Cost analysis: Water consumption

After looking at our water/sewer/garbage bill, I have come to the conclusion that we use a ton of water.  Even during low water usage months, Mr. LL and I average (at the lowest) 50 gallons of water per day.  During peak season (May to September), water costs about $.022/gallon, including the sewer rate.  Our low flow shower head uses about 5 gallons of water per minute, and one toilet flush uses 1.6 gallons.

We have an on-demand water heater, so we have to wait for a while for the water to warm up.  Even if we took only 5-minute showers, it would still take a minute or two for the water to be tolerable.  In the winter, it takes longer for water to warm up.  If we each took a 7-minute shower at home every day, it would cost $1.54/day.  It would cost about $.21 to flush the toilet a total of 6 times per day.  For just bathing and flushing the toilet alone, it would cost about $52.50/month.  If we were able to cut down to 5-minute showers, we could cut our cost by $.44/day, or about $13.20/month.  That would be a 25% reduction.

It’s interesting to me to see that a shower costs $.77, because I haven’t ever looked at the bill closely enough to really parse out the costs.


Tracking spending

Mr. LL and I have been regularly tracking spending for about 9 months using a simple Excel spreadsheet into which we enter all our receipts and debits for the month.  We have a master category of lists (from gym and mobile phones to toiletries and sewage capacity charge) that we itemize along with one total that doesn’t include our mortgage, and a grand total that includes it.  That way we get the actual amount of money that we are spending each month, along with the total amount of spending that is adjustable based on various small decisions that we make.  We can also see what specific categories that we can spend less on.  It has been really inspiring to see how much we can cut in a variety of areas to add up to big changes.

Where we can still save

I think we are at the point where we are constantly trying to be more efficient in spending money.  I can immediately identify several places where we could still reduce or cut if we absolutely have to:

  • $175/month Crossfit membership (+ much more reasonable $47/month gym membership for Mr. LL)
  • $120/month dining expenses
  • $16/month magazine subscriptions (2 of which we could read at the library or check out on Zinio through the library)
  • $69/month for both cell phones
  • $19/month internet
  • $115-136/month outdoor recreation (hiking, camping, snowshoeing, skiing/snowboarding as determined here)

We can also continue to try to maximize our savings on electricity/water/natural gas, though our gas bill, for example, is at the point where we are only paying about $4/month for actual consumption (the rest is just the fixed fee to have gas at all).

Some of these expenses can be reduced by doing less of whatever the activity is, although some expenses are fixed and must be eliminated entirely in order to “reduce” them.  But either way, that’s $561-582/month that we could save or cut down on.  There’s also some partially redundant disability insurance that we could cut down on, but I won’t include that in the total.

Reasons/excuses why we have not reduced/eliminated these expenses:

  1. I have addressed Crossfit in other posts, but I love it and would be really reluctant to eliminate it.  Obviously if we had to, I would, but I feel I would really miss it compared to all the other expense cutting we have done, which haven’t actually even been sacrifices at all (don’t miss not going out to movies, having a Blockbuster Online subscription, going out to eat for non-social occasions, having house cleaning).  If it turns out that I can’t make it to 12 classes a month, though, I can drop my monthly fee to $140/month for 8 classes.
  2. We only dine out for social occasions – specifically post-hike dining, or pub trivia, which can’t be replicated at home, and at which we usually win a gift certificate for the following week.  We could do this less but would probably also see our friends less.
  3. Mr. LL has the two subscriptions that we could read at the library, which is kind of inconvenient already, since one of them is The Economist (which calls itself a newspaper).  It comes out weekly and is a fairly dense read (essentially all of Mr. LL’s leisure reading time during the week).  While we could check out magazines on Zinio, I wouldn’t want to read a magazine on my phone, and neither of us has a tablet.
  4. We could reduce our cell phone bill if we were willing to buy new phones, although I haven’t really looked into specifics.  Or we could get rid of our smart phones (although I had an old school Kyocera until 2011 – when I started texting regularly, I ended up spending as much as I do now for my current phone – $25/month for 300 min. and unlimited texting and data).
  5. We could reduce our internet bill to $9.99/month if we want to drop from 10 GB to 5 GB of data for the month with a slower connection.
  6. Seeing as how we want to do even more outdoor recreation in early retirement, I don’t see us cutting our outdoor rec budget, honestly.

Looking at my list of reasons/excuses, I can see that I really value fitness, fun social experiences, and outdoor recreation.  Of the remaining reasons/excuses, I can see I like convenience and entertainment (such as the music I am currently streaming via Spotify by virtue of our internet service).   I like being able to text, talk, and check email and internet on my phone, and am willing to pay a bit more to do so (although I haven’t closely examined the exact amount extra I would be willing to pay).   Considering the magazine subscription, if I could only read books at the library and couldn’t actually check them out, I would probably end up buying a lot more books, so it makes sense for Mr. LL to have his subscriptions.

However, knowing that there are these places to cut means that we are not so close to the bone, so to speak.  It is currently worth it to spend this money, but if something happened in the future that required us to give some or all of these things up, it would be painful but doable.

DIY: Pancake mix for camping

Normally we buy Bisquick mix so that we can make pancakes when we’re car camping, but I wanted to try making a mix that we could just add water to with ingredients that we already have in the kitchen.

Just-Add-Water Pancake Mix

  • 1 3/4 c. flour
  • 1/3 c. powdered milk
  • 1/2 t. salt
  • 1 T. baking powder
  • 1/4 c. sugar
  • 1 T. meringue powder (optional, but provides some of the benefits of adding eggs, in addition to a nice meringue crust on the pancakes)

Mix all ingredients together and add between 1/2 and 3/4 cup of water per cup of dry mix when you make the pancakes.

The bulk food aisle

The bulk food aisle of grocery stores can often yield good deals.  It can also cost more.  I like to pick up certain kinds of foods like dry beans and oatmeal in Fred Meyer’s bulk food aisle, where I can get oatmeal for as little as $.59/lb (sale price).  You can also find  runner peanuts (for peanut butter) for less than the non-sale price of Fred Meyer natural peanut butter.  Sometimes if we are going camping, we can also get some dry vegetable soup that we can just add water to.  However, rice and flour are more expensive per pound than in their respective aisles at either Fred Meyer or Safeway.  Also, any bulk processed product (like dark chocolate almonds or dried mangoes) is often more expensive than buying the same thing at Trader Joe’s.

What is nice is that you can get as much or as little as you want for a fixed per-pound price.  Sometimes you cannot get as good of a price unless you buy many pounds worth of a food item.  If you know how much the same items cost at different places, you can save quite a bit.


Clipping coupons

One thing I do pretty regularly is cut coupons or add coupons to my member card for Safeway and Fred Meyer.  The vast majority of things that you can get coupons for are processed foods, which we rarely buy, but there are also toiletries that you can get great deals on, like toothpaste and toilet paper.  Both Safeway and Fred Meyer often offer coupons for foods like eggs, milk, ground beef, and chicken.  They also offer deals on more processed foods like canned tomatoes (for whipping up a batch of tomato sauce) and dry pasta.  Clipping coupons tends to require some vigilance, along with an awareness of usual grocery store prices, in order to get the best deals.

Cutting out soda

It has been my goal to cut down on soda for health and cost reasons, since I consume a lot of artificial sweetener through sodas.

There have been studies about how artificial sweeteners still conditions your body to want sugar, and a variety of ills have been attributed to artificial sweeteners.  Even if artificial sweeteners turn out to be health-neutral, it would still save money and feel healthier – and considering that placebos can sometimes be effective, I try not to underestimate the power of mind-body connection.  Plus, it would be better for my teeth to not drink too much soda, regardless of whether it has artificial sweetener or not.

Oddly enough, something that I have found to be effective in not drinking soda is drinking ice water.  Regular water doesn’t do it, but for some reason drinking water with a lot of ice cubes is satisfying in a way that allows me to skip soda.  Not sure why it works, but I’m hoping it will continue to work even when I am bringing my lunches to school.