Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Yikes - Utility Bills!

We heat our home with natural gas. The natural gas is also our source for hot water, cooking and our clothes dryer. However, up until this month our electric bill always trumped our natural gas bill - by quite a bit.

This morning I opened the gas bill. I was horrified to see we owe $333.26 for the month of November. The electric bill is a mere $120.52 in comparison. Dave and I do OK financially. We aren't setting the world on fire, but we get by. However, a utility bill of $333 is pushing the budget here.

Our house is an older, two-story farm house. We have three additions - two were added by us and one by the previous owner. All of the additions are on the first floor. The second floor remains its early 1920's original design.

Mom's addition on the south side of the house is the largest. It is a living area, bedroom and full bath. The addition on the north side is the master bedroom and bathroom. All of the windows in the additions are newer and pretty good at keeping the cold out (or in, depending on the season). The living room, dining room, kitchen and second floor have updated windows, but they are more than 12 years old.

After seeing the insane gas bill for the month of November, I have come to realize that weatherproofing attempts need to be addressed for the remainder of the winter. Here in Pittsburgh, January and February are our coldest months. According to local weather stations, November was colder than average, but not by much.

If I am expected to pay more than $300 for November, I can only imagine what I will face in the next three to four months of Old Man Winter!

Since it is out of the question to install layers of insulation in the walls and attic, my plan is to attack the oldest windows in the house. I picked up some "rubber foam weather seal self stick tape" from Home Depot. I also picked up a "roll-on premium insulating film window kit". This is one of those kits where you attach the clear plastic to the interior windows and seal it with a hair dryer. I have my doubts about these items, but I thought it couldn't hurt.

The whole time while I wandered through the Home Depot, the figure $333 was rolling through my head. I can't imagine what my parents would have done with a gas bill this high. I highly doubt they could have paid it.

I remember the winter of 1976 - at least I think it was 1976. My dad must have been struggling with the utility bills because he took to stuffing towels in the cracks of our old window frames. He stuffed a blanket under the front door and we all wore sweaters to bed and burrowed deep under the covers.

This was the coldest winter I can remember. One night, I awoke to the sound of my hair dryer running in the bathroom. I rubbed the sleep from my eyes and followed the sound. I found my dad in his pajamas and bathrobe with his head under the bathroom vanity, pointing the hair dryer at the pipes. Apparently they had frozen. He managed to thaw them and we had to let the faucet drip at night from then on. Our house was old and obviously not very well insulated.

Even though we struggled that winter, we got by.

If my new-fangled rubber foam seal tape and roll-on window kits don't work well, you'll find me stuffing towels in the window frames and under the doors. If it was good enough for Dad, it's good enough for me.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Our Needs Vs. Our Wants

I haven't been able to get the Wal-mart stampede in New York on Black Friday off of my mind. There was a cell phone video of the event broadcast on Fox news this morning. People are truly hard core these days. I was shocked to hear the victim was a young man of 34. For some reason, I had pictured him as an older gentleman. He is an immigrant and I read where his dad was devastated and told the press his son had never even started a family. As a result, this poor guy never really gets going in his life because a bunch of greedy shoppers want to save 40% on their flat screen high-def TV's and vacuum cleaners. Unbelievable.

Along with the cell phone video, Fox had a psychologist commentator on to discuss his thoughts. He said he felt that people have become hooked on the idea of piles of gifts under their tree. Extreme expectations coupled with the state of the economy and people will do anything to save a buck. While I can understand saving a buck, I simply can not wrap my mind around stampeding a human being in the process.

This entire event has caused me a tremendous amount of introspection. What is the difference between needs and wants?

A need is fairly simple: we need food, water, shelter and clothing. We need our God, our family and our friends. But a want - a want is something we desire to have, but don't necessarily need.

Electronic gadgets first come to mind as a want. Between all the members of my family, we have pretty much every gaming system ever made. We all have cell phones. We all have CD players in our cars (though mine isn't operational as of this writing). In fact, we all have our own cars. We also all have computers and TV's.

In my house alone, there are six TV's. The only fancy high-def one is in my son's room. It was a birthday gift to him last year. The others are older versions and two are flat screens.

Do we really need six TV's?

One of the items the Wal-mart stampeders were after were discounted vacuum cleaners. I happen to have two of them. One is my mom's old Oreck and one I have recently purchased - ironically from Wal-mart. I have news for the stampeders: the Wal-mart one is a big disappointment. If they waited outside all night for a vacuum cleaner from Wal-mart, they really are fools.

Do I really need two vacuum cleaners?

The list is endless and I am ashamed of the amount of wants I own that I have thought of in the past as a need.

How many things are you asking Santa for this year that are wants Vs. needs?