Monday, September 05, 2011

Electric Bill Update and Self-Hatred

Happy Labor Day to all my US Friends!  I thought I would give you an update on my electric bill experiment.

As you might recall, back in late July I received a whopper of an electric bill (for me) at $191.  I had been basking in keeping my thermostat at a low temp and enjoying the cool air conditioning.  I decided to do a one month experiment to see how low I could get my electric bill.  I started only burning lights in room I was in, and burning one light instead of two.  Again, I live in a 4 room, 1100 square foot house so this was not a problem.  I also turned my daytime AC setting up to 80 and my nighttime setting to 76 (had been 76 days and 72 nights).  I'll admit that several times, mostly while cleaning the house, I would get hot enough to manually lower the temp a couple of degrees for a few hours but mostly I stuck with the plan.

I received my bill again in late August and IT WAS $2 MORE than the previous month.  I allowed myself 5 minutes of venting to the cats and then sat down to do the math.  The previous bill was for 30 days.  The new one was for 31 days.  And it was extremely hot during the month so presumably the AC had to work harder to keep the house at 80.  For my July bill my average daily useage was $6.36/day.  For the August bill I lowered it by 0.14/day and it was $6.22/day.  This amounted to a 2.2% drop, which amounted to $4.34 less per month. 

For me this isn't a significant enough change to warrant being just slightly uncomfortable.  If I had to cool a bigger multi-level house and was dealing with a bill twice that amount I think it would make a difference. 

For the past 12 months I've been doing a lot of beating myself up about the debt I'm carrying.  For the past 15 years I have lived well within my means, certainly using my credit (mostly for home improvements) but paying it off within a few months.  In late 2007 I was actually completely out of debt.How did I let this happen?

I took 2 hours to go back through statements and I made a list of the expenses I charged because they were too large for my monthly cash flow to handle:

1.  2 root canals, 2 dental extractions, one crown and one bridge in one year, all in excess of my annual dental insurance limit. 

2.  $2500 above what was covered by insurance to replace a storm damaged roof.  This constituted mostly an upgrade from 15 year to 30 year shingles and I believe it was a sound investment in my home.

3.  About $6,500 to redo a small bathroom because of black mold and also because the floor was falling in.  I believe this was also a sound invenstment in my property.

4.  $1500 for emergency treatment for a cat with extreme breathing difficulties over this past 4th of July weekend.  When I adopted her as a rescue I made the committment that I would give her the best care possible.  This was a no brainer.  I absolutely will always make sure my cats receive the care they need because that is the responsibility I took on when I brought them into my home.

Now I'll admit there was some retail therapy in there.  During this period I spent 5 months in Santiago and 1 month in London on business and I did do some shopping but that was minor stuff that would have been paid off in a few months.

The thing I neglected to do was get out of denial about the economy.  Every with the large credit cards charges for my health, essential repairs to my home, and essential care of my cat, I should have been able to pay all of this off within a couple of years.  But I kept living within my 2006 means even as the economy tanked.  Lesson learned.  For a couple of years I kept watching the news and saying "Thank God that hasn't touched me" when in fact it WAS touching me.  I neglected to begin immediate cutbacks, and this was a mistake.

I also put a bunch of eggs in one basket.  I was so sure that once a formal review of my job responsibilities happened my company would realize the immense effort and personal sacrifices I've made and would give at least a small salary increase.  And I assure you that there have been immense efforts and personal sacrifices made.  But this was not to be, and in today's economy I am fortunate to have a job, and a job that I love, no less.

So I've decided to stop beating myself up.  I've buckled down and cut back and I'm tackling this debt one month at a time.  It took me 4 years to build it up and by my estimates it will take me 4 years to get out but I'm doing it.  I can stand anything for 4 years.  I mean, I was married to a man I couldn't stand for 2 years.  This is easy in comparison!

Next installment:  How I gave myself the raise I needed and improved my health at the same time.