Sunday, April 19, 2009


Jules is the primary income for our house. Though I have a job, it isn't really a job. I work 3-4 nights a week in the kitchen of a local restaurant for minimum wage and tips. It isn't rocket science, or brain surgery, or police work. It is nothing compared to working with at-risk kids like I used to. Now, if I screw up or make a mistake someone doesn't get their dinner when they thought they would. I can live with that.

By no means does this imply that I don't take my job seriously or try to do it well. I really like working in restaurant kitchens with their adrenaline-based, fast paced lifestyle. I just mean that the stress is different and the consequences not quite so extreme. Our household could exist without my job (it would be very tight, but possible). My job is the latte job. It allows us to go out to eat, to get lattes, to shop at thrift stores on our Saturday walks, to go to Chuck E. Cheese or bowling for family night. It is the cushion of money that makes us feel safe.

My real job is taking care of Jules, our house, and our son. I homeschool the Spicy Barracuda because his birthday misses by 4 days for kindergarten entry. I clean (though I'm not very good at it) and make our meals. I manage the grocery lists and household projects. But most of all, I do research and look for ways for our house to run more efficiently. Coupon clipping, meal preparation, gardens, root cellars, rain barrels, these things all take time and which is at a significant premium with both people working full time. By not working full time, I can take on these various household chores with enjoyment and gusto allowing Jules to relax after work. It also means no child care and the ability to lower bills.

This last year the goal has been centered around food. Before the Spicy Barracuda and I, Jules spent about $250 a month in the dreaded task of grocery shopping and ate tuna fish and nachos as his staple meals. Oh, Bachelor food, what would the world be without you? With the onset of actual cooking, and some meal planning our grocery bill has plummeted. We purchased an apple tree, two blueberry bushes, and planted the garden. The root cellar began to be dug so that we could use the dirt to fill in the multiple large raised beds and have somewhere to store our veggies once we harvested them. Composting was used to temper the dirt with organic material so it would be good soil for the plants. The rain barrels came about to water the food we would be growing. The bulk food purchasing was to help with the food bill until the plants actually could be harvested and wound up slashing our garbage bill along with it. Along the way much more has transformed and as we walked around the yard yesterday, I was amazed at all that had been accomplished.

So, on to the next real project for our household! The bills. The grocery bill might have plummeted with the arrival of the Spicy Barracuda and I, but the rest of the bills definitely went up. With two more bodies occupying the house during the day, a lot more was being used at a higher frequency. When Jules and I sat down and discussed it there are about three main bills in our house and two miscellaneous. Electric, Natural Gas, Water are the big main bills. Cell phones and Gasoline are the two others. This next year our focus is going to shift from infrastructure for our food to infrastructure for our bills.

Our house is a 50's style atomic ranch. It is fabulous! We have tried to keep the style throughout even including furniture and colors. For this reason, energy efficient appliances aren't really going to work out very well. However, by purchasing only two a month, we can outfit the whole house in energy efficient light bulbs without one killer monetary hit.

Another big energy sucker is our dryer. It heats up the house tremendously during the summer and only adds more money drain in the air conditioner trying to compensate. Luckily our entire neighborhood has been outfitted in the backyard for umbrella clothes lines. No more dryer in the summer!

Lastly, the purchase of a solar water heater would do wonders for some serious decreasing. The main use of our electric right now (other than appliances) is the hot water heater. The current state and federal rebate/tax credit programs make the purchase ($2,500) almost break even within a year and that doesn't count the amount saved on the electric bill. I have my fingers crossed for next year's tax return outfitting our house with solar for heating the water. Photovoltaic cells for complete energy dependence is completely out of reach right now and no where near practical. Not only is it not sunny enough here, but the total cost is like $25,000. Hah! I don't know about your household, but we aren't getting anywhere near that much back in a tax return!

Natural Gas
Our Natural Gas is only used for the furnace. The local National Forest allows for firewood permits at $5 a chord. We did some talking with our older neighbors who used to heat their house solely with wood and they have said four chords was the magic number. Another declaration on their part was how wonderfully fun it was to go up and spend the day out in the woods cutting. We will see! For $20 of heat for the whole winter it will be well worth the exercise!

Turning the furnace off also allows us to store more in our root cellar because the furnace shares the space. Without the added heat of the furnace the space stays cooler and more damp, both major pluses! However, the insulation down there could use a major revamp as well. It keeps the cold down and the heat in the house where it should be. So we will be reinsulating.

It takes one major weekend rain event (sometimes daily rain event) to fill up 1-1 1/2 rain barrels. This means during the rainy season here, we will have to have more than the current five barrels if we want to maximize the amount of harvest. Right now we have enough water to have disconnected our toilet from city water, and have back stock for the summer. With more water we will be able to expand our rainwater usage into the daily small loads of dishes I wash by hand and the car washing throughout the year. This leaves showers/baths, three loads of laundry, and one load of dishes a week as the only major uses for our city water.

Currently, the water we harvest with our rain barrels comes off the back porch and runs through a rather old, metal gutter. It works for getting the water off the roof, but makes for the water uncertain for use as anything other than irrigation and toilet flushing. A replacement gutter made from high impact plastic is needed along with a leaf guard system to keep the water filtered.

By surveying our yard, we think we have space for 8 more barrels tucked away in the far corner of the yard and along the unused side of the house. With small stands and a nice wooden screen (so you don't see them) the addition will be highly useful and very inconspicuous.

Cell Phones
Jules and I switched to a shared minute plan quite a while ago. This brought him over to Verizon where most all of his family and mine get their cell phone service. With Verizon, if you call or recieve a call from someone who uses Verizon the call doesn't charge you minutes. This alone made the cost of our phones dramatically decrease. When we signed up, we did what most people do and went highly safe with the amount of minutes being used. Now, it has become clear we can most likely downsize our plan without much of any change in our useage.

By paying attention and grouping errands I've managed to only fill up my gas tank once 10-12 days for about $20. However, Jules is a teacher. One of the cardinal rules of teaching is that you do not live in the same district that you teach. This allows you to have a personal life and not run into your students everywhere at the least opportune times. (I once ran into parents of students while buying a large amount of alcohol for a friend's college graduation party.) He drives his truck quite a ways twice a day as a result.

However, Jules loves to bike to work. This commute is 60 miles round trip, and though he used to do it at least once a week, the toll on his body and time is extreme. Luckily, in September when the new school year starts, the completion of a significantly closer mass transit system will be in place allowing for the commute to take much less toll on his body. This means he can bike/ride to work two, three, or even more times a week. Not only will this make him personally feel better, but it will help with gasoline quite a bit.

The changes for next year will definitely be a more noticeable cultural shift than this years. Hopefully, the Barracuda is young enough still for the views of the mass culture to not affect him too much. Whether all of these ideas will come to fruition the same with this last year seems to be falling into place one can only wonder, but by having a plan and writing it down the ideas are at least in place for us to slowly move toward them. This last year has (and continues) to be a tremendous success in my book allowing for high hopes for the future.

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