The first thing I looked at was our electricity bill. It only goes in one direction... always up and up. The biggest culprit in my home is the tumble drier... it's often going with only one pair of jeans in it and an anxious near-naked teenager sat watching the clock. I met a lady recently who told me proudly that she had gone all through the winter without using her tumble drier. There were a couple of us listening to her and we both exclaimed "OMG HOW?"... and then I thought how silly of us... before tumble driers were invented we all went through the winter without using one... I didn't get a tumble drier until 1989... so what did we do in the dark ages?
Well firstly I don't think I washed my clothes so often. I do remember washing underthings and drying them on a radiator and checking clothes to see if they were dirty or not rather than simply throwing them into a pile for the wash. I also checked the weather forecast before deciding if it was a wash day or not. I used the radiators and a clothes horse and the washing line. I decided that this was probably a good time to start with the summer coming, hopefully by next winter it will be a habit that I continue.
Then I looked at the food bill. The weekly shop also goes up and up and up. Especially since we are very particular about food quality. I decided to take things seriously in hand.
We now have a weekly menu planned in advance. It's a table with the days of the week at the top and the meals planned (with names and page numbers for recipes from books) and the corresponding table below has the list of ingredients that I need to buy in order to make the meals. I then check around the kitchen cupboards for the regular stuff I buy every week such as milk, bread etc and write a list. A list is sooo boring but it really makes a difference, provided you stick to it that is. I found that if I cut out on the crisps and biscuits and the convenience food and made things fresh from the raw ingredients instead, it made a big difference to the food bill. It even spurred on my 19 year old layabout to make a real tomato sauce to have with pasta at midnight. I was pleased he had figured out how to do it, but I was annoyed that he left the dishes in the sink for me to find in the morning. But you get the idea, even the most unlikely can learn how to make things from scratch.
I also decided not to buy any more kitchen roll. I know you can compost the stuff but if you use a lot of it you end up with far too much paper in your compost bin and not enough green stuff. All my household bills and junk mail get shredded and used as bedding for the hens and finally ends up in the compost so I really couldn't afford to put more paper in. So ... how did we manage before kitchen roll? I actually cant remember... but what I have done is this.
I had a number of very old pretty flat hand towels which I have cut up into squares and keep under the sink. Whenever I need kitchen roll I use one or two or even three of these towel squares and then put them into the wash or rinse them through and put them on a radiator. So far so good.
It does work... the first week the shopping bill came to nearly £150. The second week it was down to £77 and this week I paid £55. And this is to feed four adults. And I still have left overs that sometimes get used the following day leaving me a meal in hand so to speak. I am expecting the next food shop to be back up around the £80 mark but it is still a big saving on what we used to pay every week.
The downside? It really is a full time job managing the household in this way. And I don't always feel like it and it isn't always appreciated, and it is very time consuming, especially when you are setting out to grow as much food as you possibly can and think it is important to have a little creative 'me' time as well. So if I fail a little in some areas (the thickness of the dust on the sideboard or the cat hairs accumulating on the sofa) I hope that it is excused.
"As with the commander of an army, or the leader of any enterprise, so is it with the mistress of a house. Her spirit will be seen through the whole establishment; and just in proportion as she performs her duties intelligently and thoroughly, so will her domestics follow in her path. Of all those acquirements, which more particularly belong to the feminine character, there are none which take a higher rank, in our estimation, than such as enter into a knowledge of household duties; for on these are perpetually dependent the happiness, comfort, and well-being of a family." The beginning of Chapter one in The Book of Household Management by Mrs Beeton