The cost of electricity - I've decreased mine

28 September 2022

I usually don't look forward to the electricity bill arriving, especially since the prices have gone up so much and look like increasing even more. However, I wanted to see what my bill was because over the past months I made a few choices to lower it. I knew it would be lower and I wanted to see how much I'd saved.



This is the new solar unit - 18 panels.


There's a bit of a story behind this so let me start at the beginning. Our old solar system stopped working in September last year. It was installed 11 years ago and when I finally got a technician to check it, 3 months later, he said the solar panels were corroded and the system was a fire hazard. So instead of the expected repair job, everything was removed. I was so busy looking after Hanno, I didn't even think about it again for a few months and after weighing up the pros and cons of solar and the certainty of increased electricity rates in the future, I had a new 6.66 kW system installed at the end of February. The bill I've just received is the first bill which is fully covered by the new solar system. We also have a solar hot water system. We've used these for almost 50 years and one of the first things we did when we moved to this home was install solar hot water. If you can't afford to get solar panels, go for a solar hot water system instead. If you live in Victoria or South Australia, there are government rebates.


This is the old solar unit - 7 panels.   In the background is the solar hot water unit.

Of course solar energy helped lower this current bill and in December, when Hanno was still at home we replaced our 10 year old fridge. New appliances are much more efficient than older ones so that was another reason our bill started to decrease. When an appliance we own starts getting old or shows signs of problems, we usually update it with an energy efficient model because it does help with energy costs. We have a dishwasher, oven, toaster, food processor, mixer, iron, computers, sewing machine and overlocker/edger, washing machine and dryer - most with energy efficient technology. Our air conditioners have inverter/heat pump technology which cuts the cost of electricity.   All our lights have LED globes, I turn off TVs at the wall so they're not running on standby and often I don't turn on the TV or lights at night because I prefer it that way. I have to say though, it's much easier to do that when there's no one else here. Over the years, Hanno thought I was crazy for wanting to do it. 😵‍💫

You'll notice on my bill there are a couple of government rebates. One is the $175 cost of living rebate that most of us got and the other is the pensioner discount. But I'm looking at the electricity usage rather than the dollar cost here. I'm celebrating decreasing my usage from 300 kWh to 5 kWh.





I knew, on average, air conditioning/heating and cooling consumed about 40 percent of each electricity bill, so when I was here alone over winter, I chose to not use the air conditioning. I made myself comfortable with an extra layer of clothes, an over the knees electric blanket and an electric blanket on my bed. But it's not always the appliances you have in your home, it's how you use them that makes the difference. All the little things like turning off lights when not in use, washing up by hand when there are only a few dishes, not having appliances on standby, always washing a full load in the dishwasher and washing machine - all this became part of my normal housework. One other change was I went from using our appliances at night on the old solar system because our feed-in tariff was 44 cents and it was cheaper for us to sell to the grid during the day. Now I use our appliances as soon as the sun hits the roof and I'm using solar energy generated here instead of energy from the grid. When the sun goes down all my cooking, sewing and cleaning have been done and I might just have a solo light or the radio on. My choices have made an impact on what I pay for electricity and saved a lot of carbon emissions.


I hope you to see that there are things you can do to decrease costs at home and all it takes is for you to make your particular choice and stick to it. I know many of you won't be able to do it even if you want to because you have family members who come home late and need to eat dinner, children who have to do homework and those who relax in front of the TV for entertainment.  But if you can't do it now, you can do it when your family grows older and you're in a new season of life.  


For every thing there is a season.


This is the Australian Government's Guide to Sustainable Homes. Lots of good information here.


There are probably a few things I've forgotten to write about here but one thing I want to add is to wash all your clothes in cold water.  If you have greasy work clothes or badly stained items, wash in cold water, don't overload the machine and add a scoop of oxybleach to the wash. (I think the Vanish Oxy Advance brand is the best for this). I always keep an eye open for their half price specials at Woolworths and only buy it then. 



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Will the glass be half-full or half-empty?

21 September 2022

I like to think I’ve got a pretty good grip on the work I do here in my home but now when I sit down to write to you, I can’t think of what I did this past week.   Luckily I have photos I took along the way and after seeing them it all comes back to me.  I’m still sorting through drawers and cupboards and getting rid of things I no longer have any reason to keep. It’s part of my general housekeeping now - a couple of times a week I bring in a little trolley, fill it with things I once thought I’d keep forever. Now my priority is to have a home that encourages me to be the person I am now, not the other Rhonda who was part of a couple. Every week life moves slowly away from the home of a happily married couple and towards a place when an independent woman lives.  I hope I find the same level of satisfaction I had back then but it’s still early days and the practical work of rebuilding needs to be complete before I can make any judgements about contentment and happiness.  Will the glass be half-full or half-empty? 


This is the area where I sit and think with Gracie at my feet. Sometimes I read here and sometimes I just listen to the radio and potter around. Gracie follows me everywhere now. If I go inside, so does she, if I wander outside, she follows. And if she’s sniffing around the yard and doesn’t see me go inside, she stands at the door and gives one loud bark and I know she wants me to open the door for her NOW.  



Waiting for the postman. She doesn't bark at him, I think she just wants him to know she's there. 🙄

I’m building a flower, spice and herb garden on the sunny corner of the front verandah. It’s always nurtured ferns and tropical plants in the past, and I still have them, but I’m introducing flowers - roses, nasturtiums, foxgloves, yarrow, lavender, pansies and penstemon, as well as green onions, chilli, parsley and ginger. 


This area changes almost every day. I used to be able to make instant decisions, now I have to look at my changes to decide if they suit me.  🤔 😵‍💫



That's a digiplexis foxglove in the pot. It's a soft orange colour with several flower spikes. I'll take a photo for you when the flowers are open.


Plants waiting to be put somewhere. This area is a little further along the verandah. 

Like most of you, I'm always trying to save the food I buy from being wasted. Now that I'm single this is more difficult. I bought a long cucumber last week, had one salad and knew the cucumber might sit in the fridge and waste away. So I grabbed the vinegar and pickling spices to make bread and butter cucumbers. The idea with this is to remove as much water as possible from the cucumber so I sprinkled a tablespoon of salt over thinly sliced cucumbers and left it a few hours. Then I washed the salted water away and squeezed the water off with a cucumbers in a clean tea towel. Don't forget to do this because if you add your pickling liquids and spices to the cucumbers in the jar, they'll release their water into the pickling liquid and will dilute the pickles.

  




They'll taste wonderful if you let the flavours develop but you can eat them straight away if you want to.


To make the pickling liquid, add the following to a small saucepan: 1 cup vinegar, ½ cup sugar, pickling spices, pepper and little pieces of onion or chilli if you have them on hand. Bring to the boil, simmer for 30 minutes and let it sit on the stove until slightly cooler. Taste it and if liquid is a bit strong for you, add ½ cup water. Then add the cucumbers and the still-hot pickling liquid to a sterilised jar and store it in the fridge. I have one serve of pickled cucumbers left but I'll buy another cucumber to pickle on my next shopping trip. I don't like oil in my salad dressing so I always make enough of this so I have some for salad dressing. I use the leftover liquid as salad dressing too. It keeps well in the fridge.


Parsley salt and dried parsley

Two other quick herby tips for you here - parsley salt and dried parsley. I harvested most of my parsley on Tuesday, washed it thoroughly and removed the stalks (they're bitter when dried). Preheat your oven for the dried parsley now - 180C/350F and when it reaches temp, turn it down to 120C/250F. Make the parsley salt while your oven is heating up.




This is what the sink full of parsley looks like now. 

Parsley salt
To a food processor, add 1 cup salt, I used pink Himalayan salt but rock salt or pure cooking salt is also good.

Add two cups of parsley with no stalks.

Process the mix until the parsley is flecked through the salt but don't overprocess because the salt will be too fine. Lay it out on a plate to dry for about an hour then add it to a jar. Store in the fridge and give it a gentle shake every couple of days so it doesn't clump together.

It's great to use in scrambled eggs, sprinkled over the top layer of lasagne or any pasta, mashed potatoes, salads, roast meats, steak and, of course, fish. You can do this with a variety of herbs - oregano, sage, bay leaves, coriander/cilantro, fennel, rosemary or finely grate lemon or orange zest and add it to the salt. All of them store well in the fridge.

Dried parsley
Then go on to your dried parsley. Dry the leaves as much as possible, preheat eat your oven to 180C/350F and when it reaches temp, turn it down to 120C/250F. 

Lay the washed, dried parsley, with stalks removed, onto baking paper in a baking tray, place the tray in the oven making sure you have your temps right. Leave it in the oven for about 25 minutes then remove from the oven. When it cools down, crush the parsley with your hands and add it to a jar. Two well loaded large oven trays gave me the amount you see in the small jar.  Store this alongside your herbs and spices in a cupboard.

🌿 💚 🌿

The creation of my new life is a slow process. I could sit back and let it make its own way but I want my life to include diversity and creativity as the the main building blocks; and I want moments of joy liberally mixed throughout each ordinary day. I'm so thankful that Hanno and I prepared well for this part of life because if I had to go from what we had five years ago to what I'm capable of now and in the future, I'd be in a worse space. I guess I've done the difficult part of working out what I want in my life now. It's important to me to continue with the housework I've done in the past. I will still cook from scratch - for Gracie and me, preserve, bake occasionally, keep a small stockpile, make my own cleaners and laundry liquid. I will continue to look for opportunities to be kind and generous. Those ordinary everyday tasks help define my life giving each day structure and purpose and a reason to get up every morning.  Of course, family is a significant part of my life and while my family has changed, it's still on top of the priority list. 


What fits into the rest of my life is what I'm focusing on now. It will be made up of creativity, productivity, sharing what I know and being grateful for each new day. It's a complex model of a simple life but I guess every life is complex in its own way. I'm glad I have the freedom to create life in the way I want it to be and I have the time now try different things to fit into the mix I already have.



Kerry and Jamie bought Gracie a dogie donut (with bacon topping) and a bone biscuit. She wasn't sure what to make of it first but she didn't hesitate in eating both of them.
 

My main new thing will be painting and drawing. I used to be quite artistic when I was young and I want to examine that again. I also want to do some final getting published/writing workshops. Of all the workshops I've done, I enjoyed the writing ones the most. I need to earn some money to build up my nest egg again after I spent so much during Hanno's final months. I want to have some workshops here, maybe with lunch included, and maybe some on Zoom. If you're interested in this, let me know because it will help me make the decision on whether to go ahead or not.

But that's all in the future and today is just as important. When I finish here, I'll tidy the kitchen, harvest chard, set some aside for lunch and freeze the rest. My bed is made but I have to put away yesterday's washed clothes and sheets. Two toilets must be cleaned and I'll finish off reorganising the laundry. After lunch Gracie and I will be out in the garden fertilising, cleaning up, weeding and repotting. We're expecting rain this afternoon so I want both verandahs clean and tidy before the wind and rain starts.

And that's it for me, another ordinary day done and dusted. I hope things are going well for you. Home life is usually busy when seasons change. What are you doing? I send my love across the miles. xx

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Let's reduce the cost of living

9 September 2022
I've never seen financial conditions like those we have now. The cost of living is increasing in Australia, I'm affected by it and I'm guessing you are too. I'm in the good position of being debt-free, we paid our home off many years ago but I still have to watch every penny.


Make your own laundry liquid and cleaners - it will will save you an extraordinary amount of money.

Hanno and I have lived on a pension for some years and we built a nest egg that provided a feeling of security but when he died, that changed. I went from a couples pension to a single pension which is more money but when you calculate all the goods and services over the course of a year, the single pension doesn't look so good.  I've spent the past six months learning what needs to be paid, and when, and I'm also paying small amounts frequently on the large bills like rates and car registration, instead of being hit with a big bill every six months.

Hanno always organised our finances and he was very good at it. So, I turned my back on all of it and lived in that oblivious state for over 40 years. When he got sick, the last bills he paid were in November and I didn't even think about paying bills until four months later, when they were overdue! When I looked in his email, there they all were, waiting for me like a ton of bricks. Now that I think about it, I doubt I've done such a stupid thing in my life. I should have know exactly what he was doing, I should have shared that role and had I done that I might be in a better financial state than I am right now.

When Hanno was in hospital, there were no expenses - everything was covered and we had private health insurance for the extras. But before he went to hospital, when I was looking after him at home, I bought a number of high priced items - wheelchair, walker, bed rails and incontinence items. He also had speech therapy for swallowing and physiotherapy for walking. We paid for all of that while he was at home even though we had a level 4 home care plan.  That plan looked good when he got it but the funds dribbled in and it was eaten up with services - people coming to help shower him etc., and there was never enough money to buy the equipment he needed.


Cook no-meat meals.

To make a long story short, now that I look back on the past six months, I realise I should have been aware of my financial position much sooner. Had I been sharing that work, I would have been. However, now the nest egg has decreased a lot and with the cost of living higher than ever before, I'm trying to stretch dollars.  As you know, we got our finances in shape by stockpiling groceries, cooking from scratch, growing food in the backyard, monitoring our electricity and water. We stopped TV we had to pay for and buying magazines, drinks and lunches when we went out. I've already done all the big changes, now it's down to the list below. The steps are small but they're all worth doing and like buying a cup of coffee every time you go out and realising that cost adds up to hundred of dollars, stopping those small things to save money takes time too but it's really worth it.


Mend and make do.

I'm lucky, I don't have to pay rent or a mortgage, we paid that off, in eight years, a long time ago. But interest rates are rising now after being low for many years and that is hurting a lot of people and for some, it's not sustainable. If you're in that situation, I urge you to hold on and start working on these lists below. Times will be tough for you, you'll have to stop buying your favourite things, stop holidays and stop shopping without your budget in mind.

If you don't have a budget, go to https://moneysmart.gov.au/budgeting/budget-planner now. It’s the Australia government's site which holds a lot of useful information about debt, mortgage repayments and budgets.  Forget the freedom of spending in the past, think of the future and how you can save your home. It will be hard but most of you will be able to do it.  And don't forget to talk to your bank to find out how you might be able to reduce your payments for the time being. You'll have to make up for it later when things return to normal - and they will - but that one thing may help you keep your home.


CONSERVING YOUR RESOURCES

In times like these you should be mindful of everything you do that will save money. Try to cut back on the amount you will have to pay in utility bills and for transport. That money is much better in your pocket than profits for Energex, Telstra or Shell. So let’s go through a few things you can do to keep money in your pocket.

ELECTRICITY
  • Use your electrical appliances like washing machines, vacuum cleaners, dishwashers in off-peak times. Phone your electricity provider and ask if you have peak times and when they are.
  • If you have solar panels, use your appliances as soon as the sun hits the roof - that way you'll use the solar power you generate instead of buying from the grid.
  • Wash your clothes in cold water and dry them outside in the sun. I always wash in cold water using homemade laundry liquid and our clothes look fine. Over the years, this has saved us hundreds of dollars.
  • Use compact fluorescent light bulbs. Fluorescent bulbs are more efficient than traditional bulbs. A 60-watt fluorescent bulb has the same lighting capability as a standard 75-watt bulb and it will last for years. Light bulb buyers guide.
  • Turn off the lights when you leave a room.
  • Turn off the TV when no one is watching it.
  • Turn off appliances at the power point, not just at the appliance on/off button.
  • Fill the kettle with just enough water for your tea or coffee. Boiling water you won’t use, is an expensive waste. If there is hot water left over, pour it into a thermos flask and use that for your tea or coffee during the day.
  • Buy a power board and plug in all the appliances you have close together into that one power board. When they aren’t being used, and especially at night, turn off the power board. That will stop all those appliances using stand-by power. It is estimated that 10 percent of the power used in Australia is for appliances on stand-by.
  • When you boil food, either on a gas or electric cooktop, put the lid on your saucepans because it retains heat. Your food will come to the boil faster, and then you can turn the power down to cook on a simmer.


If you can, grow food in the backyard - or in containers.



WATER
  • Fill a bowl with water to wash vegetables. Letting the tap run while you wash wastes litres of water.
  • While you’re waiting for the shower water to warm up, fill a bucket with the cold water and use it on your garden or in the washing machine (top loader only).
  • Have shorter showers.
  • Turn the tap off when brushing teeth.
  • Flush the toilet only when necessary.
  • When washing your hands, wet your hands, turn the tap off, apply soap and lather, turn the tap on again to rinse.
  • Install water tanks if you have a vegetable garden, or at least set up some water barrels at the down pipes to catch what rainwater you can.

COOKING
  • Cook larger portions of food and freeze the leftovers for use on other days. This will enable you to cook meals for more than one day and use only the electricity to warm the food again.
  • When you boil something on the stove, bring it up to the boil, then turn it down to a fast simmer.
  • When boiling on the stove, always keep the lid on the saucepan. This reduces the time it takes to come to the boil.
  • If you’re using your oven, cook more than one thing.
  • If you’re baking bread, do more than one loaf and freeze a couple of loaves for later.
  • If you have a small convection oven, use that instead of your large oven.


If you have a small convection oven, use that instead of your larger oven.


Cook from scratch.


Preserve your excess.


Bake bread, cakes and biscuits from scratch.


PHONE
  • If you're not on the cheapest plan right now, do some research to find out what you can do to reduce your phone costs.
  • If you're on a contract, never let your contract go from one year to the next without negotiating a better deal with your phone company.
  • While you’re saving, use the phone only when absolutely necessary. Stay in touch with your friends online instead.
  • Use Skype or Zoom for your long distance calls. Make sure you download the right version for your equipment - there are versions for Apple phones, ipads and computers as well as for Android smartphones and computers.

TRANSPORT
  • Plan your trips so you're not using the car to go to one place. Work out what you have to do and plan your trip going to multiple places to use the least amount of petrol.
  • If you have to take the children to school – share that with other parents in your neighbourhood. Even if you share with your next door neighbour so that you take them and she/he picks them up, it will halve your school trips.
  • Start a walking bus. Parents take it in turns to take a group of children to school by walking with them.
  • Download the motormouth app to find the cheapest petrol in your area.
  • If you run a business, make sure you keep a diary of your business and private car expenses so you can claim what you're entitled to at tax time. 

REGULAR BILLS
  • At least once a year, look at the details of all your regular bills. Bills such as phone, internet, electricity, phone and insurance should all be checked. Ring up the opposition and ask what they would charge you for the same service. When you have a good idea, phone the company you deal with and tell them you could get a better deal with a rival – and tell them the company name. Say you’re ringing to ask if they can equal or better that because you’d rather stay, but as you’re on a tight budget you must go with the best deal. Often this pays off and it should become part of your financial practice each year to test these boundaries. 


This is one of our old gardens. We were vegetarians then and we grew most of the food we ate. 


GENERALLY THERE ARE A FEW WAYS TO CUT BACK.
  • Separate your wants from your needs and be firm with this.
  • Ask yourself if you really need it.
  • If you do need it, can you barter something for it instead of spending money? Bartering used to be quite a common way of obtaining goods in small communities. Ask around, you’ll probably find people who are keen to barter. See if your neighbours or work colleagues are interested in bartering.
  • If you can’t do without it and can’t barter for it, can you make it yourself? One of the skills you’ll develop in your simple life will be to hand-make many things from food to clothes. Maybe you could learn to make what you want.


Try to live on less than you earn.  If you can't do that, you'll be paying off debt all your life.  But now in these current difficult times, with high interest rates, unemployment, increasing food and fuel prices, there ARE things you can do to reduce your expenses. This won't last forever but it will last a few years. So if you start helping yourself, following a budget and reducing costs, you'll come out of it in reasonable shape, and hopefully still living in your own home.  How are you tackling this problem, please share what you're doing and we might all learn something.  I wish you all the best of luck,  Now, let's get to work and start reducing our expenses.

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