Power For Your Life Podcast | Season 1 - Episode 7
"My electric bill is too high this month! Why?" The most common question homeowners ask today concerns the price of their electric bill. Listen to expert guest Travis Mathes talk about the value of electricity versus the cost of other products we consume, plus ways members can lower their bill.
Transcript – Power For Your Life – Season 1 | Episode 7
Original release date: April 1, 2020
My name is Taryn and my family and I are members of Macon Electric Cooperative. I love my cooperative because they teach kids about electricity through safety programs at school. And they give back to our community by helping local organizations with projects.
Darryll (Host): Welcome to the Power For Your Life podcast, where we focus on energy efficiency, the value of electric cooperative membership and safety around electricity. I'm Darryll Lindsey, your host, and today I'm visiting with Travis Mathis from Lewis County REC in Lewistown, Mo. Travis is the manager of member services and government relations. Today's topic: electricity and money. Travis, thanks for joining me today. Let's start our conversation with that all-important situation of high usage. What's the first thing you tell members when they call you about that high usage?
Travis (Guest): Well, I'll tell you that's a more common call today than it was 20 years ago, because usage is something that's at the top of everybody's mind. And the first thing we start talking about a lot of times, are the things that they are using in their homes. People don't think about the common things that they have plugged in charging, like their cell phones, their laptops…. these instant on televisions. Everybody says that those little high efficiency as their proclaimed Amish heaters…you know, we talk about those type of things and we look at their daily usage. Twenty years ago, you couldn't look at the hour by hour. Now we can look at it in increments of five minutes and help them really get down to where their usage is and-and what's causing those high usages. You know, when you look at electric bills, something that I talk to people about is-is the budget. And I've got a lot of people that will call in about an electric bill and then we actually segue over into their into their monthly budget. And Darryll, when you look at a monthly budget and you look at what electricity is costing you compared to everything else, it's a very small part of that budget, and everything relies on electricity. When we start to talk to these people, they start to realize that. Best example I can give you—is I had a young couple mid 20s that called in about a-an electric bill that was $120.00. And they wanted to come in and talk about it. We made an appointment. I actually went out and to their home and said, let's get to the bottom of this and let's see what you're using. $120.00 for their electric bill. That's tremendous, considering mine is almost $400 a month, you know. But they're spending that. And we went out. I talked to him a little bit. We segued into their monthly budget, and we got to talking about what's using this. Well, they have two laptops that they plug in. They both have cellular devices. There is a modem in the house. They had three instant-on televisions. They had the DVR's—all of these things that even though there turned off are constantly drawing. And as we went around and started talking about these things, I notice the coffee pot. And Alexa. There on the counter. Now what's funny is when you're talking about your monthly budget and you're talking about the cost of electricity, and then you get to looking at all the conveniences and everything else you're paying a monthly bill on. If you don't have the electricity, you don't have the cell phone, the modem, the Alexa. And so we sat down and started talking about that Darryll. And it came out that they $120.00 electric bill. They were paying $180.00 a month for cable television. They were paying $120.00 a month for Internet;paying $150 a month for cell phone. Very quickly it came to light that the electric bill wasn't really where the problem was.
Darryll (Host): That's kind of interesting thought process because it gets into this next piece that I want to have a little chat with you about. Is it a luxury or is it a necessity? Some of those things you know we've programmed in our mind to think that they are a necessity. Like our cellphones. We can't live without that device, but yet go back 30 to 40 years. We only had one refrigerator in one television in the house. So, things really have changed over time.
Travis (Guest): They have Darryll and that's one of the things when you talk about your cellular device is, you get to looking... I know in our home alone you know I've got four boys.. you know… they range in age from 15 down to three years old. Well there's always a cell phone going or an iPad going, or an iPod going, or a laptop going, and it's become way of life with different generations. And it depends on what generation you ask whether that cell phone is a true necessity. If you were to ask my parents, my mother still has the flip phone from 15 years ago that I have to go to the Internet to find a battery when it goes bad because she's not gonna change. She doesn't want to get pictures. She doesn't want to get any of that stuff. But then if you were to ask my son that's 15 years old, he has to have it. And when you look at the school-the school that he attends-all of the students have Chromebooks. So not only does he need that, he uses his cellular device for the hot spot so that he has the Internet so that he can do his homework. What has become a luxury to one generation has very quickly become a necessity and expected by another generation. If you were to look at the younger generation, and I say younger generation up to age 30, most of them do not have the experience of any form of a long-term power outage. They expect to go to the light switch, turn it on, and the power be there. They expect to turn on the television and not just have three channels or have to go out and turn the antenna to get two of the three channels—they expect it to be there. We live in an instant society today. Everything is expected to be readily available and electricity is one of those things that they expect to be there when they flip the switch.
Darryll (Host): And that's a great segue to get into this next point. I know that in our monthly bills were paying more for most things today than what we did 40 years ago. But Travis talk a little bit about the cost of the things from 40 years ago compared to the cost of electricity.
Travis (Guest): Let's talk in 1980...if a farmer wanted to go out and buy a new pickup truck, you could pretty well go to the sale barn and sell a load of cattle; sell a load of hogs; do whatever to pay the difference between your old pickup truck in your new pickup truck. You know, a pickup truck in 1980 was a 12 to $13,000 item. Today to go and get a bare bones necessity pickup truck, you're talking $40,000. Twelve to 13 to $40,000… you look at gasoline. Remember Darryll when you used to—if—if gas got close to a dollar a gallon you know it was—it was something else in the old gas wars. Ninety-seven, ninety-eight-nine 99.9 you look hey, if it drops below $2 a gallon now, you feel like you're getting a bargain for fuel. You know it's more than doubled. You look at the price of a pickup truck. It's almost four times what it was back in 1980. You look at at milk. Milk in 1980 was around a dollar a gallon and today it's about $3.27 a gallon. If you go up and you want something fancy like chocolate milk, organic milk, you'll pay in excess of four or five dollars. When you look at electricity in 1980 as composed as compared to today, there's not a tremendous different difference. If you go back even to our founding days, in 1935/1936, they were paying fifteen to twenty-five cents per kWh back in the 1930s. And today with us, you're paying about 10 and a half cents a kWh. So, you look—we’re way cheaper over 80 years down the road, then what those were. You're still getting a tremendous value for the product that you're getting. Because when you think about this, Darryll, all of those things have gone up. The price of everything has gone up in the past 40 years, past 30 years…even the past 10 years. But what is also gone up is, everything revolves around electricity. You have to have power for the technology that are in all of our homes today and really the biggest bargain…the best bargain you can get is the electricity that you get in your home.
Darryll (Host): And you know that's right. We sometimes forget that the things that require electricity are actually pretty energy efficient in what they do. That coffee pot, for example. You know you can brew an entire pot of coffee for less than a dollar. But at the local C-store, that cup of coffee is what $1.50 or a couple of bucks?
Travis (Guest): That's exactly right. You look at—you want to talk about change. Look at what a soda pop and a candy bar cost in 1980 as opposed what it does today 40 years later. I mean, it's--it's tremendous. People don't think anything about paying four times as much for a pickup truck, but they think about that monthly electric bill. And really, it's the best value that's coming into their homes.
Darryll (Host): Prices certainly have changed overtime. Let's take a short break and when we come back, there are some simple things you can do around the house to save money on your electric bill each month. We’ll discuss those…when we return.
Darryll (Host): Back with more of the Power For Your Life podcast and our discussion with Travis Mathis from Lewis County REC in Lewistown, Mo. And Travis, before the break we were talking about how the price of common food items has changed over the past 40 years. And more than just food, some of the common items like pickup trucks that are a necessity on the farm. One thing that has stayed very affordable is electricity. Talk about how stable the price of electricity has been over time. You alluded to the fact that back in the 30s when Lewis County REC was established, prices were pretty high, but today they are cheaper than they were some 80 years ago.
Travis (Guest): They are cheaper. Now, granted, people use more electricity now than they did back in the 1930s. But when you look at fifteen to twenty-five cents a kW, kilowatt-hour, as opposed to 10 and a half-11 cents a kilowatt-hour you know, and you look at everything that's going on in your home, it's really a bargain. When you look at everything else and the way that things have gone up, electric cooperatives have really kept the core of their business and that is safe, reliable, affordable electricity. And you know, being not-for-profits we’re able to do that, we’re able to keep those costs down. As everything else, our cost of business has risen just-just like everything else has, but we try to watch that bottom line. Because anytime we're spending a dollar, we're spending our member-owner’s dollar. We're spending it right out of your pocket if you have an electric meter on our system. So, electricity is still a tremendous bargain. You look at that, you think 80 some years and how that has changed. Well, you look at what you could buy back 80 years ago for $100 as opposed, to what you can buy for $100 today. If you had $100 back then you were you were in ‘high cotton’ as they would have said. One hundred dollars today won't-almost won't cover a trip to the grocery store.
Darryll (Host): You know, that's so true. I know my wife shops for the two of us and the bills pushing $200 a week and you just sit there and wonder what you're going to fix for meals for the week. And the comment is usually something like ‘Well. We just spent money at the store, so there's gotta be something in the house to eat.’
Travis (Guest): That's right in with six of us in the house. I'll tell you, you're always opening the cabinet and you will go on a Saturday to the grocery store and by the next Saturday, it's like ‘where did all of that go?’ And you know, I say that those-those places those grocery stores have got about $100 cover charge just for walking through the door. And when you look at what your 30-day electric bill is and you average that out, you’re heating, you’re cooling, you’re heating hot water… uh, your technology that we talked about. You know, everybody likes that technology. They like to be able to say Alexa do this, but it all relies on electricity. Without the electricity, you wouldn't have those conveniences at home. You wouldn't have those comforts at home, and the electric co-ops nationwide have worked hard to keep that affordable. And that's a tremendous thing. We’re not-for-profit organizations, and we truly take what we do very responsibly. And we manage the members monies so that they can get the biggest bang for their buck.
Darryll (Host): And finally Travis. What are some simple things that homeowners can do to save money on their electric bill each month?
Travis (Guest): Well, I'll tell you what, just-just dialing back. Go to the smart thermostats, get a smart thermostat. That's going to save you money so that everything is kicking on and off. I'll tell you if you will put things on power strips... One of the things that I tell anybody that has teenagers in their home is you get them a surge protector, power strip and plug everything into it. Because what happens when you walk into any teenager’s room--everything's on. I can go into any of my son’s room, flip one switch—everything is turned off. You know you've got to be conscious of what you're leaving on. Switching to LED lighting. LED lighting is tremendous. We went from the incandescents to the compact fluorescents. Now LEDs—LEDs last a long time and use very little lighting. You know all of us remember back in the day, mom and dad or grandma and grandpa saying ‘turn the light off’ when you leave the room. Those little things--if you can be conscious of those little things—so that you're not leaving things on. You’re using technology to your advantage. Technology yes, is using some energy, but let it use it to your advantage. Let those things like your dishwasher kick on. Maybe your cooperative offers some different types of-of rates if you do things at night as opposed to during the day. Use the timers on those things. One of the big things I see in our area, Darryll, are water… you know livestock waters. They've got heaters in those. Put those things on timers. Same thing with your diesel pickup, your diesel tractor or your semi. Go out spend $5 to $6--get a timer. Put it on there. Don't let that thing set there and percolate all the time. There are a lot of little things that you can think about--opening your curtains during the day--closing them at night. Very easy thing. Let the natural light of the day come in and heat-heat the room. Close your curtains, let it insulate your windows at night. Lots of little bitty things, and I'll tell you when you think about the value of electricity, Darryll, think about this. We all stop at the convenience store. We run in. We paid $2 for a bottle of soda, another dollar for a candy bar. How many times do we do that every month? Well, you think about it. If you do that--$3-- for 30 days--$90.00. There's a big part of your electric bill. We don't think at all about doing that. We need to be as cognitive about using electricity as we are about all the other expenditures and all of the things that are our monthly-what we think are our monthly necessities. It all comes back--if you don't have electricity, you don't have the rest.
Darryll (Host): And take that $3 and invest in a tube of caulk and caulk around your windows. That existing caulk is probably old enough it needs to be replaced.
Travis (Guest): That's right, caulking around your windows. If you look at just sealing… just walk around your home and look at a little bitty things like that. Maybe you're you've got the little dampers on the bottoms of the doors. Make sure those door dampers-make sure your doors seal tight. Make sure your windows get shut and locked if they've got a lock, especially during the winter. It's just as important in the summertime to keep those windows locked and closed if you got your air conditioning on. So, you want everything to be tight. Seal that envelope. A lot of that doesn't cost very much money. No cost, low cost, ways to cut your- to cut that. I'll tell you what, best thing you can do is get those kids to take showers instead of baths because it uses a lot less hot water. And set an egg timer when those kids go in there to take that bath, set an egg timer. Give ‘em so many minutes--in and out, make it a game. Make it fun, see who can -who can stay to that? I'll tell you another thing, kids are something that you can have fun with and saving energy. Do some challenges, give some rewards monthly for who can be the most energy efficient in the home. Teach ‘em energy efficiency while they're little and it will go on throughout their life, much as the people that came onto the rural electric cooperatives 80 years ago. Those people still look at us as the R-E-A. They still remember what it was like to sell the eggs to get the $5 to get the electricity. We need to educate our children and youngsters that way as well to the true value of electricity.
Darryll (Host): And there are more energy saving ideas out there for you. Be sure to check out our website at members first dot co-op. Travis Mathis from Lewis County REC. Thank you for sharing your expertise today.
Travis (Guest): Thank you Darryll.