Reader Tip: How I Lowered Our Electric Bill and Created Teachable Moments

I loved this idea from Jody who blogs at Because I’m Me:

For a long time, I’ve been on my kids to turn the lights off, unplug things we’re not using, close the doors, take shorter showers, etc. They were tired of hearing it and weren’t listening.

One day a light bulb went on in the brain and I presented my children with the following offer: Each month the electric bill was below $190 they’d get the dollar amount the bill was below $190 (i.e.: if the bill were $180 they’d get $10). That money would go towards a party, be it candy, ice cream, cake, pizza, chips, whatever they could buy with that money. I never buy food like that, so it would be a real treat for them.

The first month the bill was still up there around $200, an encouraging improvement but not what they needed.

By the second month, the bill was only $162. Yup, almost $65 less than usual! Not too shabby. And it gave them $28 to blow on junk food. I never expected them to get it as low as that!

In addition to a lower electric bill, my children were able to learn valuable lessons. For example, how to budget that $28 to get the best bang for their buck while pleasing all six kids.

They opted to purchase store brand soda, inexpensive ice cream, lots of buy one, get one free items, use coupons, and to pass on some items that were just too expensive. When all was said and done they managed to have enough junk food for one fine party and many days of treats afterward, and they contributed $10 to a dinner of Chinese take-out!

Last week one of my sons said he wished we’d get an electric bill every day so he could keep track of the amount of the bill throughout the month. I wasn’t going to pass up this opportunity for a “teachable moment”, so out came the electric bill, an explanation of how to read the meter and a brief “field trip” to the side of the house where the meter is. Now he can check every day, do the multiplication and addition and see if we’re staying on track.

We are now four months into this deal and the interest has not waned!

Jody Sanders is a single Mom of 6 kids in south Florida. She home schools four of her kids, runs a home daycare and loves to sew. She can be found at Because I’m Me.

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Comments

  1. amanda says

    What a wonderful idea! I hope i’m able to jump on those teachable moments as you have!!!

  2. Rae says

    Great idea. My kids are good with this type stuff because I have drilled it into their head since they were born. Now my husband on the other hand… grrr. He comes from a very wasteful family in general so I had to retrain him lol. He is now pretty good about recycling but still leaves every light on (I have counted 8! yes 8!) on at once before when we were all in the same room.

  3. NatalieO says

    My kids like to play the high low game with electric bill like on the price is right. It is fun to watch them get excited that the bill was lower than the last month. My kids like it when the heat is lower but they also have to tell their friends to bring a sweat shirt when they come to our house.

  4. says

    I love the idea! An alternative method would be to split the savings cost with your kids. If they were $28 under you’d give them $14 cash that month. After they’ve accumulated some savings take them on a shopping trip!

  5. Michelle says

    What a great idea! We are planning a Disney World trip in June but told the kids a while back that we needed to save money and one of the ways to do that was by saving electricity, that if our electric bills were too high, we wouldn’t be able to save enough money. Well, that did absolutely NO good because kids are still leaving lights on, TVs on, etc. But to actually put a specific NUMBER out there I think would help! (I guess our vague, “We need to quit leaving stuff on so we can save money” didn’t quite cut it.)

  6. Joy Belcher says

    Genius Momma! I will have to remember that idea. My daughter is only 3, but in a few years we will do that!

  7. Tricia K. says

    WOW! You actually have an electricity bill that is $190? I’m not going to complain about ours anymore. Good idea, though!

    • alicia says

      ours was 765 last month…Yes you read that right…We have electric heat and kept it at 68* (sometimes lower), lots of bundling up in our house…we have those energy bulbs (dont seem to work). I think our electric company just jacks up the rates in the winter or something because it is only that high in the winter…summer months I can run the central air to keep it at 65* in the house ALL day and it doesnt go above 200 normally around 160…hmmm

      • Cilicia says

        Alicia, I don’t know how anyone could PAY a bill of $765!!! :( I would definately ask the electric co. if they come out and do free evaluations of your house. Our area offered it a couple yrs. ago, and we ended up putting more insulation in our attic, and it had tax benefits. :)

      • Megan says

        Wow! I’d definitely have your meter checked, it may be malfunctioning. The same thing happened with our water meter when one month our typical $30 bill shot up to over $250 – and we didn’t have a washer at the time! The meter needed replaced!

      • lalalalala says

        Electric heat is ridiculously expensive. In a three bedroom rental house, we’d regularly pay $500 a month on our electric bill. And we were freezing our bums off! I’d reguarly be walking around in the house with my mittens and gloves on lol. We ended up having to move, even though we loved the house, because it was wreaking havoc on our budget.

      • Sharon says

        Alicia, does your electric company offer a budget plan (they average your usage for the year into a uniform monthly payment)? When we had electric heat, the budget plan was a life-saver. While I wasn’t thrilled to pay more during the warm months than I would have otherwise (no AC, so the KWH usage was low), I was very happy during the frigid CT winters to not get socked with massive bills!

        • alicia says

          Well we have an old house (built in 1931) that has awesome hardwood floors under the carpet. So we pulled up the carpet to increase the value of our home…thats when the bills went up. When we had gas heat (same house) it was never above $490 (and that was gas EVERYTHING except dryer) plus we had about 8 major gas leaks we were unaware of. We have replaced our drafty windows with the best windows out there, redid our upstairs with new insulation and thicker drywall (it was panelling), lowered our hot water temp thingy, switched to CLF light bulbs, pointed our dryer vent hose INSIDE instead of out, etc. Finally we decided to put carpet back down on the hardwood floors and it seems to have helped.

          We do have budget billing and have done that…it messed our account up something bad…we kept paying and they kept telling us we were late. So now we just do “budget billing” on our own…we pay $400 a month regardless of what the bill is and by the time our winter months come along we have a nice credit going. The ARC helped last month thank goodness!

          Our meter has also been checked, by Ameren and they do not do home evaluations… :(

      • cricket says

        you can call and see if they have the go green and it helps we had a bill for 369 and now we have it down to 130

  8. Kelly says

    What a clever idea! It saves you money and gives you a valuable opportunity to teach your children about stewardship!

  9. Holly says

    Our electric company has a lot of usage data on their website. It shows daily and even hourly usage for our home. For example, I can see that my electric usage is higher on Mondays, when I do more laundry. It is lower in the afternoon when the computer and TV are off. Then it jumps up again at shower time. It might be worth checking to see if your electric company provides similar usage data. It may give you ideas of where you can reduce consumption.

    • alicia says

      shucks….ours doesnt do that!! another reason to dislike Ameren LOL!! The CS lady said they are “hoping” to make that available to customers “soon”….wonder why they cant make it available NOW since THEY can see it…

        • Julie says

          Alicia, that’s insane that they can’t make it available (sound illegal, too). We lived in a place with only electric (no gas, oil, etc). Granted it was a small apartment (2 bedroom), but even in the winter, when the rates are highest and usage is highest, it didn’t go above $150-$200. We put plastic over our windows. Our rooms also had separate thermostats (maybe you could install them?) so we could turn off the heat in our bedroom, say since we weren’t in that room during the day. Also, our electric company did have a grid that broke down the rates. I think most electric companies probably basically do it the same way. Peak times are generally from about 7am to 9pm M-F. So, we’d always run our dishwasher and washing machine after 9pm. Just some thoughts.

      • Gina says

        We have Ameren in Missouri. Have you checked into “budget billing”. Since we’ve been in the same house for over a year, they average our monthly bills over a year’s time and we pay the same amount 11 months a year. In the 12th month you either have to pay for any overage you’ve used or they have to give you credit for overpayment. You’ll pay more than $200 in the summer, but you won’t get hit with $765 heating bills in the winter! Just an idea…

  10. CJ says

    What a great idea, your kids did great! I’d do the same thing for myself but my bill is around $25 most months and around $70 for 2-3 months in the summer (I live alone). I dont think I can get it down any lower than that!

  11. Lee says

    wow I can only say I am never going to complain about our electic again! They de-regulated last year and it doubled in price to $80 a month on a year long budget. That is for a family of 5!

  12. says

    I read an interesting article a couple of years ago that showed that if you were going to leave a room for more than 20 seconds, it would be worth turning off the light (versus the energy used in turning it back on).

    Where I live, the electric company has been raising rates every quarter for the last 4 1/2 years, and they continue to do it. We have 5-6 months of over 90º temperatures here, so we run the a/c all the time in the summer (as well as ceiling fans). It is not unusual for people to have electric bills over $600 a month here for 3-4 months a year (summers average 116º here and cool down to 104º around 2 a.m.).

    I lowered our electric bill by trying something different each month.

    In the summer, we keep our thermostat at 79º.

    The first month, I turned off ceiling fans in rooms that we were not IN. I had read about how ceiling fans help you feel cooler (and they really do) but having them on in bedrooms when everyone is in the living room in a waste of money. We have 10 ceiling fans in our house. Turning off the fans in rooms we were not in saved us $150 that first month.

    The next month I tried just turing off my computer at night. People say it uses les energy to just leave it on rather than restart it each day–but just like the study with the lights, it isn’t true. Turning my computer off saved me $50 that month.

    The next month I looked to see what else I could do. We already had been very diligent about turning off lights, and we had gotten much better about turning off the ceiling fans. I tried one new thing that month; I turned off the lights in the kitchen that weren’t directly over the table where were eating–just during dinner. I had been leaving those on. My bill went down $20.

    In areas with lower electric rates it might not be so drastic, but since we moved here, I have never seen another $600 bill like I did our first summer here (where we kept the thermostat at 78º and ran all the ceiling fans all the time), despite rates going up EIGHTEEN TIMES since then!

    • Char says

      WOW, this is amazing…thankfully I have NEVER seen a $600 electric bill, but I am not pleased with our $250!! I don’t really complain about the electric bill, but if I could get it down that would be AWESOME!!! Thanks for the tips!

      • says

        My sister-in-law has a bigger house than we do, and her bill is around $965 a month for her electric bill. She actually found it cheaper to install a swamp cooler, making it around $600 a month for her (we live in the desert). My brother-in-law did the same thing in his house. Obviously that isn’t very helpful if you live in a humid climate.

    • says

      Wow, that’s impressive! I’m definitely going to try turning my computer off at night. I’m not sure I’ll be able to tell if it makes a difference since our bill fluctuates like crazy (Texas…heat one day, AC the next) but I am getting tired of our $200 electric bills…and we have a tiny house!

    • Laura says

      $600–that is incredible!! Being diligent is worth it!

      I’m glad you didn’t say you unplug your TV. I hear that “tip” a lot from people but my chief engineer husband says that is the worst thing for a TV. The TV will wear out much, much faster. Replacing a TV is usually a hefty expense, far outweighing the pennies that would be saved by unplugging it.

      • JW says

        Is this true of old TVs as well as the newer ones? Our TVs are 20 years old. Definitely old technology, but I don’t know anything about the electronics of a TV.

        • lalalalala says

          Your old TV probably uses less energy when it’s not on than a newer set. Newer TVs tend to be what’s called “vampire electronics” because they have so many advance features the makers don’t want you to have to wait when you turn it on for it to boot up. Some of these electronics never really turn off, even if you’re hitting the off button. The only way to fully stop these electronics from sucking up energy is to unplug them.

  13. says

    With 12 kids, our bill is right around 350. They would love the junk food party and I have been looking for more ideas to teach them the value of a dollar. We’ll have some fun with this….Thanks!!!

  14. Susannah says

    What a great idea! I have taught my kids to “slow” the spinning of the wheel on the meter (yes, we still have a wheel — not digitized yet!) and they love doing that but this is even better!

  15. Casey Malone says

    Okay so here was my parents way of keeping our tails in shape when it came to the power bill. My brother would fall asleep in the shower so my Dad flipped the breaker on the hot water heater. A couple of days of that and it happened no more. LOL!

  16. says

    I hate to be a scrooge because I like the idea and think it is a great teaching moment for the kids but isn’t the main idea behind getting your electric bill down to save money? Seems like the money you saved was squandered on junk food. I would be more apt to say they could have half of the money saved or let them have half for junk food and half for savings.

        • JW says

          Her bill is usually higher than $190 since a $162 bill was $65 lower than usual. So she is basically splitting the savings, just in a different form.

        • Tara says

          I think the point is to get them into good habits. Then she can stop the bribery LOL, and they will still have formed good habits.

    • lalalalala says

      Keeping them mindful of their habits will keep the energy bill down, so she can always expect the bill to be around 162 or whatever instead of the high amount it was before.

      I don’t think it was squandered. She and the kids have fun. Having a junk food party once a month sounds like an awesome reward for being good citizens. I think it’s important to have fun with the kids like that every so often. Life doesn’t always have to be a lesson, but she found a great and fun way to make it so.

    • Rebecca says

      But she said that even getting the bill to around $200 was an “encouraging improvement.” Since $190 represents a savings for her household she’s now saving money on electricity, can predict to budget for $190 a month, is providing motivation for her kids to conserve electricity/save $/spend $ with a plan, and is giving the kids an opportunity for a special family fun time within her $190 budgeted amount. Sounds like a great plan and sounds like the kids are enjoying it!

    • says

      Thanks for your response. The bill is usually between $225 and $240, so getting it below $190 does save me about $35-$50. Honestly, I felt it would be such a stretch to hit $190 that they might, if really really lucky, have $5-$10 so spend. I’m thrilled with the results, and with their continued focus on saving energy.

  17. says

    That’s great. Maybe he can also check to see if the meter STOPS moving. Then you’ll have evidence of where it was when it broke and how much you were using at the time when they try to bill you later. (Speaking from personal experience here.)

  18. Kristine says

    This many not work for some, but if you are building a house or putting in a new furnance- try a geothermal unit. We aren’t immune to electric rate increases but we pay $160 a month for electric (average pay) and $40 a month for gas. This is for a 3500 square foot house. Our neighbors complain about $300-$500 bills all the time, just for electric. It is more expensive than a traditional furnace, but it has saved us so much money and paid for itself at this point.

  19. Julie says

    I love this post, but if I used it, I’d definitely change the expectations for summer months. Electric bills are always lower in the summer months anyway (due to more daylight, less light usage, and lower seasonal rates).

    • Rae says

      depends on where you live. Here in TX August is my highest month of the year because of the 100+ degree temps. And I keep my AC higher than most people (83 degrees, heat at 65 degrees in the winter).

    • Busy Mama says

      Our highest electric bills are July, August, and September when we are dealing with stifling heat. Arkansas heat and humidity in the summer does not mesh well with low electric bills, especially when the electric companies raise the rates beginning in May each year to cash in on the AC months.

      • Lise says

        I’m with you, Busy Mama. We live in Arkansas and the July and August bills are CRAZY high due to the AC we need to avoid heat stroke!

  20. Megan says

    Our electric rates are relatively low here, but natural gas – WHEW!!! That’s another story!

  21. NV says

    I keep my electricity and gas bills on budget billing so the electricity bill is around $180-$190 all year and the gas is around $75 all year. I hate the up and down of regular billing and it helps to better plan my expenses.

  22. Becky says

    Love this idea. We’re working hard are reducing our energy usage for the sake of our hard-earned dollars and the earth. We signed up for a Time of Use energy plan through our electric company and we’re saving lots by shifting our usage to off-peak periods. Highly recommend it!

  23. Christy Morris says

    Great tip! I would love to see a bill in the $160 range. Ours regularly runs $250-275, and there are only 3 of us! We recently received a notice that rates are once again going up. Sigh. Between the electricity and gas cost this summer we’re going to be pinched.

  24. jen says

    A poorly insulated house is a budget drainer! We have a fairly large house (4000 sq. feet) but our energy bills don’t run more than $250 every month b/c we are well insulated. We do try to conserve as much energy as we can as well, but for us, I know that the insulation makes a huge difference!

    • vicki says

      yes it definitely does!! my family was lucky enough to qualify for a government program last year to get our 100 year old house insulated. the program insulated our entire house, installed new moldings around the doors, and got us a new furnace. this time last year our gas bill for the winter months was well over $1,000. so far this winter, we are only around $400. it has definitely made a HUGE difference for us. if anyone else lives in an ancient uninsulated house, check with your city/town to see if there is such a program in your area.

  25. Kadee says

    I think this is a neat idea, but I don’t see how I could fairly use it here. Our AC is electric, heat is natural gas. Our bills vary so much from month to month depending on the weather. Our electric bill can vary from $50/m to $200+/month, so it would be hard to say “our bill was down $15 this month due to turning lights off” – it could be that we had a few mild days and the AC didn’t run as much for those days. Or, we could have turned off every light every time we left a room, but turned on the AC for the first time and the bill would be much higher than the previous month. I truly don’t want to sound negative, but how can you really know how much you saved by turning off the lights?

  26. says

    My family has been working on lowering our electric/gas bill. It was 155 in Jan, and last month went down to 105. We do keep the house at 73 degrees at nighttime, and do laundry, bathing, and using the dishwasher all during off-peak hours. It really does add up using off-peak hours.

  27. Dawn says

    I found it interesting this was posted today. I had a talk with my husband today about wanting to cut back on our electric bill. We are trying to build our emergency fund, and I wanted to challenge our family to save energy this month in hopes to make it a habit and save a little money. Our electric/water/garbage bill averages $98 per month. And our gas is only $53 per month. And we have a 2700 sq. ft. home. I keep our home at 67 degrees during the day in the winter (64 at night) and we don’t have air conditioning. It gets extremely hot for a few weeks in the summer, but we make do. We have a lot of gadgets though always plugged in and a tv always on with no one watching it. I also bought a clothes rack and have started hanging a couple loads to dry and put them in the dryer for a few minutes to fluff up. Thanks for your inspiration!

  28. Carol says

    Way to go, Jodi! I thought it was hard with two. Mine are both grown. Admiration a plenty to you. Mine were respectful in that aspect but often wanted designer this and designer that (clothes, shoes). I basically told them the money just wasn’t there. I wasn’t coupon and bargain saavy back then either, although I cooked and based meals on sales. We splurged on pizza once a week (youth group night). Good for you!

  29. Barb says

    Whenever I find a light or TV left on by my teenagers I charge them $1. At first I was collecting nearly $20/month from each but now I’m lucky if I collect $3. I felt this was a better strategy at their age so I could teach them the ramifications of wasting electricity.