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Keeping Our Electricity Costs Low AND Enjoying My A/C

I hate heat.  Rising temperatures generally lead to my rising temper.  Overall, I am a summer heat wuss that uses her air conditioner as a weapon against the world outside.  Given that, our current Houston, TX electricity costs are definitely not as low as they could be.  BUT, I don’t think you have to suffer to save money.  I shop around.

Electricity

The Long Game

At the end of every contract that I have with an electricity company, I look around to make sure that I am still getting the best deal for our situation.  Two of our friends live with us in a pretty large house, so we have four adults that all appreciate keeping our home pretty cool.  During the day, we generally want our thermostat between 75-76 degrees.  At night, we all like it at 72 degrees so we can hibernate appropriately.  I know how lucky I am that all of us agree on temperature – I don’t take that for granted.  :-)

In fact, even though I am known as the cheapskate of our little family, I don’t complain about our larger summer electricity costs usually.  I know we could cut back, but I also know that I shop around for the best rates for us so we don’t have to change our comfort levels.

Since I live in Texas, I generally use the Power to Choose site along with regular search engines to find the cheapest per kilowatt hour rates for us and then I lock us in for about a year.  If I lived in Australia, I’d use this energy conversion calculator to compare what I know (kilowatt hours) with what they may use (like joules).

Overall, by comparison shopping, I can keep our price per kilowatt hour to less than 9 cents, which is pretty dang awesome according to friends, family, and acquaintances that I end up chatting about this stuff with randomly…

Our Habits and Bills

Although our home stays between 72-77 degrees no matter what, we do conserve electricity in other ways:

  • We have programmable thermostats and stay on the program 90% of the time.  Our only main exception is for our potlucks since the house heats up quickly with 15-20 people hanging around plus the heat from the kitchen items cooking the food.
  • We are all well-trained to turn off lights and fans when we leave a room.
  • I double-check doors to make sure they are fully closed.
  • I unplug chargers and other unused things that were plugged in.
  • The house itself was built in 2012, so it is already energy efficient.

We also are bad in other ways:

  • My husband and I work from home and one of our roommates/friends is a student still, so there are always at least two or three computers being used at any time.
  • We all enjoy tv as background noise, so there is usually 1-2 TV’s on too (although it is actually silent right now, lol).
  • There are 4 of us, so there are usually 2-3 rooms with lights on since we’re in them.
  • I am the only one that unplugs unused chargers, so it is a constant battle.

All of that said, our winter electricity bills are around $70-$90.  Our summer electricity bills are around $150-$200.

What do your electricity bills look like?  If you live where it’s cold, how do your heating bills look in the winter?

Summer is Here – Of Course Our Rental Home’s A/C Would Die…

You read that right, the air conditioner in our rental home stopped blowing cold air.  It’s hitting 91 degrees during the day already, so this is pretty dang important.  Forgot to add in the original post that I first tried calling the a/c repair guy that we have always used, but they were already closed.  Mr. BFS and our friend went over immediately and narrowed down the problem, but our quick fix didn’t work for more than an hour or so.  It definitely didn’t buy me any time.  Now I am searching for a working a/c capacitor that can be delivered ASAP.

Broken AC

The Hypothesis

The system worked when our friend pushed along one of the rotating parts of the capacitor.  I’m calling this the “starter-thingy”.  BUT, then it stopped working again in an hour or so and the trick with pushing along the starter-thing didn’t work again for long.

Our hypothesis is that the air conditioner unit has a dual capacitor – a capacitor with a “starter-thingy” and a “main-capacitor-thingy”.  Well, we’re guessing that both parts are bad.

Long story short, I’m hitting Amazon.com and other online sites to find a good, FAST deal on the correct capacitor.  But we have the wrong numbers written down and my tenant is asleep (she also wanted to double-check the numbers in the morning when the sun was up), so we’ll need to figure out the exact capacitor model number as early this morning as we can so I can keep hunting.  I’m writing this post at 1:30am and haven’t had any luck yet.

Best and Worst Case Scenarios

Best case – I find the capacitor we need on Amazon via Amazon Prime and we have the part by Wednesday, install it, and it works.  This would run us less than $50.

Worst case – we call out our a/c repair guy, it isn’t just the capacitor, it’s something irreparable, and we have to fork out $5000 for a new air conditioner.  This scenario also takes WAY longer.

Realistically – I find the correct parts but it takes us a week to really find out every issue or to have the part(s) delivered.  So this would take about the same amount of time as the worst case scenario, but costs way less.  It costs more than the best case scenario, but takes more time.

I’m handling this all right now, so this is to be continued…

How is your house or rental property treating you or your tenant right now?

Budgeting for Unexpected Expenses – Istanbul and Italy

Quick background:  I host monthly giveaways via my newsletter.  Readers enter by first signing up to receive my weekly newsletter, and then by leaving a comment on my giveaway post.  I ask for that comment to be a question for me if they have one.  Random.org chooses the winner each month.

Reader Question

Here was a recent question from Carmen:

My kids have gifted me with a ticket to Istanbul & then Italy for my daughter’s wedding in Autumn…what is the best way to budget for additional trip expenses?  Thanks–take care!

Okay, so most of us are probably thinking that the best way for budgeting for unexpected expenses is to save money in advance.  You’d be right, but that isn’t helpful if that hasn’t been done yet and the expense pops up anyway.  Plus, that may not be the question…

Travel on a Budget

How to Estimate Travel Expenses

First thing’s first.  Carmen may be asking how much she should budget for the trip, not how to come up with the money.  Either way, she’ll need to know.  For travel, I generally search around online for recent personal stories from other people to see how much things run.  I research them based on the big categories and round up to cover anything I may have forgotten:

  • Hotels/Where You are Staying
  • Food
  • Transportation
  • Planned Fun

As a fun example, I actually researched the general prices of Istanbul and Italy to help Carmen out.  I don’t know any more than any of you do about her trip, so these are just general targets.

Istanbul

I found an Istanbul Travel Guide at Leave Your Daily Hell that says that a hotel will run you $55+ per night, but a hostel would be between $15-$30 a night.  Based on that same post and a 2013 Trip Advisor forum post, it looks like Istanbul runs about $75 a day for everything else including food, transportation, and fun.  You can eat cheaper and visit less museums and save even more.

Italy

According to this 2013 post on Slow Travel Italy, you may spend between $300-$425 a day in Italy depending on how fancy your hotel is and where you eat.

If you want to spend less, check out this Walks of Italy post about cheaper options.  I love the idea of staying in an agriturismo – an old farm house that offers you fresh made meals and they range from rustic to luxurious.  Most often they cover your room and breakfast and dinner for $70 or less per night (50 euros).

Then you just have to worry about your transportation around Italy, your lunches, and what you want to do for fun.  Getting around by train is an option that costs about $30 for most trips.  You could also rent a car, but that looks expensive.  You can grab lunch for less than $25 a day and then budget what you need to for fun based on where you go.  You can easily stick to a $150-$200 a day budget if you want to splurge a little but not a ton.

Budgeting for Unexpected Expenses After the Fact

Overall, it looks like you will want to budget for about $150 per day for your trip and you can bring that down by cutting back in whatever category you see fit by hunting around for less expensive options.

Cutting Expenses

The only way to save up extra money for something like this is to either cut expenses or increase your income.  You can cut your expenses by taking a close look at your spending – first get rid of the easy stuff and then put yourself on a strict spending plan for the categories that you want to cut back on after the easy stuff in handled.  We recently cut down our budget by $500 mainly through a stricter food budget and less fun money.

Make More Money

You can make more money in a bunch of ways, but the ones that pop into my mind are generally side hustles and hobby jobs since selling stuff is a one-time fix and generally, I like my stuff or I wouldn’t still have it around.  I also like having roommates since it’s pretty easy side income without a lot of hassle if you find the right person or people, but that is also more long-term.  Short term, look into summer jobs.  I made a whole list of summer jobs and hobby jobs last week.  I’m personally bringing in about $750-$1200 a month through pet sitting.  Babysitting and house keeping are always in demand too.

Hope this helps, Carmen!  Does anybody else have some ideas for her?  Please chime in!

The Last Dental Push…Hopefully

Monday was the $200 ladder. Tuesday was the $1300 dental bill. Hopefully that’s the last big push for hubby’s mouth and it’s just maintenance cleanings from here.

Dental Joke

The Visit

Last year, my husband had two main surgery days with this dentist – one that lasted 5 hours and one that lasted 7 hours. Those two visits wrapped up his largest issues like a few crowns, major cavity fillings, and a couple of wisdom teeth were removed. Altogether it ended up costing us about $12,000 since the anesthesiologist for the IV sedation was actually more expensive that the procedures themselves.

This time around, they were going in for the last stuff – 4 fillings plus a deep scaling (cleaning). They found one more cavity as they were doing the filling, so they took care of that too. Five fillings and a cleaning later (only about 2.5 hours this time), they were asking me for $1317! OUCH!

The Cost

The breakdown:

  • 5 cavities – $1017
  • Deep Scaling – $160
  • Exam Fee – $65
  • Xrays – $75

I’m hoping that they are correct and Mr. BFS will be good to go for years with just caring for his teeth and regular periodontal maintenance. Neither one of us likes that we spent more than $13,000 on teeth within the last year. I hope it is all done.

Overall, we were expecting around $1000 but we forgot about the exam costs and the cleaning apparently. $1300 is yet another ouch to the checkbook, but once again, I am concentrating on the happy feeling that we have enough to cover stuff like this when it comes along.

Dealing With It

While I wrote the $1300 check, I had some very angry and spiteful thoughts. I look at all of this money and just got so mad that some of it could have been preventable. Then I vented to a friend or two. Then I reminded myself that Mr. BFS feels like crap for spending that money too. Now I really am just looking for the positive side. For example, we had enough saved that this won’t be a long-term issue.  :-)

Any unexpected expenses for you this week?

Amazon for the Win Yet Again!

This is not a paid post.  I just really love Amazon.

Do you change things like filters on the schedule they tell you to?  We bought a new refrigerator in October 2012, and it has a water filter for the dispenser.  The manual said to replace it every 6 months.  Well…we didn’t.  But the water started flowing slower last week, so I started looking into pricing.

Water Filters are Expensive!

Sears had sent us some letters offering to sell us a replacement filter for “30% OFF” at $45 each.  OUCH!  So I did what I usually do when I think a price is unfair – I started searching online.  I usually go to Amazon and Ebay before looking all over since I know those two sites, and truly trust Amazon.

Side story – Over the last decade, I’ve bought hundreds of things from Amazon.  And we have only ever had a handful of problems.  I ordered an Ipod Nano a couple of years ago that was marked as delivered, but I hadn’t received it.  I called a few days later, and Amazon sent me a new Nano without even blinking.  :-)  Recently, I ordered a “used” garden gnome that was marked as perfect except for his packaging.  Well, my battle gnome arrived with a broken sword.  I couldn’t get an exchange since it was their only “used” one, but I didn’t want to return my awesome gnome for a refund.  So I asked their online chat rep to send me some super glue or a $5 discount for the inconvenience.  He immediately credited me the $5 and wished me well with my new, awesome lawn ornament.  :-D

Back to the filter.  I looked on Ebay and could have made a bid at $13 and waited around to see what would happen.  Or I could “Buy It Now” from several places for $28.  But Amazon had one for $22 with solid reviews and it was Amazon Prime.  I am grandfathered into Amazon Prime without paying since my mom and I were beta testers, so yay!  So I ordered my $45 filter for $22 on Wednesday and had it working in my fridge by Friday evening.  How cool is that?!  Never had to leave my house.

Always Look at Your Options

If you have a computer and internet access, don’t waste them.  I have spent a lot at Amazon.  Some on stuff that I needed, some on stuff that I wanted, and some on stuff that we “sort of” needed.  In the end, I’m sure that online shopping has led me to buy more “wants” than I could have without them.  But even with those expenditures, I think I have saved more overall.  So “need” plus “wants” for the same price or less than just “needs” without online options.  I’m fine with that.

Do you use Amazon, Ebay, or some other online site for most of your shopping?

My Christmas Gifts List EXPLODED!

Okay, so my husband and I didn’t make many friends until about 3-4 years ago.  That’s when we met (sort of re-met) Ivy and Isabelle.  Then a year or two later, our group started growing.  It’s been great to build up a support network of people who can all depend on each other.  But that also means that we all like each other, so our Christmas gifts list has become a small issue for all of us.

White Elephant Gift Exchange

In an effort to keep this cheap for our group as a whole, we decided that our next potluck will have a White Elephant gift exchange.  Anybody who brings a $15 or less package to the party can participate, and we’ll run it classically.  First we’ll draw numbers to see what order we will go in.  A person will choose a gift.  Then the next person can choose to “steal” a previous gift or open a new one.  If your gift is stolen, you choose again.  No one gift can be stolen more than three times.

Personal Christmas Gifts

This is great for the group as a whole and will make a fun side event for our next potluck, BUT there are some people who are closer to each other than others.  They will be exchanging personal gifts on their own time.  Most of the group has made it clear that I am on their list.  And they are on mine.  So despite the excellent White Elephant idea, I still have a pretty long Christmas list.  Including grandparents, close family, and close friends, there are 25-30 people…

General Gift Options

When I want to spread holiday cheer, these are my general options:

  • DIY- Do something craftsy.
  • Cooking – Bake little care packages.
  • Gifts – Buy individual gifts.
  • Activities – Do something with each of them.

Laziness Won

This year, I am extremely lazy.  Sometimes I will get the baking bug and just take care of mostly everyone, but that has not hit me.  The only activity will be the potluck with the White Elephant exchange.  I am also doing photo gifts for the grandparents and close family, so that’ll cover my “craftsy”.  They’ll also be getting printed copies of both of my online books, with personalized messages in each one.  So that’s the extent of my “DIY”.

But I’m buying something for everyone else.  My husband’s list is a little shorter, but he is planning on buying stuff too.  I’m generally done, and my gifts range from $8-$18 per person depending on what screamed their name.  It seems my overall Christmas spending will be around $300 including the photo gifts and book printing.  My husband will probably spend around $200.

Not Stressing

Overall, we can totally afford this $500, so I’m not worrying over it all.  I’ve been in a funk lately anyway, so I really just want to take some deep breaths and use the holidays to be thankful for our friends and family.  I refuse to go nuts over a Christmas budget.  We won’t spend ourselves broke, and that’s good enough for me.

As for the funk, I am trying to figure out if it’s because of ongoing allergies or what…I just feel “blah”.  Boogers.

I just hope our more broke friends stick with something cheaper like baking.  Crystal loves her some Christmas cookies…

How are your holiday gift giving plans going?

Marketing that Works! These Comercials Are Hilarious!!!

Mr. BFS and I have cable and we love our DVR.  That means that I generally do not watch commercials.  Almost anything trying to sell me something that I didn’t want to start with is ignored completely.  BUT, I do love funny.  And I do not mind watching a commercial if it is dang hilarious.

Gotta Love the Funny

Two examples of super funny, worth watching for a quick chuckle commercials are below.  Please note, I am not an affiliate of Poo Pourri or AT&T Digital Life.  Altogether, this will take up about 3.5 minutes of your life, but you will be laughing most of that time.

Marvelous Marketing

Thanks to these commercials and reviews, I will be buying a bottle of Poo Pourri (and will probably review it here, minus the British accent).  I actually emailed them to get a free bottle for me to review, but they have been inundated with similar requests ever since this commercial went live.  That’s pretty cool.  I also looked into AT&T Digital Life and we may get it installed down the line since it is a larger expense than a $10-$15 bottle of Poo Pourri.  Overall, these are two products that I had heard of before, but I hadn’t looked into them at all until I saw their You Tube commercials.

That’s amazing marketing at work.  I received a BBA with honors in Marketing.  I chose that major specifically so I could help create ads like this one day – ads so humorous that the fact that they are selling something wouldn’t be held against them.  I obviously went in another direction, but I can still appreciate a job well done.  Here’s a big high five to both groups of creators for the commercials above!

What do you think?  Are funny sales pitches like these way better than the normal stuff to you too?