Thursday, 13 September 2012

A bedtime story with a happy ending and lots of frugal lessons.

Back in mid-May I wrote about a week of frugal wins and loses, and I promised you a blog post about how we reduced our energy bill...this week the last pieces of the jigsaw fell into place, so here it is at last!  Are you sitting comfortably? Then I'll begin!

Once upon a time, a long time ago in the Autumn of 2011, Sarah and Husband heard all the news about gas and electricity prices rising by 40% and thought they should do something about their fuel costs.  They scratched their heads, did some online research and ran around in circles.  It was all very confusing and rather time consuming and if they're honest, they found it a little bit boring.  In the end they did nothing and forgot all about it.

Frugal lesson no. 1: Don't bury your head in the sand where personal finance and energy saving is concerned!

In November 2011, the friendly meter man came to read the electricity and gas meters.  Remember how Sarah has to stand on the kitchen cupboards to read the meter? (That was one of Everyday Life On A Shoestring's very first blog posts, and a bit of a blogging experiment, but Sarah can't bring herself to delete the chocolate bunny!) As well as doing the computery meter reading stuff, this particular meter man has noticed all the musical instruments in the house and always likes to have a chat about music and song writing. He even hoped Sarah might be able to solve the conundrum of whether it would really be possible to play the piano upside down like Keith Emerson; probably not.

This time they also had a chat about energy suppliers (he works for a meter reading contractor not the Everyday Life On A Shoestring energy supplier) and he said a lot of customers were recommending Cooperative Energy, although nothing was done with this piece of useful information. 

Frugal lesson no. 2: Single-tasking is superior to multi-tasking! ALWAYS.  When meter reading, read the meter and don't chat at the same time!

Spring 2012 was cold and miserable, but imagine how even more cold and miserable Husband felt when he was checking his bank statements, and found that the energy bill had gone up to £345 per month.  Husband was distraught. Maybe all that welding the 1966 Morris Minor had used up more electricity than he had anticipated. 

The couple chastised themselves for not having sought a cheaper energy deal when they had originally thought about it, but even so, realised that a price hike of £200 per month was much more than any rise they had been expecting.  Something was wrong!

Frugal lesson no.3: Always reconcile and check your bank statement for anomalies!

Sarah immediately phoned the energy supplier; one of the UK's 'Big 6', and thankfully, once it was established that the family don't live in a 5 bedroomed mansion with underfloor heating and a hot-tub in the garden, the customer adviser on the end of the line could see that something was awry.  He suggested a new fixed tariff, which brought the monthly amount down to £195 straight away.

Frugal lesson no. 4: Even if you don't have time for lengthy price comparisons for the utilities and supplies you pay for, it's always worth speaking to your current provider to make sure you are getting the best deal!

After delving into the situation a little further, it transpired that two digits in the November meter reading had somehow got transposed, with the result that the family's energy consumption appeared to have trebled.

Frugal lesson no. 5: In future Sarah will double check the digits when she reads the meter, and will cut out the middle man, especially as she's the one doing all of the work by climbing on the work surfaces anyway!  The readings will be regularly entered, online. That way, all 'estimated' readings will be eliminated.

The company promised to review the account, and after a few weeks there was another another price drop in the monthly figure paid.

This week, Sarah and Husband were contacted with the news that a considerable refund will be made to their bank account, and that the monthly direct debit will decrease once again.  Hurrah!

Frugal lesson no. 6: Although they got there in the end, Npower was very slow in sorting this out; the couple's money was sitting in the company's bank for longer than it should have been.  You need to keep on the ball with these big companies, and they should have been chased up sooner, however infuriating it is to sit in their telephone system.

While all this had been going on, other ways to reduce energy consumption and bills were being investigated by Everyday Life On A Shoestring.  Gas and electricity prices certainly aren't going to get any cheaper in the years to come.  Although the loft is insulated, it was about time Sarah and Husband invested in cavity wall insulation too and they happily planned to use some of the Npower refund to pay for it and to finish installing the woodburner that had been bought a while back.

Black and White Piggy Bank
Image courtesy of www,

This story truly does have a happy ending.  As well as Npower inadvertently becoming the family's mini 'extreme savings plan' for a few months, they discovered that due to the age of their property, it qualified for free cavity wall insulation, and that has been booked for October.  Once the house has cavity wall insulation,  there may be other grants available to help with further energy efficiency measures.

Frugal lesson no. 7: Keep up-to-date with Government energy saving programmes and book your cavity wall insulation quickly before installers get busy during the winter months!

And Sarah, Husband and the little Everyday Life On A Shoestrings lived warmly and happily ever after!



  1. Frugal Lesson no 8 - learn to count!! You've got two number 5's (hope you don't mind me pointing it out)

  2. Thanks Claire for proofreading so promptly! No. 5 the first became No. 5 the second when an extra frugal lesson got added in the editing process! Will go and re-calibrate right now!

    1. Lol - Oh, I think I killed my butternut squash plants!

    2. Oh dear, poor squash plants! Never mind. Hopefully the measuring cone will fare better. You were very kind and didn't point out that as well as not being able to count, the grammar of that blog post was slipping erratically between the third person and first person (all properly edited now!); so much for rushed blog posts!

  3. Hi Sarah,
    well, the silver lining in all this is it got you to look into other possibilities to reduce energy consumption. The bonus is, you're getting all that money refunded.
    When we get one of those bills that just seems too big to be true, after panicking, I do go out and read the meters myself. Sometimes we really do use all that extra of the utilities (like when we used so much water this summer power washing our driveway, and had no idea it would be that much!). But we had one time when there was an error, and I was glad that we forced the issue, which is what we needed to do. Good job to you for getting to the bottom of all this!

    1. It was a big panic when we realised what was going on, although it explained why we were so short of money for a couple of months; we're very thankful it was an error! We're not on a water meter here, just a standard monthly charge, which like everything else, has crept up over recent years. We're currently debating whether it would be cheaper to be metered. That's the next utility to tackle!

  4. Wow such a hassle! Utility companies are the worst. At least you're getting your money refunded.And free wall cavity insulation? That's awesome :)

    1. Awesome indeed! It's a win/win situation all round, reducing green house gas emissions and saving money!

  5. We took advantage of a program here from our state and had a complete energy audit (free) and had more sealing and insulation done as a result of this. The state paid for half of this work. This was not a well advertised program, so it pays to look around.

    1. I knew that people on certain benefits and those over 70 could get assistance over here, but they seem to have widened the criteria, which is good but, as you say, not well advertised.

  6. Congratulations on qualifying to have your wall cavity insulation done for free. People around here are rushing around trying to upgrade the insulation and also the efficiency of windows before the prices make them go broke. I may rent, but this week will be time for me to add some caulking around my window to improve my insulation.