In the dark

Posted June 22nd, 2008 by Penny Wise

Here I am working merrily away by the fire again. It's a rainy blustery Sunday afternoon and Ali has successfully passed his flu bug from hell on to Noel and I. Still, I refuse to give in just yet; tomorrow marks the start of another $21 Challenge week and there's things to do! My kitchen smells fabulous at the moment, with a huge pot of leek and potato soup on the stove for lunch and an enormous apple crumble cooling on the bench. Perfect winter tucker and a perfect way to use up a sad leek and half a dozen 'gone-soft' apples.

The kids had better get used to having soup this week – and not just leek and potato! Today I'm also making several more varieties to serve as after-school fillers. They'll complain but I don't care, it's their own fault. I picked up three family sized packs of potato chips on special for $5, a couple of days ago, thinking they would easily last us the week. The pair of them single-handedly consumed the lot in less than 24 hours. Not good for their health or my wallet! Henceforth our house has been proclaimed a potato chip-free zone and after school snacks will from now on be healthy, filling soup. Much cheaper and so much better for them. We have soup for lunch all the time but I had never thought of giving it to them after school until I read of several other Simple Savers doing it!

I suppose it's a pattern we've got into lately, what with rugby training three afternoons a week. With no time for munching between school and training, they arrive home two hours later absolutely ravenous and can't hold out until dinner so they pig out on everything in sight. Normally we replace things as we run out but not during a Challenge week! So soup it is. Best of all it's something I can keep warm on top of the fire, so I don't even have to use any electricity to warm it up!

The last few days I have become a power saving crusader in our house. With the whole of NZ threatened with power cuts in a few weeks, it's time to stop pulling the wool over our eyes and change our wasteful habits fast. It's just basic stuff isn't it, keeping things turned off but somehow we never get round to making much of an effort. Terrible really isn't it, considering how many easy power saving hints there are in the Vault. To be honest, I think it's a really good thing that the country is being shocked into saving power and I'm actually quite enjoying it!

It gives us more quality time together as a family for a start. Instead of staring at the TV in the evenings and complaining there's never anything decent on, we've been turning off all the lights downstairs except my little 15 watt rock salt lamp and just chatting together. It gives a lovely warm glow and provides all the light we need. Being the owner of an enormous candle collection I am very keen to use some of them but the kids are too concerned about fire hazards. Just goes to show what sort of society we've become doesn't it, how on earth do we think people got along for centuries when there was nothing else?! Still at least we can compromise. It's been quite handy actually – like many kids the boys don't like being upstairs on their own and would switch every single light on up there. Now however, instead of being lit up like the Blackpool Illuminations at night, they only have a single 15 watt lava lamp going in their rooms. They're so busy saving power, they've forgotten to be scared of the dark!

I can hardly see across the lounge for washing at the moment, as I invested in another clothes drying rack a couple of days ago. It's the Rolls Royce of drying racks in my humble opinion! Three tiers high, yet very compact, it can accommodate an entire 8kg load of washing no problem. The kids are really getting into this power saving lark too and have been really making an effort to change their bad habits, such as leaving lights and the TV on and so forth. They don't really watch much television these days anyway, preferring to play rugby outside. I was surprised to hear Liam say that even he thought power cuts would be a good idea, as it would get people off their Playstations and Nintendos and force them to find something better to do instead. Too right mate!

I've never really made much of an effort to understand our power bill but yesterday I thought it was about time I did. Apologies to non-Kiwis for the following NZ websites but I'm sure there will be something available for other countries too if you 'Google'! The fabulous people at Consumer have brought out a sister site called Powerswitch, which enables you to go online, compare all the power rates and plans available in your area and helps you determine whether you are getting the best deal. If not, you can see who does offer the best deal and from what I can see if differs by an average of $200 - $300 per year. Definitely worth spending a few minutes on, so I dragged out my power bill and excitedly entered in my information to see how much I could potentially save.

This was where it got interesting. Our provider is Genesis Energy, who apparently offer two domestic plans, a Household one and a Classic one for low power users. It took me a while to work out from the statement which plan we were actually on, and it turned out to be neither of them. For some reason, we are on a Business Anytime plan! Goodness only knows how or why that happened but the thing is, have we been paying more than we should have been for our power in the past five years since we moved into the house? As you can imagine, I felt pretty daft – how on earth could I not have noticed after all this time that we weren't on a domestic plan! It just goes to show how much notice I take of the power bill – we've been paying it by direct debit for years now, which entitles us to our 10% prompt payment discount, so I've been happy.

As the Business Anytime plan wasn't mentioned on the Powerswitch website, there was only one way to find out if we were paying more than necessary, at 15.83 cents per unit. I got on the phone and spoke to a lovely lady. Unfortunately she couldn't help me as the people I needed to speak to only worked Monday to Friday and this was a Saturday. So I'm waiting for them to call me back tomorrow! At least the lady was able to help me with one thing – business or not, our current plan gives us the same unit rate all day and night, which means I can run the washing machine and dishwasher when I like, rather than leaving it until the evening. Noel and I have never forgotten the friend of ours who would stay up steadfastly until midnight each night to run the dishwasher, so it was cheaper! Another thing the helpful lady told me about was a gorgeous interactive website for people of all ages who want to help the environment. With Treepeople, you get to see how much the small lifestyle changes you make affect the environment. It's free, you just join up, choose a tree and make a pledge to do something in your life to fight climate change. It can be as big or small as you like – something as simple as turning the TV off at the wall each night. You can make as many pledges as you like and as you complete them your tree grows taller. It's not just about your tree though – you get to check out the whole forest as more and more people join and make pledges! All the information you need is on the site – I've got a Kahikatea tree, see if you can find me!

I may not be able to work out the best power company for us yet but at least I can keep working towards reducing our power consumption and with that, I get to reduce the power bill! So the next step was to download the Simple Savings Power Expense Calculator. This has been on my 'to do' list for ages so I'm going to start tomorrow and take a meter reading every Monday from now on. We've been in credit for months since the power company owed us hundreds of dollars in incorrect meter readings but next month it will be coming to an end so it's a great time to start. I'm feeling quite proud of myself, finally taking control of the power bill at last! Shame it takes a national crisis to drive me to it though, I should have been in control all along.

As well as the power bill, I must also go and get our food bill under control for the week! I haven't done my menu plan yet but at this stage it looks as though we only need fruit and vegetables. I also have to buy a two litre bottle of Diet Coke and a packet of Mentos mints but that doesn't count as part of the Challenge as it's actually an experiment Liam has chosen for his school science fair. If you've never heard of this experiment before, check out this link! Yikes!

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