I’m starting off my Quiet Riot this month with a (very approximate) home audit. If you feel remotely inclined, I do recommend taking a look into your own household’s economics. It’s enlightening, though perhaps not exactly the kind of brain-warp I wanted to spend (several of) the Babe’s naps sucked into.
The Riot for Austerity identifies 7 categories– electricity, gas, other fuel (such as natural gas, propane, etc), water, food, consumer purchases and garbage. Sharon lists out average consumption for each category, though I have to say, I found her numbers confusing. Then I did a little research and found some very reputable sites with statistics drastically different than Sharon’s. I had been hoping to funnel my few months of numbers into a clean little formula, and spit out my family’s ‘percentage of the American average.’ But, as usual in real life, it doesn’t turn out to be so clear cut.
Instead of getting my knickers in a bunch about numbers, I decided to keep it simple. As I said before, this Quiet Riot is about intent. I did an extremely informal tally of the receipts and random bills I could find just to get a basic idea of where we are at. I offer up Sharon’s statistics (as best I could understand them) as well as the differing statistics I found.
Here’s my semi-random collection of household numbers. I considered making a bigger effort to look more complete and organized. But I thought maybe the reality of my haphazard attempts might, in a backward way, inspire others to give it a try. If you’re participating in any way in this lil’ Riot and feel up to a bit of number crunching, leave a comment here and I will email you these fun forms to print out and fill in! These will also be useful for keeping (better) track over the next few months of course. Please note that my computer skills are extremely patchy. These aren’t anything special, just some tables on Word. But hey, I do know how to put them into a .pdf and email them. I’ve come a long way, baby.
Sharon lists the avg home electricity use as 2,000kWh/person/year, which would be 167/person/month. This is quite different from the US Energy Information Association page I found that lists the per household use at 908/month. Hmm. Make what you will of that. Furthermore, they list the monthly average in Louisiana as 1,273– quite a bit higher because of our tropical climate and more than 6 months/year of AC use (if you want to see your state’s avg, go to the page linked to above, scroll down and click on Avg Monthly Residential Use, under Consumption and Price.) At 657 kWh, our household ranks at half of that state average, and this for the summer months. Sadly, if I follow Sharon’s stat, we are using almost 100% of the average.
Water found me at another big canyon-gap. Sharon says the avg household (2.6 people) uses 130 gallons/day, equaling 50 gal/person/day. The EPA says “a family of four can use 400 gallons of water per day,” fully double Sharon’s number (though they do say “can.”) At 4,030 gal/month, we fall somewhere between 34 and 67%. Not so bad as I had feared.
I couldn’t find any statistic for natural gas usage. But, even if I could, since most natural gas in homes is used for heating, and none of the months I recorded included any heating, a national average wouldn’t really be that helpful or relevant.
Gas is the big blank column. This summer My Man was working across the river. He spent at least one hour/day driving. We weren’t keeping any receipts, but it doesn’t really matter because that job has finished and he’s back in school, a pleasant 20 minute bike ride away. If I had our gas numbers for the summer, and compared the next three months to the summer use, it would make it appear that we had really kicked ass to get our consumption down, when really, the circumstances just changed.
Sharon describes the consumer goods category as “non-essential, luxury items” and says that “The average American spends $11,000 per year on items that don’t include food, insurance, energy, housing and other necessities.” I’m not sure I believe that, considering the Census’ Bureau listed the median income for 2009 at just under $50,000, how can people spend more than a fifth of their income on “luxuries?” But, then again, I am completely naive to credit card debt.
At any rate, that’s about $900/person/month. I had a few months of receipts, but no particular reason to believe they were complete. Certainly these totals only includes my spending, none of My Man’s. But, assuming my receipts were somewhere near complete, I spent an average of $293/month. Say that covers two people, half my household, that’s $147/person, a mere 16% of average. But, unless I had kept careful track for a year, this category seems too variable to be worth considering at all. This list does include one month where I made a big purchase (new bike trailer) and our daughter’s birthday. But it doesn’t include any of our vacation costs.
I’m hoping over the next 6 months I can get a more accurate measure.
Trash was an absolute estimate. We don’t even own a scale. Should I go out and buy one just for my Riot? Seems counterproductive. I take the trash out once every few days, when it has filled up our approximately 5 gal trash can. I am estimating each bag weighs somewhere between 5 and 10 lbs, though I’m pretty certain it’s closer to five. So, say 15 lbs/week. Following Sharon’s numbers, the average American household produces 40 pounds/week, meaning we weigh in at 38%.
I’m going to continue the saga with my Food Audit in the next post. My brain feels positively fuzzy. Yours?