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Discussion: Money And Energy Saving Tips
Times are difficult
Update: A section on bulk ordering was accidentally omitted and has been included under the food section. Apologies!
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It is no lie to say current economic times are difficult, so The Daily Beagle is opening the floor to discussion from commentators on their tips and tricks for saving both money and energy.
Americans are much more likely to already do these things, however for Europeans where self-sufficiency isn’t encouraged, concepts are novel. Three ways to reduce food costs: use time, lower quality, increase quantity.
Many people in small places, bulk storing food isn’t easy. People may consider turning part of a living room into a pantry, or introducing a chest freezer, expanding long-term storage options, and just enduring the reduction in living quality to ensure survival in the short-term.
Consider Reduced-To-Clear Foods
In terms of savings, one way is to hit stores later in evening when food is reduced or ‘on clearance’ due to sell-by-date. Carefully examine food to ensure quality (check it is edible and don’t waste money simply because it is ultra cheap). Make sure the reduction is worth it, and not just a slight reduction.
Classify food on reduce-to-clear into three categories:
Food you have to eat today
Food you think will last a day or two more
Food you can prepare, cook or convert in such a way it can last longer
Say you’ve already got a meal planned for today, and you see food on clearance that you can eat today. Can you postpone the planned me to the next (or another) day and eat the clearance food today?
Food you think will last a day or two more is hard to judge and comes with experience. Specific foods you mustn’t risk (meat, milk, rice, potatoes etc) given their tendency to harbour bacteria or be toxic when off, and some you can (certain types of vegetables).
Doing Food Prep
The third option nearly everyone (at least in Europe) misses: preparing food in such a way it lasts longer. Nearly everybody will have access to these options:
Cooking: If combined with a plastic tub/storage container, and fridge, means cooked food can last a few more days and be used as either an ingredient in another meal or standalone (depending on food).
Freezing: Pprepare food via EG cutting or pre-cooking, then stuff into a ziploc bag/freeze-proof container (plastic containers can crack when frozen), meaning food can last potentially weeks to months, although learn appropriate durations of foods online. Be sure to study the food prep aspects too.
I get onions on clearance, remove unacceptable ones, then chop into small pieces for immediate freezing. Officially, you should pre-cook onions prior to freezing, however I ensure frozen onions are fully cooked after defrosting for use in foods.
I’ve get bulk potatoes cheap - too much for one - prepare some for a meal in a microwave, turn others into cooked mash to refrigerate in a container.
Prepare clearance foods, by cooking and chilling or freezing, enables me to get the most out of foods that would have gone to waste.
Americans expand strategies to include dehydration (including dry-freezing), canning and jarring, to preserve foods for longer. These approaches seem energy and time intensive, and I lack personal experience with these approache. Maybe some knowledgeable individuals can comment?
If you’re not keen on using what is on clearance - and admittedly, it is a bit hit and miss, and you will have to visit a variety of stores at a set time regularly - bulk ordering, especially for larger families, or single individuals with food preservation knowledge, might be the route for you for savings, as you keep the quality but trade time.
Bulk ordering does not mean ordering a slightly larger packet of food, but overwhelming large quantities - such you’d need a pantry or your own in-house “store” to manage distribution. Think how much food a business or a school might order in.
Many supermarkets and stores will try to offer their version of ‘bulk ordering’, which is usually a slightly larger bag of whatever they normally sell with barely any savings. This isn’t true bulk ordering. Usually there are suppliers and distributors (read: warehouses/farms with no store frontend) who sell in bulk.
The purpose of bulk is intended normally for businesses or retail where the main goal is to keep costs flat or re-sell a product for markup. Some will require you have your own registered business, however there are plenty that won’t.
A good example is bird seed. Normally stores sell a 1kg bag for something like £5, and will sell a larger bag of 2kg for £7 and you’d might think the 2kg is a ‘saving’. But this isn’t bulk. On a bulk website it would sell 20kg of bird seed for £17.99, less than £1 per 1kg, this means it costs 80% less than retail.
The ‘downside’ comes in how big the 20kg bag is, and how heavy, meaning it will take up more space and be there for longer (which from a durability standpoint is a good thing).
Beware, however, as not all bulk suppliers offer true bulk prices, and in this case I had to search extensively online to find that bulk order price. Some bulk order suppliers can offer cheaper prices than others, and many won’t necessarily have an online presence.
One way to find offline bulk ordering services is to ask local businesses where they order supplies from, so if you’re looking for food you might ask a local cafe (many make the mistake of buying from a local store rather than bulk). Another is to ask farmers if they sell direct and at what rate - don’t feel pressured to buy anything, and shop around.
When working out most cost effective price, you will want to divide the price by a standardised weight measurement, like how kilograms was used for the bird seed above (you can use any weight measurement, but standardise it across the products you’re calculating), and in the case of tinned foods, you want to divide by dry weight if present, as dry weight is the food itself without the (usually) brine solution.
If you do order bulk foods, be sure to pick foods with a long shelf life, or if bulk ordering fresh food, make sure it is food you’re able to prepare and store, or able to use.
Lets say you want to go down the bulk ordering route, but you don’t have a family to share the food with. What you can do is form a de facto cooperative with neighbours and friends (be sure to collect payment prior to delivery), and bulk order food, then metre and distribute the food amongst your neighbors and friends.
You may even see a self-employment opportunity reselling the foods at a cheaper rate in cheaper packaging (or even a ‘bring your own container’ system). Just be sure to check local laws on food sales, as food is one of the more heavily regulated business areas, and many areas will require labelling, warnings, and more.
Doing investigation into energy efficiency in my household, bought items to see if they could assist with energy saving, and trialed unorthodox strategies.
Energy saving is often counter-intuitive, and items people think consume a lot, and items that actually consume a lot, tend to be different. There’s also an interesting perception bias where people are unable to accurately rate how much more power a device uses.
If asked whethera device on standby consumes power, many would say it does. However, during testing, most devices on standby, like TVs, radios, etc did not even register on the power reading. Specific, flexible demand devices, such as laptops and induction hobs, did however.
Perception Of Power Consumption Is Weird
When asked what they thought consumed more power - 8 hours on a flatscreen TV or 2 boils of a kettle - majority thought TV consumed more power.
The test showed a 1 litre from-cold water boil test, the kettle consumed 0.095 kilowatt hours (kWh) of power, but a medium sized flatscreen TV only consumed 0.001 kWh within 4 minutes of on time. Meaning the TV would need to run for roughly 6 hours and 48 minutes to use the same amount of power as one boil of the kettle.
People incorrectly estimated that boiling the kettle was only worth roughly 15 minutes of the TV being on. This might be attributed to the very old CRT TVs, however flatscreen televisions are very efficient and consume very little power.
People try to paradoxically ‘save’ energy by switching off the most visual or most active items, however many long duration devices - like fridges, freezers and TVs - are usually quite efficient.
A stand-alone induction hob on standby was found to consume twice as much power as an active TV (hob: 0.357 amps, TV: 0.178 amps). Despite it powering only a very primitive LED display, no fans engaged and no heating. This occurred on a different model.
Energy Bill Reduced To Half By Doing (Almost) Nothing
Globalists will scream sacrifices, however dropping the energy bill by potentially 50% with slight adjustments and almost no expenditure is possible.
Turn Off The Water Heater On Days You Don’t Use Hot Water
For example, on days not intending to shower or bath (alternating days), switching off the electric hot water heater the night before. Although on the night rate (typically the cheapest rate), the 4 kilowatt device (for a water heater is basically a giant kettle) represented the biggest power consumption in the household, running for hours.
No habits needed to change, as alternating days were already non-shower days. Washing a bit too obsessively is chemically harmful to your skin. 50% of the days had no 4 kilowatt 6+ hour long device. For the UK, this represented saving of roughly ~£2,500 per annum, or nearly half the bill.
Reduce The Strength In The Backlight On TVs, Monitors Etc
More subtle savings: reducing the strength of the backlight under TV settings and increasing ‘brightness’ (which isn’t light settings) to make the image retain visibility whilst reducing consumption.
Monitoring differences in power, for a larger TV, reducing backlight settings down by 2 points reduced amps consumed by about 0.200 amps to 0.300 amps, which might not seem like a lot, but would be equal to having the TV off for 1/3rd of the time prior to the change,
Computer users can do this with stand-alone monitors, however it is relatively pointless for laptops (unless trying to conserve battery life), as combination of battery charger and CPU will heavily dictate power consumption, more than the backlight.
The Minor Expenditure
Expenditures for additional energy savings were small budget - a second hand stand alone induction hob (~£20) and a brand new induction hob (~£50) for comparison in performance (purchased prior to The Daily Beagle).
Induction hobs came highly recommended for energy saving, with former convection hob users praising it. It was reported an induction hob will pay for itself after a few years, but in the light of current energy crisis, both induction hobs have already paid for themselves.
An induction hob works by inducing a magnetic field in a saucepan, which is resisted by the saucepan’s material, causing the saucepan to heat up.
This means it is mainly limited to working with stainless steel (or rarer: iron) saucepans. Convection hobs - most commonly used - use direct heat. Heat gets reflected off the pan and heats the surroundings, meaning convection is less efficient than induction.
Testing a second hand and brand new induction hob, performance was similar, although the newer one had a safety feature if a saucepan boiled over, it would disengage, something the older one lacked.
There are pros. Hobs require less power, can be plugged into a conventional mains socket, thus portable. Cooking time is faster, boiling quicker, using less energy.
They don’t require specialist expensive cleaning materials either, as the hob doesn’t get hot, thus food never ‘burns’ to the hob. Much easier and cheaper to clean.
Wave goodbye to constant scrubbing of carbonised foods stuck to outer edges of a convection hob. Savings in time and cleaning chemicals (usually £5+ a bottle) paid for itself. Often, a handful of paper towels was sufficient to clean even the worst, and no struggle.
Induction hobs have a major downside; they don’t cook ‘smoothly’. Convection hobs will heat up gradually, and if turned off, residual heat will allow it to slowly stop boiling.
Induction hobs, being electric, have a very strong ‘on/off’ state, like a microwave’s defrost setting. It is very clunky, and there’s no way to configure the timings or field strength, at least on the models tried.
Induction hobs alternate dumping a load of power at once, and then stopping, on, off, on, off. The ‘temperature’ control basically dictates the frequency of the on/off rate and duration (‘a pulse’) between each cycle.
It can easily burn sauces to the bottom of pans without heating it fully, or get caught in a cycle either too slow (not heating up food properly) or is too frequent (overboiling).
It does mean it is fast. By our estimates you’d be waiting typically about 2 minutes 30 seconds for a roiling boil. If it takes 45 minutes to cook potatoes into mash on a convection hob, then it takes 30 minutes on an induction hob to achieve the same result. Rates vary by cooking style, but induction usually saves time.
Binary nature of induction means it cannot be left unattended. Frying meat will be harder, but boiling vegetables, pasta, etc will be easier, however ‘simmering’ is difficult. Induction hobs seem almost incompatible with saucepan lids as power output on anything besides the lowest will rapidly froth up or overboil.
Induction hobs disengage when they sense there no saucepan, although this involves loud sharp beeps, that can be annoying if lifting the saucepan to either pour or remove something.
Annoyances aside, induction hobs do save money. Vastly more efficient than gas, more efficient than convection, you’ll likely overlook flaws with time saved. Flaws may be addressed in future, although not yet.
USB Motion Sensor Lights
Another experiment conducted is USB motion sensor lights at night to supplant main lights. USB lights are less powerful, but at night when going to the toilet or grabbing something downstairs, main lights can be too bright, and turning off the light switch and stubbing your toe in the dark is no fun either. Motion sensor lights that turn off automatically is more convenient.
These gimmicky approaches are not recommended because they’re ‘false economy’ - amount of money spent likely could have covered cost to power a mains LED bulb for a year. However, it’s a fun experiment to see by how much a house’s power can be optimised on a budget.
Rather than buying lights with integrated motion sensors, USB plug-in motion sensor USB ports were used, meaning ports only supply power if there’s movement. Many re-usable experimental applications! One very cheap USB motion sensor light with daytime sensor for roughly ~£2.50 was purchased as a comparison.
Power consumption of motion sensors by themselves were tested, using a USB power monitor, however they did not register, and no power consumed until a device was plugged in and motion sensor was activated.
The USB motion sensor plugs are a cheap customisible security option, paired with other USB devices you want to activate in-case of movement, placed in areas you want security in.
Motion sensors have a limit: only compatible with either mains powered USB outlet, or smart USB battery that can sense power load, automatically switching on. Manual button USB batteries would turn themselves off as soon as the motion sensor stopped taking power.
USB Motion Sensor Lights Weren’t Really Compatible With Solar
Solar USB batteries are manually activated, thus not compatible, which is a shame, as a solar powered USB battery would have meant no need to recharge and no mains power.
Another test: a 10 year old small external solar panel in a window facing away from the sun, using 12v to 5v stepdown converter for Micro-B USB, hooking it to the earlier mentioned small USB motion sensor and daylight sensor combo light.
The light only stored enough power for about an hour of continuous lighting, however it worked as advertised - not coming on during the day, and useful at night for when my room was too dark.
Solar kept the light topped up, so free to power, and great as an emergency light, however failing in the intended task of saving money, as it doesn’t serve the intended purpose which was a continuously on nighttime solar light.
Motion sensor lights planted in strategic locations where dark during the periods of late evening to nighttime, discourage unwanted use of mains power lights. People tend to prefer laziness.
However, motion sensor lights are tools of convenience and do not, unfortunately, meaningfully save money, although they do save power, they’re likely not going to pay for themselves.
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Get others involved in the discussion of money saving tips!
So dear reader, what money strategies have you tried, and what has worked for you?