Emotions are moving rapidly. In the past few months we’ve gone from excited to scared to frustrated, and now we’re moving into hopeful. In the last post I talked about frustration. The beautiful apartments we looked at initially turned out to not fit us as well as we hoped. Unsafe neighborhoods, crime statistics, and lack of public parks dashed our hopes of moving closer to my workplace.
The apartments we looked at were within a 5 mile radius of my workplace. A close proximity is key because commute time and cost are big factors in our move. This would have given me a 10 mile round trip commute saving us $3200 per year, over an hour of time each day.
After our disappointment of not finding anything suitable in a 5 mile radius, we spent several days discussing possibilities.
Basically it came down to two options.
- Find ways to save money and time in our current home.
- Expand our apartment search area.
We started with number one. We looked at all our expensive recurring costs and looked for ways to reduce them.
The big three were:
- Gas for commute
The good news is there is room in each of these to create savings. The bad news is most of the savings would require upfront costs.
The biggest consumption of electricity around our house is our air conditioner and our pool pump. The pool pump alone added $150 to $200 to our monthly electric bill. In talking with the pool store guy, it sounds like I could use a smaller horsepower pump. That should get some savings, although I’m not sure how much. I’m really not sure how that kind of change scales. I think I could half the horsepower, but I’m not sure if that halves the power requirements, or if it reduces by some other factor.
- Pool Pump upfront costs: $300 to $400
- Monthly savings: I’m guessing $50 to $100
- Pool pump break-even time: Less than a year
A higher efficiency air conditioner could also grant us some savings, but the length of time to recoup the initial investment would be very long. We didn’t really consider doing this, since we already dealt with this possibility when our A/C broke last year. Basically, it’s really expensive to replace the A/C and it takes a long time to recoup the initial cost. From the research I did, it only makes sense to replace if the old one is broken and beyond repair.
- A/C upfront costs: $5000
- Monthly savings: I’m guessing $15 to $50
- A/C break-even time: more than 5 years
Water is a pretty big expense here, with irrigation being at least half of our monthly bill. I got a better idea of this recently because our irrigation timer broke and I didn’t realize it for about a month, meaning our grass didn’t get watered for a month. Our water bill was $78. That is the lowest water bill we ever had in this house. Typically it ranges from $150 to $225, depending on how much we water the grass (more in summer, less in winter.)
We have a couple of things working against us our area. First our soil is very sandy, and not great for the growing of grass to begin with. We have St. Augustine grass, which looks lush and green, but requires a lot of upkeep, including frequent heavy watering.
Second, our neighborhood has the pipes for reclaimed water, but our city doesn’t have enough reclaimed water to “turn on” these pipes. Irrigating with reclaimed water would be more environmentally friendly and would cost less, but our city is at least five years from being able to provide reclaimed water.
Third, our county doesn’t allow a second meter dedicated to irrigation in order to eliminate the sewer charge on water used for irrigation. This means we are paying sewer fees for our irrigation, even though it never goes into the sewer.
The only real option left is to replace the grass with a more water-wise or water friendly variety. We looked at replacing it with Bahia, as we have some neighbors that did this just a few months ago. They spent $2000 to replace their grass, doing all the prep work themselves and then hiring a crew to install the new sod. Even if we provided all the labor ourselves, we’d still be looking at $1000 to replace our front and side yard.
- Water-wise grass upfront cost: $1000-$2000
- Monthly savings: $35-$75
- Water-wise grass break-even time: 1-4 years
As I’ve mentioned already, gas for my 68 mile round-trip commute to work is a big expense, especially with the price of gas constantly on the rise. We looked at our options here and came to two possible solutions: carpool or get a more fuel efficient vehicle.
Carpooling would be an immediate savings, and also an environmentally friendly alternative. We have an intranet resource at work that lists all the carpools. There is currently one carpool in my area, but they leave for work right smack in the middle of rush hour. That would mean three hours of round-trip commuting instead of the two I do now. I could start my own carpool, but I would need to find people that work a similar early schedule, and not everyone that works with me has the option of the earlier hours. Still possible, and if we stay in our house I’m definitely going to give this a try.
- Carpooling upfront cost: none
- Monthly savings: $70 – $160 depending on the number of people in the carpool.
- Carpooling break even time: immediate
Fuel Efficient Car
The other option is to buy a more fuel efficient car. I was looking at used Volkswagen Jetta diesels that get 49 MPG on the highway. Compare that to my Jeep that gets 15 MPG and there could be quite a savings here. Problem is I really love my Jeep. It’s not only my commuter car, it’s also my hobby. It’s also a vehicle that I could conceivably keep forever, fixing and replacing anything that goes wrong. (I mentioned selling it, and my five year old daughter screamed “noooo.”) Even so, I could let it go if that turns out to be the best decision. This kind of decision is still way up in the air, but I’ll lay out the numbers just so we have them.
- Fuel efficient car upfront cost: $0 to $8000 depending on whether I keep the Jeep or trade/sell it.
- Monthly savings: $220 (in gas only and with gas at $3.60 per gallon)
- Fuel efficient car break even time: immediate to 2 years.
Summary of Savings
Overall, it looks like we could save $300 to $400 per month by making some significant changes. If we’re planning to stay in our current house for more than two years, then these changes would make sense. Most of these do require an initial investment, which would eventually be recouped. Really the only change that wouldn’t require any upfront costs would be the carpooling. For everything else, we wouldn’t see any savings for a couple of years.
A Little Savings is Not Good Enough
My feeling is that saving a little is not good enough. We want to get way below our financial means. I want enough money to travel, take nice vacations, and put some away for our future. I make enough money where this should be possible. Instead we spend it on our house in the form of mortgage, utilities, upkeep, and gas for the commute. In addition, I’m hoping to free up some time as well, and all the chores of home ownership and remaining in a house 34 miles from work isn’t going to help that much.
We now know that should we decide to stay in the house, we can create some long term savings. Now that we have that possibility sketched out with the savings identified, we still think that moving to an apartment closer to work is worthwhile. We are going to expand our search circle to a 10 mile radius. This will include downtown and some nice areas south of town. In future posts I’ll share more on our apartment search. I’m also going to share some of the financials, so you can get a better idea of the cost savings we are looking at by moving from our 4 bedroom house to a 2 bedroom apartment.