12 July 2007

First week on 90% Reduction

Last week I joined the Riot for Austerity - 90% reduction. Somehow I failed to find the actual rules for it until I asked on the email list this morning. So here is my first "status report".

A bit of background:
I live with my husband, our four children, a cat, and in the summer and on weekends, my oldest daughter lives with us, too. We live in a rowhouse, which I am guessing is about 1000 sq ft. We live on the outskirts of the county seat, which is a small city. We are fortunate in that we live in a very environmentally conscious and liberal county. Our city bus system has switched over most of the busses to biodiesel, most of the traffic lights are LED, and the mayor was elected as a write-in. As far as cities go, I absolutely love this one. We live 1.5 miles from my husband's work, and I stay home with the kids and homeschool. My oldest (who lives with her dad during the school year) just turned 11, and my children who live with me are 8, 5, 3, and 8.5 months.

Okay, on to the status report.
1. Gasoline. First I decided to calculate how much gas we currently use in our lifestyle. There was a time when we both worked 45+ minutes from home in opposite directions and drove out of state several times a year. We used to put 20k miles a year on our '1994 Chevy Astro. But then we had too many kids for daycare to be a reasonable option, I hated being away from the kids so much anyway, so I quit and that freed up quite a bit of driving. My oldest lives 90 miles away from us, and my ex and I split the driving evenly, with each of us making the trip back and forth to pick her up. We tried moving closer to her to cut down on the travel (everyone hates being in the car for a 4 hour round trip, especially the younger kids), and my husband got a job just 15 minutes from my ex's house as a first step to moving us out there. He commuted 1:15 each way every day for several months before we realized we were never going to move out there. That was a lot of gas back then. Now my husband works 1.5 miles from home in a nursing home. We still make that 90 mile trek every other weekend, but that is the only major driving we have to do. We even got a bike so hubby can bike to work. I only drive now to take the kids to swim lessons (over next week, thank goodness), and to run errands, which I try to consolidate. Some places we can walk, like to church (3/4 mile away). Some places we can take the bus, like the library. Over the last three months, we have spent $300 on gas. At just a few cents under $3 a gallon here, that is about 35 gallons per month. For a household of 7 (since much of that is going to get my oldest, I am counting her), that is 5 gallons per person per month. Considerably higher than the goal of 10 gallons per person per year. It is a 180 mile round trip, we get 20 mpg, so going to get my daughter every other weekend takes 9 gallons of gas each trip. That sounds about right since we have a 22 gallon tank and it takes almost a half a tank. If we subtract 9 from our 35, that gives us 26 that the 6 others of us use. That breaks down to just over 4 gallons per person per month. Still not down to 90%, but a lot better than it used to be. Once summer is over and hubby is biking to work regularly (not calling up at 2 and saying, "Honey, my legs ache after not riding a bike for 20 years and then walking all day. Can you come get me?"), and there are no more swim lessons or camps to take the kids to each day, I will see if I can get my driving down to just twice a week.

2. Electricity. Our electricity is included in our rent, and my property manager hasn't emailed me back about finding out how much we use. When we were paying for our own, I seem to recall we used 7-8 kWh per day. We now have an upright freezer and a mini-fridge that we got to help us to buy local and in bulk, and we also now have a washer and dryer, though I only use the dryer on rainy days, in the winter, and on days like today when the baby has a double ear infection and won't let me put him down long enough to hang laundry. I'm sure my electric usage is now higher than 7-8 per day, but I think it is still below average, especially since we don't have A/C. The baby did find the electric heater controls though, and every once in a while I get to wondering why I am roasting alive. If the goal is 90kWh/month, that breaks down to 3 per day. I have a ways to go on that one, too. We are pretty good at shutting off lights and box fans in empty rooms, and I am doing well at not having my computer run 12-16 hours a day anymore. It's progress.

3. Heating and Cooking. These are both electric here. See above. I have gotten better about keeping the temperature down in the winter. I grew up with a woodstove and got used to being able to be 85° in the middle of winter just by sitting near the stove. I am now down to being comfortable at 68°. Hubby would be happy if we dropped it more, but I am still struggling with that. On the other hand, I can tolerate more heat in the summer than he can. He relies on strategically placed box fans. We have 3 box fans and one window fan. The window fan is in our bedroom and is on whenever the baby or we are sleeping. So probably 12-14 hours a day. Two box fans are in the girls' rooms - one each. They are on when they are in their rooms - probably 12 hours a day. There is also one downstairs for during the day and when DH and I are still up after the kids go to bed. It is on probably 8-10 hours a day. For reference, we live in southwestern NH, so although we don't get 110° weather, we did have 95° and 95% humidity just a couple days ago. I'd like to experience the desert sometime, just for comparison. :)

4. Garbage. We finally got off our duffs and started taking advantage of the recycling center. Our city couldn't have made it any easier without coming to our house to pick it up for us. All we have to separate are the papers from the corrugated from all other containers, including all plastic #1-5 and #7, glass, steel, you name it. The problem was that we have a dumpster on site here (included in our rent), and it was very hard to make it a priority to do the right thing instead of the easy thing. One day last month, DH surprised me, though and brought home two huge plastic totes. I popped them in the mudroom, labeled one "Paper, cardboard" and the other "Glass, plastic, metal" and we drastically cut our trash. Dh has a soda drinking problem though, so we have a huge amount of plastic 2-liter bottles to recycle. Two 2-liters a day is typical. He has been trying to quit for years now. I try not to nag him about it because that is his worst vice. He doesn't smoke, doesn't drink, doesn't womanize, doesn't gamble. He is wonderful. I just wish we could eliminate that source of trash. Before recycling, we would fill a 13-gallon barrel about once a day. Mostly with soda bottles. Now we are filling about 2 a week. I decided that I have to take it out that often whether it is full or not (it usually is), because once I waited longer and found icky maggots between the bag and the can. I don't know what they were doing there, but I didn't want them around at all. Ick. Yuck. I have never weighed our trash, and I don't have a bathroom scale with which to do so. I will have to find some way to weigh it though, since the goal of 1/2 pound per person per day is by weight. For a family of 7, that allows us 3.5 pounds per day. If a bag of our trash weighs about 20 pounds or so, then we are about twice the goal. Still not bad, though.

5. Water. Again, this is included in our rent, so I don't know how much we use. I shower 1-2 times a week, DH showers 2-4 times a week (depending on the heat), and the kids get 1-3 baths during the week (depending on how dirty they get), which they double up in, i.e. 2 kids per bath. My oldest showers about 1-2 times a week. DH shaves about twice a week. To improve there, DD and I can take shorter showers (mine are about 20 minutes, hers are about 40 - I have no idea what she does in all that time! She doesn't have anything to shave yet.) We can also turn off the water while we lather. DH takes pretty quick showers, about 10 minutes. He shaves before he gets in. I just asked him and he uses running water to shave instead of filling the sink. He also just volunteered to start filling the sink to save water. I have no idea how much water our washer uses, but I use it probably 7-8 times a week. One load a day handles all our clothes and towels and whatnot. The occasional extra load comes from sheets. We have no bedwetters, and even the baby will wake me up in the middle of the night when he needs to go potty, so our bed stays dry, too. Unless he is sick, like last night, when he had a fever well over 101. For dishes, we wash by hand. We only have enough dishes to last one meal, so we wash after each meal. I confess that I allow the water to run while I wash dishes. I have always hated washing dishes. Hated it with a passion. It was so bad that I used to let the dishes pile up literally for days and there were flies all over my kitchen. I just could not face a sink full of soapy water. So to keep CPS away I had to start washing dishes. Doing it with the water running was the only way I could face it. I do need to start saving water by using the plug in the sink.

6. Consumer Goods. Here we probably are closest to target. Our income is only $23k/year, nearly all of which is spent on rent, food, gas, and child support. After some inspiration from some of the others, we will be cutting out our toilet paper expenses. We have probably 200 washcloths that DH has brought home from work. He puts them in his pocket to mop his brow at work and then forgets them there and brings them home. So we have quite a stock for using as TP. We have not been using more than maybe a roll or two of paper towels a year, and we can now eliminate even that. We have never bought napkins. My kids recently lamented for some, so we found some white muslin, ripped it into 17" squares and hemmed them. (Ripping ensures straight threads.) They are having great fun using them. I use only local castile soap (from Vermont Soap) for shampoo, soap (duh), and nearly all household uses. I will soon be using it for dishes (once I start filling the sink and then finish using the Seventh Generation dish detergent I have), and *maybe* laundry. I am currently using Sun and Earth brand laundry detergent. I have used Borax and washing soda in the past, but wasn't thrilled with the results. I don't know if it was the soda or the washer that was the issue, so I should try the washing soda again. Vermont Soap can be used for laundry it says, so I wrote to them and asked how much to use. They said 1/4 to 1/3 cup. I nearly fell over. I would only get 8 loads of laundry out of the 16 oz bottle and it costs over $7 a bottle. I started experimenting with not using any detergent in my laundry, and no one has noticed yet. I do use detergent when there are poopy diapers in there, though. Too much icky factor for me there. But my son only poops once every day or three, so that isn't very often. And sometimes I even manage to catch it in the potty. Our biggest consumer goods costs are buying DVDs at Walmart, and our WoW accounts. All total it is far far less than $10k per year. I will have to do some more research to find out where we stand in relation to $1k per year.

7. Food. We receive food stamps and also patron the two local food pantries. It took me a long time to start using the food pantries, but once neighbors started bringing me their unwanted organic foods from there, I started going. We get our milk raw from a small commercial dairy (maybe 50 cows, all of whom are named and loved), just under 30 miles away. We get our honey from a farm stand/market about 20 miles away that gets it from an apiary somewhere here in NH. I think it might be Littleton, but I'm not sure. They sell it in bulk, and I just bring back my glass jars for refilling. My spices are all organic, from Frontier/Simply Organic, which I get at either that farm market 20 miles away if I am there already, or at my local supermarket 2 miles away. My supermarket has a huge organic/natural food section. I am very lucky. I visited my local farmer's market last week for the first time, and we brought home some salad greens and some strawberries. Yum! I have been getting my eggs from a neighbor down the road, but she got rid of her chickens because she is afraid she is losing her house. She offered to let me grow a garden in her yard, but if she is selling, I don't want to lose my garden. Grass-fed beef is available at the dairy, but we haven't bought any yet. We eat way too much meat to afford grass-fed. I don't know any other way of eating. As in, I haven't experienced any other way of eating, not that I don't know there are other ways out there. When I met DH, he ate red meat probably 5 times a week. He still would if we could afford it. Our food efforts have focused lately more on organic than local, but if we can achieve both at the same time, I will jump on it with both feet. I have no yard that is safe from vandalism here except my patio, so I need to get off my duff and plant something in containers. I just need to get containers. We almost never eat out, so we are doing well there. I cook almost entirely from scratch. Whatever processed/package stuff we get almost always comes from the food pantry.

I think that's it. That is where we are at the end of our first week.

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