Riot for Austerity: Month 1 – Chippin’ Away!

Riot for Austerity fist with Thermometer

We have one month of Rioting for Austerity under our belts.  Let’s see how we did.

1. Gasoline: down but still a long way to go: 19%

We’ve been extra careful with our driving. DH has gone into work a little more often than usual, but for the rest we’ve managed to consolidate our driving into absolutely necessary trips that comprise of school drop-off, DH’s drive to the shuttle, shopping and library downtown once/twice a week, and an occasional Freecycle/Craigslist pickup in town.

The result: 7.939 gallons of oil/person. That’s 19% of the US National Average. Sounds good, only that’s just one month. At the end of this month, for instance, we’re driving to DC: that’ll blow the budget! This is one category that needs to be calculated over a year, though it’s still good to keep a monthly tally, of course.

2. Electricity: 33%

This was another one of our weak points and there’s good news here too: our last meter read indicated our household used up 300 KWH last month, that’s down from 411 KWH in October but still 33% of the US national average. The goal is 90 KWH per household per month.

So let’s see, what is plugged in? Constantly: our oil furnace controls, the radon remediation system, one thermostat, three clocks, our cable modem and wireless, the phone, the fridge (old upright with freezer on top). Intermittently: our  laptops, the lights at night (only where necessary and all are CFLs), the washer (we wash cold and line dry in our basement), our electric stove and oven.

Where can we cut back more? Cooking, for one.  As it gets colder, we cook and bake more. We’re working on a hay box for stew and soups, and a smaller one for the teapot to outdo our present tea cozy, so I don’t have to use the microwave that often. We microwave more (the choice between “cook on high for 2 minutes” and “cook in oven for 30 minutes” is an easy one) even though the results are less crispy. In summer we plan to have our home-made solar cooker ready. Sharon has 25 tips for  saving energy and money when cooking here.

As for some of the less “energetic” appliances, we can unplug them and run them on rechargeable batteries charged by a solar battery charger. We could try this with some  reading lights as well – those in any case are good to have in case of emergency or for camping out. Gotta find a good affordable one first (any suggestions?).

We’re also looking for a way to hook a (solar-charged) battery pack to our oil heater controls – I don’t like the idea that if the electricity goes (if only because a tree falls on the lines somewhere), we’d have no heat.

3. Heating (and Hot Water): 85%

The weather turned nasty a couple of weeks ago, and our usage of heating oil – which also warms our water – shows it. Even though we’ve been Freezing our Buns at 63-64 F during the day and 58 F at night, we’ve consumed almost as much oil in the last month as we did in the previous 4 months: 52.7 gallons. That is 85% of the US National average, but then that average is calculated over the full year, so I’m not too shocked about it.  November, December and February will naturally be our highest oil-consuming months. This is one category we’ll have a better picture of once a whole year is out.

Still, we’re working on this. We’re having the last 10% of the house insulated on the 6th. And there are some experiments in the works. For instance, we picked up an about-to-be-trashed double-paned window today via Freecycle and we are hoping to put it in a solar thermal collector of our own making. This has only just reached our drawing boards, so I don’t know when I’ll be reporting on this one. Lastly, we’re still saving up for our super-efficient wood stove.

4. Garbage: 3%

This is unchanged. We produced 3 lbs. of garbage on average, so at 0.15 lbs a person a day we made the reduction  (.45 lbs) easily.

5. Water: 15%

Our water consumption has gone down: 458.83 gallons of water, which is 15% of the US national average. We’ll keep chipping away at it…

6. Consumer Goods: 44%

We have been following a more or less strict regimen for both consumer goods and food and we have for the most part stuck close to it. Between 1 November and 30 November we spent about $350 on new consumer goods and $50 on used (Craigslist). Most of this sum went to the “homestead” (mason jars, 7 bags of Moo Doo, 2 much needed comforters, candles) and crafting materials (glue and paints) for our Homemade Christmas. Still, they all count. That puts us at 44% of the US national average. Chippin’ – we’re chippin’…

7. Food: at a loss…

We have been extra careful with our food purchases, which account for a large percentage of our monthly expenses. We had two moment-of-weakness-restaurant-take-outs (aaargh!) and one restaurant visit that was made of necessity (sigh).

Now I am at a loss as to how to calculate the three categories. I was doing so by dollars, which gave me this:

a. Local, sustainably grown: 13.5% – where at least 70% is desired.
b. Dry, unprocessed bulk goods: 8.5% – where no more than 25% is desired.
c. Wet goods & conventional: 78% – where no more than 5% is desired.

which is pretty bad. But then I realized that, once we start growing our own, that is, free food, the whole reckoning will be out of whack, unless I assign some sort of dollar value to each item I pull out of the soil… Reckoning by items, which is what the Riot website suggests, is difficult too, because some, like a bag of flour, last months, while others, like a tub of yogurt, last two days… By weight? Keeping score is tough on this one. If I just eyeball it honestly, it is bad, probably as bad as the percentages (by price) above.

Needless to say I am looking forward to growing our own food next year. I think we can make a huge dent in the cost of food while also balancing the 3 categories better. But while we wait for Spring we are working on getting a chest freezer so we can take advantage of local sales. We bought a whole lot of (used) mason jars and are now on the look out for a decent but not too pricey (new) pressure canner. We’re also drawing up plans for a root cellar. So much can still happen here!

Food is the category where we perform the worst, but also the category that gives me the most hope!

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