Ok, so the story is just like anyone else who is trying to live the American Dream, but mine took a turn for the environmental. I just bought my first house nine years ago, and I moved into my 1,490 square foot home, coming from a 650 square foot apartment. My rent was $650 a month and my new mortgage was $605 a month, so I was happy about that. However, I didn’t run all the numbers, as we were house happy, and I didn’t realize a few things about home ownership. Our electric bills in the apartment where at a manageable $90-$100 a month, water was $20, didn’t have cable, and renter insurance was like $18 a month. To make a long story short my $3,200 a month was was more then we needed to survive in our apartment with one infant child.
My second child was born and 650 sq. ft. was not enough for a family of four, so we looked into a bigger apartment, and it was $800 a month, so a house was the way to go based on mortgage prices. Everything was good until I realized that we had lots of new bills and expenses. I began to panic as we budgeted, and every penny
was being used each month on bills. We became house poor over night. We needed a lawnmower, so I got the cheapest one, and it was an old school spinning push mower with no motor, just my brute strength and spinning power to cut the grass (this was a great workout since I had to mow the yard twice to make it even). I needed to find a way to get the water bill down from $65 back to the $20’s, so I installed low flow shower heads, and a rain barrel to my gutter for outdoor watering needs. We got a garden going, compost pile, chickens for eggs, grape vines, and fruit trees for landscaping, and to help lower our grocery bill. I started reading Mother Earth News for ideas on how to cut costs all over. We went with natural bermuda grass that goes dormant in drought, so I stopped watering it, and it still looked great, and it meant less mowing. I also let it grow a little taller so the soil would hold the water longer. I began to hunt some, and catfish at this time, and we also had bulk meat in the freezer.
I also had a 4×4 pick up truck at the time, and we sold it and bought a mid sized SUV and a small fuel efficient car. I started to drive my 30 minute commute in the small car, and I learned to hyper mile. I could get well over 500 miles on a tank of gas by strategically, braking, coasting, rolling stop signs, timing lights, and accelerating very slowly. This cut our gas bill by a tank a month for me, and my wife just drove less.
We then got use to living in an 80-82 degree house in the summer, and a 60-64 degree house in the winter using firewood also to help in winter. I then started a year long transition into changing out all my light bulbs to the eco friendly, low energy bulbs, that save a small fortune over time. I also put extra insulation in my attic, and wrapped my water heater in my garage in space blankets to help them run less. All my appliances with the house were energy star rated, and our TV was the LED kind for low energy consumption. We also unplugged everything from the walls, and put everything else on power strips, so we could stop all our “vampire” energy at night, or when no one was home.
We became accidental environmentalist as we realized we cut bills by almost $500 a month over that first year in our house. Our electric bill was under $100 a month, year around, our water was back to apartment levels, and the rain barrel watered almost everything outside with our drought resistant landscaping. Our grocery bill was slashed due to the garden, chickens, and couponing. Our fruit tree wasn’t doing so good, but it is great now, I’m sure (we moved before it got up and running). We got some bills negotiated down (insurances), and we lived with less stuff. We even went to Ikea and bought half of a sectional couch and lived with half a couch for 4 years. We lived in our house with apartment bills, and saved a ton in those years, as we had our third child.
When we built our new custom home at 2,100 sq. ft. We decided to built it thinking like
an environmentalist. We made sure the windows on the south side where passive solar and covered all our porches, we foam insulated the house, we got the best windows for keeping heat out, and every room has a fan in it for the summer time. We got land that needed to be cleaned up and rehabbed, and we did it with all with nature in mind. We have all natural grass that doesn’t need water ever, and all our landscaping requires no water as well. We also planted 336 loblolly pine trees to beautify the land and restore it to it’s more natural state. Our plans this Fall and Spring are to add ten fruit trees and two beehives. Our bills are still the same as in our apartment except our internet bill which is crazy expensive at $62 a month out in the country and our mortgage is $946. I’m use to $40 a month internet in town, and we have two salaries now to help pay off the mortgage faster.
Throughout our adventure we have learned that being environmentally responsible not only helps the Earth, but it also saves you lots of money. Anytime you are using less of anything it is saving you money and saving the planet. We are currently running the numbers on digging a well for water, solar and wind power for electric, and electric cars for our 34 mile roundtrip commute. We also saw a small herd of deer for the first time on our property that a neighbor told us they hadn’t seen around here for 10-12 years. We created a perfect deer environment by our pond, so we should have more in years to come. Saving money is rewarding and leaving any place better than when you found it is leaving a lasting legacy. That’s how I accidentally became and environmentalist.