New to my cost comparison series? You can check out my previous experiments on cutting and comparing expenses by clicking on the following links:


I don’t like to waste things. As a child, I rarely left any food on my dinner plate, simply because I didn’t want it to go to waste (after all, there were those starving kids in Sub-Saharan Africa to consider). As a college student, I’d always take the maximum number of courses allowed during any given semester; since my parents were paying for full-time coursework, I didn’t want their generosity to go to waste. As an adult, I’ve been known to use what others may deem an insufficient amount of toilet paper after going to the restroom, simply so I wouldn’t be wasting those last few sheets left on an almost-empty roll.

So it may come as a surprise to learn that although I hated all things wasteful, I had no problem wasting electricity around my house. It wasn’t all that uncommon for me to leave a room without turning off the TV, to keep an overhead light on even when the sun was up, or to forget to shut down my computer at the end of the day. That is, until I stumbled across a sobering statistic on the PC World website:

“Experts estimate that standby energy drain accounts for anywhere from 5 to 10 percent of an average home’s annual power usage. Convert that percentage into dollars, and you’ve got around $4 billion in wasted spending across America every year, the Department of Energy estimates.” (PC World, “Unplug for Dollars: Stop ‘Vampire Power’ Waste” by JR Raphael, November 9, 2008)

It was a sobering statistic, indeed, and one that forced me to realize just how wasteful my habits truly were.

Examining My Habits

I started my cost comparison by evaluating my electricity bills between February 2011 and January 2012. (I chose to start with February because that’s when my power provider instituted a rate hike; rates have remained steady ever since.) Here’s a quick recap of the monthly totals:

  • February 2011: $64.67
  • March 2011: $72.15
  • April 2011: $75.98
  • May 2011: $83.12
  • June 2011: $97.80
  • July 2011: $112.34
  • August 2011: $103.56
  • September 2011: $81.18
  • October 2011: $67.03
  • November 2011: $59.97
  • December 2011: $70.78
  • January 2012: $63.45

During that 12-month period, I paid a total of $952.03 to my electric provider. What if I’d been better about conserving power and had been able to reduce that by just five percent? I’d have saved myself $47.60. Had I been even more vigilant about wasted electricity and reduced by power costs by a full ten percent, I’d have saved close to $100.

The Experiment

I decided to use my April 2011 power bill – remember, it totaled $75.98 – as the baseline for my cost comparison experiment. April 2011 was a relatively mild one in North Carolina, and the long-term forecast for the state this April was similar; although I couldn’t eliminate the weather variable completely, I did try my best to at least control for it.

I broke my cost cutting measures down into two sections. First, I would try to do a better job of eliminating the electricity wasted by power vampires. That meant unplugging my daughter’s rarely used CD player, my laptop, and our home’s two televisions whenever they weren’t in use. I also unplugged lamps that we never bothered to turn on in the first place. I also started remembering to unplug our phone chargers from the outlet after we finished juicing up our phones.

Once I eliminated most of our power vampires, I started trying to change my family’s habits. We have an electric water heater, which means that every time someone takes a long, hot shower, we’re using electricity; same goes for every load of laundry run through the hot cycle. Since my children are too young to really conserve electricity on their own, the onus fell on my husband and I to remember ourselves and set the right example for our kids by limiting our shower time, only running the dishwasher or washing machine when they were full, and turning off the lights whenever we left the room.

Slaying The Power Vampires

The month got off to a rocky start, as a blistering heat wave forced me to turn on the air conditioner far earlier than I otherwise would have; I considered briefly turning on the fans and opening windows, but then remembered that my daughter and husband have horrible spring allergies and opted to preserve their health instead. I did, however, turn up the AC to a balmy 76 degrees from our usual 73 – after all, you can reduce your electricity bill one to three percent for every degree you raise the thermostat over 72, according to the California Energy Commission.

After Easter, the weather calmed down and I was able to turn the AC off. As the days lengthened, I also found myself turning on the lights less and less often. I kept a log of my battle against the power vampires, and remembered to unplug my energy-sapping electronics 24 out of the 30 days that month. I also found myself taking more showers at the Y after my workouts, although that wasn’t really in an effort to save energy – rather, it was an attempt to save my sanity, since when I take showers at home, my kids tend to join me in the tub. Simultaneously, my husband started taking his morning showers at work three to four days a week; again, this wasn’t to save energy, but to avoid waking our two kids up at 5:30am.

Cost Comparison

By the end of the month, I was confident we’d cut our electricity bill by at least five percent; secretly, I thought we might have gotten up to ten percent, but I didn’t want to get too cocky. I waited with baited breath for the electricity bill to arrive in my mailbox, which it did the second Tuesday in May. Here’s what it said:

  • Bill total: $68.79
  • Total KWH: 590
  • Average KWH per day: 20.35
  • Average cost per day: $2.37

At first, I was a little bummed, because the 9.5 percent savings fell short of my 10 percent goal. But then I realized something when I examined my April 2011 bill: that billing period was 28 days, while my April 2012 billing period was 29 days. So I went back found my average cost per day for the old bill, which was $2.71. Had that 2011 bill had a 29 day billing cycle as well, the bill would have been $78.59, not $75.98… meaning, I actually exceeded my goal of cutting my electricity costs by ten percent. In fact, I shaved 12.5 percent off my bill!

The Verdict

Remembering to unplug the power vampires wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be, especially once I got into the habit. In fact, it’s something I’ve continued to do – with pretty good regularity – ever since challenging myself at the start of April. The hardest part about the challenge was limiting my use of the washing machine to full loads; when you have two young kids in the house, you tend to rack up a lot of small loads that can’t wait another day or two. Instead, I switched over to a cold water detergent, which was only nominally more expensive than the brand I’d already been using.

While I’m not sure I’ll be able to sustain the 12.5 percent reduction to our electricity costs, I am confident that regularly conserving power will help us cut expenses by five to ten percent monthly.

Reader, have you ever challenged yourself to cut power costs?

Libby Balke

Libby Balke