Personal Finance

Your Electric Bill: Read it and Reap (the Savings)

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IStock_000005794276XSmall If you were listening to Stephanie Penn Spear give a presentation about saving power right now, she would ask you this question: “How many kilowatt hours of electricity do you use in your home each month?” Typically, Stephanie says, she sees only one or two hands. (That’s okay. Mine wasn’t one of them, either.)

What Stephanie instructs during her talks at schools and organizations throughout Ohio is, basically, don’t just pay your electric bill, read it.

“What you’re going to find is that your electricity bill is extremely easy to read and very informative,” says Stephanie.

Last year, she launched an alternative energy consulting firm, Expedite Renewable Energy, which assists companies who want to explore solar or wind turbine energy sources. Her newsletter, EcoWatch Journal, has a readership of more than 100,000 including online.

Three years ago, Stephanie decided to see how much power she was using.

A quick scan of her electric bill revealed her average monthly usage of 750 kW per hour per month. (She dug the dandy little bar chart that provided a graphic depiction of the year’s usage, too.) Researching the monthly numbers for a 2,000-square-foot home such as hers, she found the average was between 850 and 1200 kW hours. Stephanie, being Stephanie, wanted to do even better.

A quick assessment led to several changes: She plugged her television and office equipment into power strips that turn on or off as necessary, instead of leaving everything in standby mode, which still draws power from the grid. When at her computer, she only turned on her printer or speakers when she was actually using them. Same with lights. She bought an Energy Saver washer and dryer set. She converted her incandescent bulbs into contact fluorescent bulbs.

Stephanie looked forward to getting her bill to see the reductions. She ended up cutting her total usage by more than half to 320 kW hours, which resulted in a $40 monthly savings.

She also figured out an ingenious way to get kids to buy in. She tells students to assure their parents that they can save them a lot of money every month on one condition: they have to commit the first money saved to buying an iPod or video game or tickets to see a Paramore concert (or whatev) within reason. After enough money is saved to pay the child’s “consulting fee,” the parents fully enjoy the savings for themselves.

Now the valiant among you will volunteer to teach this lesson. In return, you will receive a fourfold reward: Save power. Shorten your carbon footprint. Save money. Surprise (and edify) your kids.


Christopher Johnston has written for American Theatre, Cleveland, Continental, Crain’s Cleveland Business, Editor & Publisher, The Plain Dealer, Progressive Architecture and Urban Design, and Scientific American, among other publications. He is currently writing a biography of Frederick C. Crawford, founding chairman of TRW Inc. As an avocation, he is a playwright and director, and this December, his play APORKALYPSE! will premier at convergence-continuum theatre in Cleveland.

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  • Weston

    This doesn’t answer the immediate and obvious question raised.
    How much of this $40 per month savings came from cheap fixes such as power strips and cfl bulbs, and how much came from the new washer and dryer which could have cost thousands and may result in decades of waiting before the investment is returned (if the machines actually last that long)?

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