Friday 4 February 2022

Frugal Friday

A hefty 54% is the amount that most of us can expect our energy bills to increase by from 1st April confirmed by the new UK "Price Cap" being announced today. It’s roughly what most experts were expecting - with forecasts over the previous few weeks having been anything from a 49% to 60% increase - so this is around the midway point. Remember that this is a cap on the price you pay per unit of energy rather than a cap on the total you will pay - something which misleads many. If you use more than the cap figure’s worth of energy in a year you will pay a higher amount - similarly if you use less, you'll pay less. Never has it been more vital to ensure that our homes and lives are as energy efficient as possible. Some help is being announced - at time of writing a £150 Council Tax rebate in England, and also a £200 “rebate” on energy bills but this should more accurately be called a loan as it is repayable at £40 a year for the following 5 years apparently. As I write there is no information about what you can do if - like us - you're in the fortunate position of being able to manage the increase without accepting this loan - we hope that there WILL be an option to decline it, but it's not certain, and right now seems unlikely.

I've written before about reducing energy use - as has pretty much every blogger out there who ever writes on matters frugal. We did a fair bit of stuff at different levels quite some time ago - replacing our elderly double glazed windows and doors with modern units made a huge difference in both our electric use and the ability to maintain a higher temperature for the amount of power we are using. We'd gradually been changing to low energy bulbs pretty much since they first made an appearance, we bought lined curtains for one room that didn't have them, and made cheap linings for another room too, and as we have replaced appliances we've been looking for more energy-efficient ones - all the things you'd expect. Recently we took another look though - with the certainty that prices were going to increase steeply it felt like a good time to review. 

For a lot of people being aware of the high-drain items in your home is the key thing when it comes to cutting electricity use, in particular. I'm focusing here based on our own personal circumstances - which is a household running on electricity for everything other than cooking. A lot of stuff will translate over to homes where gas central heating is the source of warmth though. So think about use of kettles, toasters and microwaves. If you cook using electricity, chances are that all these appliances will still be more cost effective than using your cooker, hob or grill, but there are ways to reduce further. Electric showers can be absolute power guzzlers - and the more powerful the shower, the more this will apply. If you have the option of a shower fueled by your gas boiler OR an electric one, hop under the gas one every time, it'll be far cheaper! 

First for us was the free or cheap and simple stuff - so the existing low energy bulbs were mostly switched out for newer more efficient LED Versions. we agreed that a small expenditure was worth it for this - particularly for the kitchen fitting which uses 3 x GU10 bulbs and is on a fair amount, and the lights that illuminate our cabinets in the front room - which were old style incandescent candle bulbs for the most part. Some of those had already been changed to halogens - those stayed put. We've focused on closing curtains earlier - so as soon as it gets dark, they're closed and blinds are pulled. We only became fully aware of quite how effective this is when last week we were unable to pull the front room curtains due to an issue with the rail that needed both time and daylight to sort. The drop in temperature in the evenings - even with those super duper new windows - was quite surprising! Lighting candles has a small but real effect on warmth, but more than that it also adds a visual sense of warmth too. (Usual safety precautions apply).  An old bathmat rolled up tightly has proved an effective draught-excluder at the bottom of the larder door too - we’d always rather repurpose something we already have than buy something new to do a job. Of course the old standard of putting on additional layers and having a blanket on standby for any particularly chilly evenings goes without saying! 

More extreme measures which will also make a difference have included bathing in the evening rather than showering first thing - not something that would suit everyone but it does us allowing that we pay far less to heat water in the immersion heater overnight than 2 showers - even still on that cheap rate - would cost us. The hot water is there anyway so we may as well use it for the small uplift in cost to heat the tank from almost cold.  Something else we have done in the past with our time-of-use tariff electricity (Economy 7) is to boil a full kettle of water when it boils first thing in the morning and then transfer the balance not required for drinks immediately to a vacuum flask for use later - it works perfectly well as it is for MrEH's second cup of coffee, and can easily be transferred back to the kettle again if I want a further cup of tea - clearly re-boiling it from a higher temperature has an energy saving in itself. We’ve literally just discussed returning to doing this - with MrEH still working from home a lot of the time it makes perfect sense. 

I've been focusing more on batch-cooking again too - so if the oven is going on I try to think what else might go in at the same time, and rather than making enough bolognese, chilli or soup for just the meal we're having there and then, I cook double or even more, portion and freeze. 

We’re fortunate - although we might not like the huge increase in cost to heat and light our home, we can afford it. Sure, we’ll try to reduce costs where we can, that just makes sense, but we can pay the bills without needing to work out what else we can stop spending on. For all too many folk that’s not the case - financial pressure on household budgets is about to be increased to a level which will just prove too much for some. If you’re panicking, seek help sooner rather than later - there may be savings you can make elsewhere that you weren’t even aware of and without compromising quality of life much if at all. The MoneySavingExpert forums are a good place to start with seeking budgeting advice - have a look on the Debt Free Wannabe, you don’t have to be in debt already to ask for help, in fact it’s better if you’re not! You may also be able to get money management advice through your local CAB too.