Dreams are what make life worth living. As the years stack up we can look back at our lives and see the progression as life moves toward where we are today. Mistakes of yesteryear lose the edge of anxiety while still providing plenty of experience to draw from. What seemed like a good idea back then is painfully obvious today.
And then there are the things which blindside us. A perfect plan executed with precision yields the results we want before life throws one of the curve balls we hear so much about. Today’s story is about a man, me, who did everything right in this instance and still took a swift foot to the crotch.
So the record is straight, it’s your fault. Well, not exactly your fault unless you live in NE Wisconsin, but still your fault because you did it in your own community. Shame on you for acting the way you do. The worst part is you hurt neighbors and friends and now it will be your turn to stand still with feet slightly apart as the community takes a running start as they drive their foot home.
You’re not going to like what I have to say, but you must hear it. This is important. Your happiness is at stake.
There Once Was a Boy
There was a boy, me again, who grew up on a farm. The work was hard and dirty. The boy wanted to get away from that kind of life and managed to break away. Freedom was at hand. First he moved to a small town, buying a home and reading all day. He was happy.
A few years later a sexy young lady showed up and captured our hero’s heart. Before long our happy boy was married. Once again he moved, this time to a slightly larger town. The reason for the move this time was to establish his business. A few years later the business was on solid ground with its own storefront; no longer was the business run out of the home.
By now the boy was an adult for many years so we can call him a man. He was a sad man. He was happily married, but something was missing.
You can take the boy from the country, but you can’t take the country from the boy.
And that was the problem. When not working his business the man wanted to read and it was hard as his mind wandered to the horizon. He knew what had to be done. A small farm came up for sale near where he grew up.
Excited, he made an offer. But it was not meant to be. Someone beat him to the punch and the farm had an accepted offer. But the young man was told by his dad that the buyers were having problems getting financing. Our hero moved in and convinced the sellers to accept a contingent offer should the first fall through.
It did. The man was happy again. He owned a farm a mere mile from where he grew up; ten acres all his very own.
Now the man could raise steers and chickens on his small plot of the world. A decade of happiness passed as his business life and home life with his family and animals continued to please. Then a terrible rumor stirred in the neighborhood.
Nice Place You Have
It takes work to own a farmstead. There is always something needing attention. It’s all worth it. The ten acre farm now had a two acre pond and the old farmhouse was remodeled to include a hot tub in the 3,000 square foot castle. Beautiful fields and woods surrounded the farmstead, making the area a paradise.
By 2008 the farmstead was valued at over $450,000. This was still a reasonable valuation since in many parts of the nation the same property would be worth many times more. The rural backwoods kept the price low. But it was about to get a lot lower.
The housing crisis arrived at the farmstead. Never worry. Our humble hero is frugal, a saver and an investor. He paid the farmstead down and could easily retire the remaining mortgage if he wanted. There was no risk he would lose his dream home.
Except for the landfill. The township leaders were an unenlightened group of nitwits who sold out to the corporate interests. It still amazes they didn’t let the corporate execs have a night or three with their wives. Maybe they did. Anyone willing to sell paradise to live in a landfill would surely sell anything, including their soul.
The corporate interests did not take long to start hauling in the garbage. The landfill is now the highest elevation in the county. What a legacy the nitwits left in their wake! The hill got taller and taller and the mound longer and bigger in every direction.
Paradise was lost.
The Value of Happiness
The value of real estate around the country regained all the lost ground of the crisis, except for our humble hero’s farmstead. A landfill is not a great way to increase property values. The township is now known as the dumping ground. Other businesses have zero incentive to relocate there unless they have more garbage to dispose of.
The farmstead dropped from $450,000 in 2008 all the way to $220,000 a few years later. Now, when real estate recovered in most locations, our hero’s farm is only worth $270,000. What a waste of God’s Country. Hell has a special place for the fools who sold their soul for a mound of other people’s garbage.
Time to Move
I don’t know when it will happen, but it will. My days are numbered here. The landfill gets bigger by the day and my property will never reach the value it should. The quality of life is gone as the garbage heap reaches higher and higher. The potential for a leak or other pollution plumb is too great to risk my family. I’ll let the nitwit leaders take their chances. Besides, a little cancer never hurt anyone as long as they save a couple hundred bucks on their property tax bill.
I sold my last steers a few years back. I made an excuse about beef prices, but the truth is it was the first step in my plan to live elsewhere.
This is my home. I lived here longer than anywhere else in my life, 22 years so far. Where will I go? Doesn’t really matter; it will never be home. To my dying breath I will dream of the home I now live in, my animals, my land. It is all gone; all that remains are the final steps.
My youngest daughter graduates in a year. Then there is no reason to stay. My heart is heavy.
It’s Your Fault (and Mine Too)
The reason I am losing my home, my farm, to paradise lost is because we humans are idiots. We buy stuff we don’t need and then throw it away.
The massive mound a few miles from my home is a testament to all the stuff people had to have, but later discovered, did not. How much wasted money sits out there in the clay? I can only imagine. And people complain they are broke. Really? Broke! Go figure.
Landfills are a warning, and reminder, of human folly. Bursting landfills are a symptom of overconsumption. Credit cards are maxed out at 18% interest and the bill isn’t even paid before the mound outside my front window grows a bit higher.
The price is dear to you, my friend. But what about the price to me. My contribution to the landfill has been disproportionately small. The waste my household produces is nearly 90% less than the average American household. My business also has a modest ecological footprint. This is by design. I plan accordingly to keep waste as low as possible. I don’t like buying stuff just to throw it away.
I pay an additional price for your wasteful ways. My farm is worth at least $200,000 less than it should be, maybe more. The loss will continue to widen as time rolls on.
What did I do to deserve such treatment? I spend less, save and waste very little. And still the price is extracted.
There is also a price money cannot account for: love. This is my home; at least it was. Soon it will be gone, owned by someone willing to accept the garbage and lower property value into the future and beyond. I don’t care about much: Mrs. Accountant, my girls, parents and extended family. And my farm. All the rest means nothing. All the other stuff is just there to fill time: work, investing, writing.
I can hear you through the computer screen, “It’s not my fault! I don’t live anywhere near you. IT’S NOT MY GARBAGE!”
But it is your garbage. I see the overflowing basket in the kitchen and the can of soda in your hand. You may not live near me, but someone in my same position is paying the price for your waste. If the landfill leaks toxins it could easily shorten the lives of the people near your landfill.
Every piece of garbage has a price. Each time you buy something only to discard it — packaging, for example — you are adding to the problem.
It doesn’t have to be this way. You can save a wayward accountant, an old man clinging to his childhood vision of life as a farmer, by ending the waste. You, and only you, can make a difference. Only you can save me.
I am not asking for myself, however. In truth it is too late for me. My farm, my dream, is gone. There is only emptiness in my future. No amount of money can save me now. And when they are done destroying me, they are coming for you next.
Reducing spending is my favorite pastime, more fun than a Pokémon or any other video game. Finding new ways to reduce costs provides me more pleasure than any other activity I engage. I bike to work as often as feasible, blasting my transportation costs to a minimum. Our home hot water is supplied by a geothermal heat pump. In the summer there is no reason to keep the geothermal on except for hot water so we put it on a timer, reducing our electric bill to almost nothing. (We use hot water in the evening to hand wash dishes and wash up after working outside.)
There is one more energy hog in the house we need to address: the clothes dryer. We launder our clothes in cold water. Most people drop the wet clothes into an electric dryer and crank the beast to the highest setting for an hour. Not me. We have devised a system where we dry our clothes, even on vacation, without a clothes dryer.* The energy cost of running a clothes dryer has been known to send frugal people (like me) into epileptic shock. The first time Mrs. Accountant ran the dryer I went outside to watch the meter. I hurried Mrs. Accountant to the meter to see the damage with her own eyes. She agreed. The dryer stopped and the clothes lines were put to work.
Before you start sending nasty emails on why you can’t air dry your clothing, listen first. I agree I have it made living in a rural setting. I have clothes lines outside, in the basement, and a clothes drying rack. I have pictures in this post on some of my setups. Living in town can be a challenge, especially in an apartment. It is hard to have clothes lines in the basement if you don’t have a basement. Bare with me.
Starting with the easiest and best way to dry clothes, the outdoor clothes line is cheap and efficient. Two trees can do the job. Clothes lines can be strung between any two objects. There are traditional poles you can use to string line between, too. Witness my rural setup. Not pretty, but effective. Three unused treated 2×2 fence posts, a few hooks, line, and the detached garage did the trick. You need land to set up an outdoor clothes line. Without land you need to apply other methods.
In NE Wisconsin it gets cold in January. Clothes hung outside tend to get stiff
rather than dry. This is where the indoor clothes line comes into action. Rainy summer days or frigid January afternoons are no reason to fire up the sinkhole of money called the electric dryer. The indoor clothes line works great in the coldest winter months and during wet outdoor weather. My basement is kind of a junk collecting area the kids use; welcome to old farmer central. Still, the basement has a few great uses. We cycle the cool air around the home in the summer for free air conditioning and dry clothes in the winter. Once again, the setup is less than pretty. Since I am not trying to impress anyone other than my wallet, I don’t care. A few hooks and one package on line solved the problem.
Many readers here don’t have access to outdoor or basement setups like I have. The laundromat is your only option for washing clothes. The cost of drying clothes at a laundromat is massive! For you the clothes drying rack is an investment with an annual 1000% return. Mrs. Accountant used a clothes drying rack from the day we met. She is an awesome lady! Now you know why I married her. Clothes drying racks can be set up anywhere: in the living room, balcony, porch, or side room. We use our drying rack mostly in the winter when outdoor clothes drying is out. (The clothes line is usually under snow or we would use it.)
Indoor use of a drying rack has multiple benefits. Clothes dry fast when placed by a furnace vent adding moisture to the dry winter air. No need to buy a humidifier when you dry clothes naturally indoors.** Personally, I think air dried clothing feels better on the skin. The greatest advantage of all is how long your clothing lasts. Mechanical dryers twist and tumble the clothing causing damage. Natural air drying allows clothes to last a really long time, another money saver.
Get ready to fire some hate mail; you’re gonna like this one. Up front, I really do this stuff. Good thing I’m married. Considering my lifestyle I doubt there would be many takers for an old farm boy who travels like this.
First, you realize most hotels have a clothes line near the shower, right? I use mine. I travel light and launder clothes along the way. And I don’t stink (unless I ate goulash for lunch). On the road Mrs. Accountant and I hand wash our clothes and hang them on the line provided or over a chair.
Second, I frequently wash my clothes by either wearing them into the shower and soaping up good or washing them while I shower and immediately wearing them when finished. Hint: It is best to shower wearing your skivvies first, then rinsing, followed by putting on your outer clothes and showing them. (Please use the comment section below to indicate your opinion of my level of intelligence.)
Mrs. Accountant prefers to air dry her clothes; I prefer to wear damp clothing until it dries. My way is faster. Body heat and the air movement while I walk around have my clothes dry within an hour or so. Cold weather is even better. Cold air is dry air. Combined with body heat, damp clothes is dry in twenty minutes when the temperature dips. Hot, humid environments are a different story. My clothes were dry in the aforementioned twenty minutes in Edmonton, but took over half a day in Costa Rica. (Come to think of it, my clothes were never dry in Costa Rica.) Yeah, yeah, the guy who does not like to travel has been to Costa Rica and Edmonton. Deal with it.
Money in the Bank
The math is clear, electric and gas clothes dryers dry your wallet faster than your clothing. The machine does make great, if not expensive, nouveau art. You can drastically reduce your energy costs by eliminating the clothes dryer. Invested in an index fund, your savings could turn into a nice nest egg. You can also travel much lighter (no more baggage fees) when your mindset includes naturally dried clothing. I am sure there are a few who will disagree. Don’t care; I am right.
I have included several photos of clothes drying setups around my farm. I also included a few links to clothes drying racks from Amazon. Hint: the old fashioned wooden drying racks were sturdy; the new ones are frequently too flimsy. I am fortunate enough to have an old wooden rack from grandma. The metal racks are the best option today. My advice is to spend a bit more upfront for quality; you do not want to buy a new rack twice a year because the old one keeps breaking or falling apart.
* I did make the mistake of buying a dryer many years ago when we remodeled our old farm house. The washer and dryer was a set and Mrs. Accountant said the dryer would be nice to have, just in case. To date, the dryer has been used a total of three times in fifteen years. The last time the machine ran was several years ago. The dryer does make a great shelf in the laundry room, however. A bit expensive for shelving, but one uses what one has on hand.
** Don’t vent a clothes dryer into your home. The moisture comes out too fast and tends to cause mold and it is a fire hazard. I had renters many years ago who tried this stunt and caused serious mold issues.
Utility bills left unattended can put a serious dent in your budget. There is good news. You can reduce your electric bill 80% or more in a few short steps. Heating, water, internet and other utility bills can also be reduced by massive amounts with a few tricks.
The old adage ‘A watched pot never boils” is an apt place to begin. Before you can reduce your utility bill you need to know how much energy you are consuming. I get invited to seminars periodically that promise massive energy savings. They offer a free meal and Mrs. Accountant and I are always up to learning something new when a free meal is involved. The seminars are all the same. They try to sell over-priced products, many of which will never work if you understand even a small amount of science.*
Back by the ‘watched pot’ we are beginning our journey to energy reduction. The first step is to record your energy usage. For some reason, when I ask clients to record their energy usage the amount they use seems to decline. Like the ‘watched pot’, energy is still consumed. The water will boil, it just seems to take forever when you are watching the darn thing. Scientists know when something is observed the results can be affected by the observer. In medicine it is called the placebo effect (if you think it will work, it sometimes does, even if it is a gelatin pill). By watching your energy consumption you become aware of how much you are using and start to take steps to stop waste.
You will all think I am crazy when I tell you this, but I know how much electricity I used on any day going back nearly three decades. My morning routine includes feeding the animals, feeding the fish, weighing myself, and checking the electric meter and recording the stats. When I am on vacation I check the meter when I return and prorate the daily usage. To prove I am as insane as I claim I have included a picture in this post showing the hand written pages of records I have going back years.
Not everyone is into the insanity routine. I get it. What I will ask you to do is record your usage on a daily basis for one month. One month only qualifies you for crazy, leave the insane to me. The goal here is to get you to feel your daily energy usage. At the same time I want you to pull out your utility bills for the last year. What we are looking for here is your energy consumption per month. To make an accurate comparison, we need to compare your energy consumption to the same month of the previous year. Recording your electric meter reading each day may actually affect your electric use. Just watching the darn thing can make a difference.
Bring Out the Ax
Now we can roll up our sleeves and start chopping that electric bill down to a nub. I will use examples I have used in my office, home, farm, and with clients. Some of my recommendations are available around the net, many procedures will be new. So you understand my home electric bill, I need to provide some background. I live in northeast Wisconsin. We get really cold in the winter; our summers are cool, but humid. My home does NOT have a furnace, air conditioner, or hot water heater. I have a geothermal heat pump to cover all heating, cooling, and hot water needs. My electric bill is much higher in the winter because the heat pump uses electricity. Since I live in the country and have my own well, I do not have a water bill. I do not have a heating oil or natural gas bill either because the heat pump handles that. Our electric use for cooling is near zero because we circulate cool basement air to cool our home.
The reason I record my electric use daily is because I will know instantly when something is consuming an abnormal amount of energy. The first steps to reducing energy use are easy. Most lighting needs to be LED. Some low use lighting areas can wait for an upgrade. I updated security lighting around the office and barn lighting when LEDs were really expensive. The math still made the transition worth the investment.
Example, per lighting unit:
Lighting 12 hours a day in the barn for the animals or security lighting around the office on a sensor:
100 watt incandescent: 12 hours a day (1.2 KW) x .14 per KW x 365 = $61.32 per year
24 W CFL: 12 (.288 KW) x .14 x 365 = $14.72 per year
7 W LED: 12 (.084 KW) x .14 x 365 = $4.29 per year
I found the wattages on lighting available at a local hardware store. An LED is more expensive upfront, but uses $10.43 less in energy per year than a CFL. LEDs have come down in price significantly and are frequently the better deal. I always compare lifetime cost of a product before buying. The estimated fuel and maintenance costs of a car can take an original purchase price and increase it many times over. Light bulbs are the same.
Once lighting costs were under control I moved to other energy offenders. For me, the farm takes a lot of electricity. The steers require an electric fence, lighting, and heat during the dead of winter for water pipes and water feeders. In the barn I refuse to use a fire source to heat the utility room so only electric heating tapes on pipes and electric space heaters would do. I sealed and insulated the barn utility room and created an insulated box where the water works entered the barn. This simple move eliminated all use of electric heating tapes, a major savings. Today, only one space heater in the barn is needed. It runs on low and only a short time in January and February.
My personal experience is different from yours. Without a farm or barn to keep warm your electric needs require a different strategy to reduce your utility costs. The geothermal heat pump in the house is a low cost way to reduce home heating costs, but most people either don’t have a geothermal or live in a warmer climate where it is not needed.
Where the Tire Meets the Pavement
Because we each have different issues to resolve in lowering our electric bill, I will share a few tricks you can tailor to your personal situation for maximum savings. Simple ideas like lowering the temperature in the winter or closing off (and not heating) unused rooms is something you should already have implemented. What I refer to is eliminating energy vampires and wasted electric use.
There are two important steps you must take to reduce your electrical usage by the maximum amount without sacrificing lifestyle. The first is to record usage. In this instance I am not talking about recording your daily or monthly usage. What I refer to is the usage of specific appliances. To do this you will need a Kill-a- Watt monitor. They are fairly cheap, but I went to my library and borrowed theirs. The monitor is plugged into the wall and the appliance is plugged into the monitor. What you are specifically looking for is how much electricity the device is using when turned off. You might be surprised by how much money you are throwing out the window even when appliances and TVs are not on. A quality power strip (invest in a quality power strip, cheap power strips do not always work well or for very long) will resolve the problem. You can turn off the appliance at the power strip and stop the energy vampire. You will also want to test other appliances for usage. A refrigerator may suck more current than your think. A newer appliance with lower energy use might pay for itself in short order.
The second step sounds a bit weird at first. I assure you this really works. Almost all devices, including lighting, make noise when consuming electricity. I perform a regular energy audit of my office, farm and home by getting rid of all noise and listening. As you identify each energy use by sound, unplug it. You will be surprised by how many things are running. A large part of your electric bill goes to devices you didn’t even know were consuming your money, ah, electricity.
One final example before we call it a day. Seven or eight years ago a business client in the office wanted me to help him identify electric use in his commercial building. I explained how I used sound to identify electric use. When I finished my energy audit his electric bill dropped 73%. The guy just shook his head and told me I spoke with demons. I found over 100 items in his building sucking electricity he had no idea were running. We swapped out some lighting, installed timers on some devices and turned off unnecessary equipment.
I guess I could have given you a standard ten point list of stuff to turn off, but my way works better and adjusts to fit most needs. For the most part we are not talking about heating costs here; we are focused on electrical usage. Heating and cooling bills are the topic of another post.
Excluding the farm and geothermal heat pump, my home uses 7 – 10 kilowatts per day. This number does include the hot water produced by the geothermal. The winter months bring larger electric bills, but the weather determines usage. The farm is also weather dependent. There are ways to reduce those farm costs and I would be happy to write about them if enough of you would benefit from the dialog; let me know in the comments. I suspect most readers have a home or apartment and maybe a business. You can also apply this knowledge to rental properties, especially if you are paying the utilities.
There is more to the ‘cut your utility bill’ discussion, but. I have flapped my lips enough for one day. In the near future we will dig deeper into this topic. Until then, check your library for a Kill-a-Watt monitor and listen for the sound of money leaking from your home.
* High quality aluminum foil in the attic will cut your heating/cooling bill a bit, but not worth a $3,000 investment. You can do it yourself for around $100 here. You do not pay $80 for an LED lightbulb; you do know you can buy LEDs from Amazon at a reasonable price. A capacitor pack does provide some surge protection for your home, but will not lower your electric bill much. My research indicates the energy savings with one of these devices is limited. Some people claim they really make a difference in lowering your electric bill. You can save $100 or more at Amazon if you want to do it yourself.
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