I have just compared my latest electricity bill with a bill for the same period last year (when the temperature of the geyser had been reduced to 60 degrees C, but I was leaving it on full time). I’m delighted to report that in the first 29 days of September this year I used 231 kWh, while during 29 days in September last year I consumed 300 units.
This represents a saving of 23 %. And, even though our electricity rates went up sharply this year, I need pay only R133.84 for last month, compared to R155.05 for the same month last year (the exchange rate is hovering at just under R7 to the $).
This clearly shows the benefits of switching off the geyser for 22 hours a day.
Incidentally, after some private correspondence from readers of my last blog, I phoned a few suppliers of geyser timers. It seems that you can get a timer for as little as R300. Most suppliers suggest having the geyser switched on for two hours in the morning and another two in the evening in a normal family home. Doing this will lead to considerable savings in electricity; but you can achieve even better savings by doing some experimenting (I find that 40 to 60 minutes is enough to heat up the geyser in the morning, as mine is fairly well insulated and still retains some warmth from the previous day.) I have also found that it can be switched off after an hour even before I shave and shower, and that switching off doesn’t make any noticeable difference to the temperature of the water while showering.
Also, after some emails, I did some experiments to see if it was cheaper to heat water in a microwave oven or an electric kettle. In my case the kettle (2200 watts) is quicker and more efficient than the microwave (1000 watts). For example, I found that 500 ml of water takes about 1 min 30 sec to boil in the kettle (and that this mixed with some cold water in the bathroom basin was enough to wash the sleep out of my eyes and get me going for the day); while it took 900 ml of water in the microwave at the maximum setting for 4 minutes to achieve the same effect (it got hot, but not hot enough to need mixing with cold water). Doing this every day for 30 days would cost me a total of 96cents in the case of the kettle, and R1.16 for the microwave (at my average rate of 58 cents per kWh).
I also learned that most geysers are rated between 2,000 and 3,000 watts. That means that leaving a geyser on for one hour would use at least two units of electricity (providing that the thermostat did not switch it off automatically during that hour). I would need to boil 500 ml of water in my kettle, from cold, 36 times to use the same amount of electricity.
Here are some more money-saving tips (some of them will also save you time and trouble):
- Be water-wise in your garden. In the garden that is part of our block of flats I arranged for a landscape gardener recommended by the local nursery to come round and give us some ideas on improving it. (Landscapers charge a lot to physically re-do one’s garden, but not much for an hour’s consultation). Following her advice and some of my own ideas we have replaced most of our plants with indigenous ones that look attractive, but only need to be watered briefly once a week in our dry summers, and not at all in our wet winters. All prunings and leaves lying on paved areas are gathered and scattered on bare patches between the plants, to act as mulch. Eventually this becomes compost and rots down into the soil. Previously we regularly used to buy black bags to collect all the leaves etc. Now we don’t buy any. We also don’t need to buy any compost, fertilizer or insecticide.
If you are not using your lawn, do what we did and get rid of it. A variety of trees, plants, vegetables and ground-covers is much less trouble, and, if carefully selected, need much less water. (Think of the wealth of natural vegetation that grows in the Cape Point area: it doesn’t get watered, weeded or fertilized, and yet it covers the land completely.)
- Cut down on interest payments. Credit card companies rely on the inefficiency of Joe Public. They seduce him with tales of “up to 55 days of interest-free credit”. But few people always remember to pay in full every month before the due date, and end up paying a whack of unnecessary interest. If you use your cell-phone calendar you can arrange for a monthly reminder four days before the payment deadline. As long as you are disciplined a credit card can be a useful, absolutely free tool. I have a Virgin Mastercard that has no annual fees. I got rid of my other card that had an annual fee, and find that one card is all I need. I reckon that most people can save a lot of money trying this tip (after all we used to manage just fine without any credit cards years ago).
- Stop subscription TV. People in general watch far too much television. Half the time it’s just background noise and an intrusion on good conversation or reading. I find I get more than enough viewing from our four free (apart from annual licence fee) TV channels. They are much criticized. But a diligent 10-minute weekly perusal of the Sunday Times TV Guide enables me to select enough programmes to watch live, and others (including several good full-length movies) to record. Hiring a few DVDs a month works out a lot cheaper than having a subscription TV service running to hundreds of rands a month. If you want to learn something read a book while listening to non-intrusive background music. Get out – go and see a new movie on the big screen with a friend. Beats watching TV any day.
- Eat less meat. If you eat more than 100 grams of meat a day you can save money by substituting much of it with vegetables, legumes and lentils. They are not only cheaper than meat, they are healthier. And it’s generally much “greener” to farm with things that grow in the soil, than with animals that have to convert lots of feed into meat. When I make chicken stew I use one large chicken breast, a stock cube dissolved in a cup of boiling water, half a cup of lentils, half a cup of soya mince, a heaped tablespoon each of split peas and soup powder, some bay leaves, and one onion, potato and carrot, together with two heaped teaspoons each of mixed herbs, garlic flakes, and Paprika; and a couple of shakes of Tabasco sauce. Add extra hot water as required. After the chicken has been browned stick it in the pot for about 30 minutes. Then remove it, take off the skin and discard, cut the breast up into small pieces and shove them back in the pot to cook for another 30 minutes. This gives me enough for six portions on rice. Even with dishes like bolognaise you can reduce the mince-meat by half, and add soya mince instead. Simply put what you don’t eat immediately into airtight plastic containers and freeze.
- Reduce convenience foods. Frozen foods, packaged meals, and junk food from KFC etc may be nice as occasional treats, but they are expensive and not as healthy as food you cook yourself. If you “cook ahead” and have several portions of meals in your freezer you never need to buy a takeaway. Just move the next dinner from the freezer to the fridge the night before. Then all it needs is 4 minutes in the microwave at 350 deg C to make it piping hot when you get home from work. BTW ordinary rice gets a bit glutinous if left in the fridge, but cooked brown rice keeps well for a week in an airtight container (no need to freeze).
- Shaving savings. Here’s a tip that has saved me thousands of rands over the years: prior to putting shaving foam on your face wash it thoroughly with soap and water, rinse, then wash again with soap and water. The double washing gets rid of grit and softens the stubble much better than a single washing. This means that my blades take a long time to get blunt, and usually last two months instead of a week. I also use Schick disposable two-blade plastic razors (other brands work fine but don’t seem to last quite as well as the Schick). To see the softening effect when shampooing your hair, wash it first with soap and water. The hair will be squeaky clean and you will need less shampoo to finish the job.
- Make a present-pact with family and friends. Instead of agonising for weeks over what to buy each other for Christmas and birthdays enter into an agreement that only children will get presents. Adults are usually happy to enter into a pact for exchanges of text messages or consumables such as bottles of wine. Few modern adults really want any more ornaments, crockery or drinks coasters.
- Bottled water. Cities in South Africa (and several other countries) have excellent drinking water. You really don’t need to carry bottles of fancy “spring” water that cost around a thousand times more per litre than the stuff that comes out of your tap. If you really can’t bear the thought of drinking out of taps when you go to the toilet, then buy one glass bottle and keep refilling it with fresh water. (Glass is less likely to collect germs than most plastics.) Rinse it with hot water mixed with a little bleach such as Jik once a week. You’ll also be doing your bit to cut down on the mountain of plastic that ends up in landfills.
- Books and magazines. You don’t have to buy new books. If you wait a while the ones you want will appear in your library, or a friend will buy them. Enter into a swapping pact with friends who share your likes (you don’t have to join a book club). Newspapers and magazines are enticing but expensive; you can get all the hard and soft news you need from the internet. It is amazing how many quality newspapers and magazines such as TIME allow you to read whatever you want for free.
- Plan ahead. Use the back of till slips to write shopping lists as you use up things in the kitchen. After a few days shove a list into your pocket on the way to work, and remember to go home via a supermarket. Avoid convenience stores – nearly everything they sell is more expensive than similar goods at a supermarket. Leave home a bit earlier and drive with care: you’ll save petrol, save on speeding fines, have fewer accidents and arrive at work in a relaxed frame of mind. Better still, use a bicycle or public transport! Don’t be shy to take lunch and tea-time snacks to work. You’ll save time and a small fortune over a year.
- Defer desire. If you can refrain from buying the latest electronic gadget as soon as it comes out, you’ll find that subsequent models are usually cheaper and better. Very often second-hand goods are amazing value. My living room is furnished with used furniture that’s been professionally cleaned. The total cost was less than a tenth of what I would have paid for similar modern furniture. And mine is more comfortable!