, we plan the week with some whole-family events and some events for smaller groups.  Here's this year's list, written on the only paper we had available at the time: a brown paper grocery bag.  On the back of the bag is the roster for who's making dinner.  


Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Glimpses of My Frugal Familly

Here are some miserly snap-shots of my family, vacationing together.

******
My youngest sister arrived late at night, and said she knew she'd arrived at the right place "when I saw the family napkins."

These were a set of cloth napkins I "embroidered" (using a tight zig-zag stitch on the machine, not by hand) as gift for my mother many years ago.  These napkins have gone on vacation with us every summer since then; when my mom passed away, my middle sister inherited the job of bringing them along.  We use them at every meal (no buying paper napkins, of course), laundering them as needed.  It's been fun adding new names as we welcomed new people into the family.

If you like this idea but don't sew, fabric paint would work.

******
My middle sister hunted for two days for a way to recycle cardboard here in Teton Village.  She finally found a recycling bin, supposedly for the entire village, that is probably big enough only for one house.  It's probably only for plastic.  There is much consternation in our family.


******
My dad tells us he bought his first new suit in 30 years, after the cuffs on the old one started fraying.  "But," he added, "I realized that I've shrunk enough that I could get a tailor to turn up the hem on the old suit.  So now I have TWO suits!"  My dad's new lady friend, a very stylish woman, confesses that she loves the old suit and prefers it to the new one.

******
My brother-in-law, a carpenter, designed a backpack that I just love.  Here are two pictures of it.  It's made from one pair of jeans and a shoe lace.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Children's Suitcases

Once my kids could reliably dress themselves, I had them pack their own suitcases for trips.  It's pretty easy to make a list (7 shirts, 7 pants, 7 clean pairs of underwear, 7 socks, a bathing suit, and a jacket).

The kids have always been very proud to own, pack, and haul their own luggage.  I don't really touch anything.


[The suitcases look like a matching set.  That's a lucky break -- I bought them several years apart, at completely different yard sales, for $1 each.]

Do my kids do a perfect job?  Well, no, not quite.  But it's not really any less perfect than the rest of our lives.  After all, these are the same sons of mine who are capable of losing their underwear at school.  (You don't really want to know.  For that matter, neither do I).

And, as my traveling mantra goes, as long as I remember my photo ID, my credit card, and the medications, forgetting something else doesn't ruin the trip.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Packing list

My dad used to reassure us, as we left on long trips, that there are only three things we really NEED to take on the trip.  Here's his list, updated for the times.  He says, You're going to be okay as long as you remember these three things: 
  1. Photo ID,
  2. Credit card, and
  3. Medications.
If you forget anything else, you might be uncomfortable or have to spend a bit of money, but you haven't destroyed your vacation.  Bring an ID, credit card, and meds, and you'll be okay.  


(My dad's original list was passport, traveller's checks, and the airplane tickets.  But e-tickets make traveling a little easier.  And we're no longer immortal or physically perfect.)

Here are some other things I will carry onto the plane today.  In addition to the things I usually carry to work with me (cell phone, wallet, lap top), these fall into three convenient categories:



Things to keep the brain comfortable  
  • books
  • something to write on, in case I want to make lists (like this one)  
Things to keep the outside of the body comfortable  
  • a shawl or blanket.  (Airports, airplanes, and restaurants are very cold, especially for someone who is used to living without air-conditioning.  I used to think this was a female/male thing, but on my last flight I loaned my shawl to a grateful, shivering business man.)
Things to keep the inside of the body comfortable  
  • empty water bottle
  • trail mix or other carry-able food 
  • cough drops or hard candy

The trail mix is something I make by mixing an oat-based cereal with pretzels, raisins, peanuts, soy nuts, and m&ms. The pretzels and cereal (okay, yes it really is store-brand cheerios) adds bulk; the peanuts and soy nuts are a bit of protein. The raisins and candy are an out-right bribe -- it's hard to bring dry food that is as appealing as the smell of hamburgers or bakery items. I make a huge amount of this -- I use the whole box or bag of everything I bought -- and then pack it up in smaller, person-sized pre-cycled bags, ready to dole out to the kids at that magic moment about 10 seconds before they start to get really hungry and bored.
A lot of trail mix, divided up into a bunch of pre-cycled plastic bags.
We're heading to the airport this morning, suitcases and bags already in the car. I hope I remembered my ID, credit cards, and medications!

Friday, July 8, 2011

t-shirt bags, revisited

About a month ago, I wrote about making bags from old t-shirts.  I've been thinking about these bags even more lately.  For one thing, I find that they're much more portable than the canvas bags I've gotten over the years -- they aren't as stiff, so I can easily toss them in another bag, and get them out only if I need them.

But the other reason is that my sons have been casting about for ways to earn real money.  They earn mommy dollars at home, but I'm not exactly the type to throw serious money at them.  Not only am I super cheap, but I think it's important for kids to learn early on the hard work that goes into earning money in the real world.

At any rate, they're not old enough for serious jobs yet.  But I realized that they know enough about sewing (they bought several lessons from me for 10 mommy dollars a session) that they could make t-shirt bags and sell them.

We had a huge bag of t-shirts the boys have been given by friends, relatives, camps, races, etc.  We had already sorted these into 3 piles:

  1. 20 shirts (10 each) that the boys want to keep in their bedroom now; 
  2. other shirts they might want to wear later this summer (this is "t-shirt purgatory"); 
  3. shirts the boys are happy to give away.  
This last pile had about 40 t-shirts, and it became the basis for our project.  We began with a scissors party, in which the boys cut off arms and necks of about 20 t-shirts.

Here's my younger son working on sewing the sixth complete bag the boys made.

One of my good friends is part of a giant yard-sale this week.  We'll be heading out of town, but she agreed to sell the bags.  Here's the display stand we made.  The base comes from an old bar stool we finally tossed; the pole is from a push-broom.  The hooks are made of paper-clips.  The lettering was done by a friend of the family who has some art talent.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Solar cooking and wax pinecones

With the summer sun beating down so hot, it's a great time for solar cooking.  Here's a picture of a solar cooker I made three years ago, essentially from trash (the aluminum foil and glue were the only never-before-used items).

I got the idea for a solar cooker out of my favorite book, The Tightwad Gazette.  I also tried using it to make crayons -- I had melted crayons into car shapes using plastic jello molds in my kitchen oven.  The problem with the solar cooker is it got so hot, it melted the molds!  Since then,  I have loved using this cooker for vegetable stews.

This year, I decided to use it for one of my messier projects from the same book:  making wax-covered pinecones.  In this case, I started with a bunch of candles I got super-cheap at yard sales.  You'll notice a lot of the candles are red.  (Have I ever mentioned that yard sales are full of Christmas decorations that nobody wants?  Oh, yeah, I have).

I put a few candles in the black pot and let them cook a few hours; they got really soft and runny.

Then I dipped into the pot, one at a time, about 30 pinecones I'd collected.  These make really beautiful fire-starters for my dad's fireplace.  They'll be part of my Christmas gift to him this year.  If he doesn't like them, he doesn't have to put them on display at a yard sale; he can just burn them!  Of course, if he likes them, he'll burn them, too.  Hmmm . . .

I got that pot at a yard sale for a quarter.  I really like having a pot dedicated to just wax . . . so now I'm in the market for another one.  I've seen small baskets with three pinecones for sale in stores for several dollars.  Wow, it's hard for me to imagine someone actually paying for pinecones!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Inconspicuous consumption

It's hard to write something really exciting and eye-catching about conserving electricity.  I think that's because there's nothing really tangible to show for our efforts.  You don't see people bragging,
  • "By using double-coupons and sales, I got 450 kWh for only 32¢!"
  • "Look at this cute purse I made with leftover watts I saved from turning off my air conditioner!"
  • "I hit the yard sale this weekend and found a brand-name container of electricity in someone's Free Box!  With the tags still on!"
Electricity is almost invisible, and conserving it doesn't show.  So unplugging chargers while we're not using them, or turning off lights while we're not using them, or unplugging the cable box when we're not using it . . . it's hard to tell whether that's doing us any good.  It certainly isn't something we can show off to our friends.  ("Hey, Edna!  Look at this cute thermos I got on sale!  And take a look at this unplugged phone charger on my desk!")

And other energy-conserving tasks -- like hanging laundry, or turning off the air conditioner -- feel worse than doing nothing.  They can make us look wrinkly or feel uncomfortably warm.  When we don't see the meter ticking, it's hard to know if it's even worth it.  How much money does it cost, after all, to dry those t-shirts?  (I like stiff clothes and towels, so to me, air drying is way preferable to dryer use.  That's why my husband does the laundry in our house.)

If you really need to see the numbers to motivate you to make a change -- if you're not an eco-nut like me whose hobby is following people around the house turning off lights after them -- then you might appreciate getting an watt-hour meter. 

How do you get one?  I tried hard to find a way to borrow one, because they cost a bit of money (about $25, which is expensive by my standards).  I finally broke down and got one two years ago, and I've only used it a few times, but learned a lot each time.  For example, our cable/DVR/TV set-up draws 33 watts (1/3 of a bright lightbulb).  Running that 24 hours is like running a lightbulb one-third of the day (8 hours), so the set-up costs us 8-16¢ a day, or $30-60 a year.

If you live in Lancaster PA and want to borrow mine, just let me know.  

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Cool savings on electric use

Keeping it cool is tough.  That's true for our electric appliances as well as for us.  And sometimes we get all hot-and-bothered because we feel like if we don't do a perfect job, we shouldn't try at all.  But it's okay to do a little bit, for now.  That little bit might clear the way for bigger changes, or it might convince us that those changes aren't worth it after all.

Our family doesn't have air-conditioning (we use passive solar cooling, which I describe in my June 9, 2011 post).  But if you have air conditioning, you don't have to choose between giving it up entirely or continuing on with your AC running 24/7.  You could use passive solar techniques to reduce the amount of work your air conditioner has to do; you could give up air conditioning on dry days and keep it on humid days; you could close your blinds while you're gone during the day and use the air conditioning only at night.

In the same way, the fact that some people never use a clothes dryer doesn't mean that your two choices are (a) line-drying everything or (b) throwing everything in a dryer.  My husband, who LOVES his clothes dryer, has two wooden drying racks close by that he uses to hang the more delicate stuff.  He uses electricity to tumble his towels, and lets spandex and nylon drip-dry.

But it's hard to "sort-of" use a refrigerator.  So here's a technique I use to keep my fridge from working too hard.  I filled a bunch of milk jugs and juice jugs (the kind that has screw-on caps) with water, and I stuck them in the back of the fridge.  They're on just about every shelf of the fridge, some of them lying on their sides so they can fit.

How does this save energy?  One way is that it reduces air transfer when I open and close the fridge -- the bottles take up space, so less air gets exchanged, meaning less air needs to get cooled down once I close the fridge again.  Another way has something to do with "thermal mass".  Think of it this way:  if you need to cool down quickly, you can put a cool cloth on your head.  But the cloth warms up quickly -- an ice-pack works for a much longer time, simply because it weighs more.  In the same way, having a mass of cold stuff in the fridge helps to keep the fridge cold.

There are also two, non-electric, added benefits.  Before I added water jugs to the fridge, I used to lose left-overs in the back of the fridge, where they'd often spoil.  Now the jugs are in the back, so the food stays near the front.  It's harder for food to get lost -- less spoiled food.  The other benefit is that emergency-preparedness experts say we ought to keep water on hand in case of an emergency -- well, at least I have some on hand.  (If you're nervous about old milk jugs and juice jugs, I suppose you could shell out for store-bought water).

Monday, July 4, 2011

Ups and downs of electric use

How are we using our electricity?  There are easy ways to tell (see the posts below) how much our simple electric devices are costing us, but it's harder to figure in appliances that cycle off-and-on.  It's not easy to directly calculate the energy costs of dryers, refrigerators, cable boxes, or ovens.  And even if you DO the computations for all of those things (wow, are you amazing!), how do you know you didn't miss another energy hog?

Here are two web-based ways to look more carefully at your own energy use:
  1. Electric company graphs and
  2. a cool website.
1.  Our electric company hooked us up to a meter that can read out how much energy we use hour-by-hour.  As a mathematician, I love graphs, and it's fun (for me, at least) trying to read our lives into them.  

Here's a pretty typical month for us.  You can see we tend to use a lot more electricity on or near the weekends (the lighter colored bars).  Why?  That's when my husband does the laundry; the dryer uses a lot of electricity, enough that you can easily see it on the graph.  

The graphs can even go more fine-tuned than this.  Here's a glimpse into our energy use this past Friday.

I added the words (fortunately, the electric company doesn't snoop on my life like this).  But it's pretty easy with this to look back on a recent days' activities and see the electric impact those activities had.  I'm scratching my head to remember what I was doing between 9 and 10 a.m. on Friday -- that might be running the dishwasher.

2.  The website "Saving Electricity"  http://michaelbluejay.com/electricity/howmuch.html has a lot of quirky, fun, and readable information.  [I have a small problem with the title of that web-site.  Few people actually save electricity -- have you ever seen a bucket of electricity out in the garage?  But the title "Using Less Electricity" isn't as catchy, I know.]   

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Making cents of electric use

In my last post, I described how every electric appliance has a little tag that tells you how many watts it uses.  Let's convert those watts into money.

My electric bill tells me that I pay 8.774 cents per kWh, plus a bunch of taxes and other fees.  That sentence has two confusing things---nasty decimals, and a horrid abbreviation---so let's translate that into something that makes sense to us.  A "kWh" (or kiloWatt-hour) means 1000 watt-hours -- the same as one hour of ten 100-watt lightbulbs.  Lightbulbs are easier to think about than kWh's:  the electric bill is really saying it costs 8.774 cents (plus taxes and fees) to run ten bright lightbulb for one hour.

The decimal 8.774 (plus other fees) is ugly and hard to pin down.  Let's round it off, and say I pay between 10 and 20 cents.  (Energy prices go up and down, and I don't really turn a lightbulb off after exactly one hour, so rounding is okay.  This is definitely a case where I don't want to let the perfect be the enemy of the good.)  My bill tells me that I spend about 10 or 20 cents to run ten lightbulbs, or about 1 or 2 penny per lightbulb.


A 100-watt lightbulb costs me somewhere between 1 and 2 cents per hour.

I live in Pennsylvania; your rates might be different.  My sister lives in California where the base electric rates are about 15 cents per kWh, so she would pay more than 2 cents to run the same lightbulb.  (Except she got solar panels, so she pays nothing . . . but that's a different story).

If I still used incandescent lightbulbs (shudder), and I leave one of them on for about 10 hours a day (say, I turn it on in the morning and forget to turn it off before I go to work, or I leave on a porch light all night), that's 10-20 cents a day for that one lightbulb, or somewhere between $36.50 and $73 per year.  Switching to a flourescent (23W) is about a quarter that cost, bringing the yearly cost of that bulb down to save at least $27 a year.  Maybe that doesn't sound like a big difference . . . but how many lightbulbs are on in your house right now?  My current count:  2 on in my kid's bedroom, 3 in the hallways, 4 in the kitchen, 1 in the dining room, and 3 in my bedroom.

Using a lightbulb comparison can help decide whether other energy-saving efforts are worth it.  For example, should I use scissors instead of an electric razor to cut my family's hair?











Scissors use 0 watts per hour.  My razor uses 10 watts, which is one-tenth of a lightbulb.  That means, if I run the razor for a whole hour, I use less than 2/10th of a penny; if I cut my husband's hair in only 7 minutes that costs . . . well . . . it costs so little that it's not worth computing.  And considering that if I used scissors he'd look like Frankenstein with a mohawk, I'm going to stick with the electric razor.

Here's another example.  My coffee-maker brews a pot in exactly ten minutes.  [Funny aside here:  I know it takes this long because I wake up at 5:50, hit the snooze alarm, turn on the coffee, and go back to bed.  The coffee and the second alarm beep at almost exactly the same time.  My husband gets the coffee maker ready to go the night before -- we say that the reason he has that job is that we're Christians, and it says right there in the Bible, "He brews."]

Sorry, back to electricity.  Once the coffee brews, I pour myself a cup and then put the rest of the coffee in a thermos.  When my son broke the thermos, did it make sense to shell out money for a new one?

My husband won't drink coffee after it's one hour old, so we'd leave the pot on for an hour if we had no thermos.  (I'll drink old, lukewarm coffee, of course).  A thermos uses 0 watts.  The coffee pot uses 1100 watts, which is eleven lightbulbs, or more than 11 cents.  Eleven cents a day is more than ten cents a day, which is $36 per year . . . so yes, it makes sense to buy another thermos if we can get it for less than $36.

Friday, July 1, 2011

It's electric!

I'm leaving the trash to the side for a while to talk about electric use.  Most descriptions of how to calculate energy usage are horrendously scary to look at (even to me, and I'm a mathematician!).  They're full of decimal points and strange abbreviations.  Brr!

Here is an easy way to get started thinking about energy usage.  Don't worry about dollars and cents yet.  We'll just compare energy usage from some simple household appliances.

The number you want to look for is the "watt" (as in "Watt amount of energy does this thing use?").  You don't have to be an engineer to find this number, just look under your appliance for that silver tag that has the model and serial number.


My crock pot uses 120 watts on low or 210 watts on high.   That's about the same as one or two 100-watt lightbulbs.  Just imagine trying to cook food by sticking it in an insulated box with a couple of lightbulbs -- crock pots don't use a lot of energy!    [Technically, that's 120 watts or 210 watts each hour, so about 720 watts-hours to cook something on low for 6 hours, or 630 to cook something on high for 3 hours].  

How does this compare to other kinds of cooking?  My waffle iron is labelled at 1200 watts (twelve really bright lightbulbs).   I leave it on for only about 20 minutes, or 1/3 of an hour, so it uses about 400 watt-hours total.  



















My coffee maker is 1100 watts, about the same as the waffle iron.  My oven is rated at 4.5 kW (kiloWatts), or 4500 watts.  That's the max amount it uses, when it's preheating and when the heating elements are on, so a direct comparison isn't easy -- but just the scale of the numbers suggest that waffles take less energy than muffins.  

This makes a great kind of a treasure hunt -- you could even get your kids to help you.  (Actually, your kids would probably have even more fun than you do at this, so definitely include them!)  At the low end of the spectrum, 
  • my clock radio is 1.1 watts.  
  • My CD/Radio player is 11 watts.  
  • My laptop computer charger is 60 watts, same as a medium-ish lightbulb.  

Making heat is definitely more energy-intensive than making sound.  Our dryer uses 2760 watts (that's about two-and-a-half coffee makers), at least when the heating element is on.  Sometimes the dryer just tumbles the clothes in the already-warmed air -- like the oven, it's not directly easy to calculate.  But heating that air takes a lot of work: that's why line-drying can save a lot of energy!

Where else does our energy go?  When I was growing up, refrigerators were known as the biggest energy hogs -- they're always on (although not always on max), and they move a lot of heat around.  Our refrigerator uses 540 watts at its max.   Nowadays people point to televisions and their accessories winning the energy-hog contest.  Here's what my husband's set-up looks like:
  • TV (a small, low-energy one):  130 watts
  • DVD/VHS player:  45 watts
  • Cable box: 500 watts


In other words, it uses more energy to watch TV than to run our fridge.  It uses as much energy to watch TV for an hour as it does to run a crock-pot all day.   That doesn't account for the energy the devices suck out while they're supposedly "off" -- that's the energy equivalent of leaving the faucet running, but almost all of us do it.  When my husband was in Iraq for a year, I unplugged the TV and its surrounding posse, and I used the dryer only once.  I still used the refrigerator, dishwasher, washing machine, and cooked a lot, but even so, our electric bill was cut in half.  Yes, that's half.

Finally, a little technical note.  If you don't see "W" on the tag, look at "A" (for "Amps"), and multiply that number by 120.  For example, my dryer says "23A"; I multiplied 23x120 = 2760 to get the watts.