I've recently purchased a new car. I'm not saying this because I feel I have bragging rights, nor did I do it because I've got plenty of cash to spare - I did it because I needed to save money and, perversely, buying a new car has managed to help me achieve this.
It wasn't that hard to work out, to be honest: the old Jeep had all the fuel economy of a Panzer VIII Maus and all the drag co-efficiency of Vanessa Feltz wearing a Sumo Suit and therefore the new car uses half the fuel the old one did. I estimate it will have saved the cost of its purchase in about ten minutes time.
Truth be told, I held on to the Jeep for a number of reasons: I really liked it. It was immensely practical for my business. Our Government's idiotic stance on making older, more polluting vehicles cheaper to tax than newer, much cleaner ones played a hand in it. And no dealer would offer me more than £1.99 in trade-in for it.
Until last month, that was, when a dealer in an industry equally as beleaguered as ours decided he needed to turnover some stock and the deal was struck. My favourite game since then is one called hypermiling (Hypermiling from Wikipedia) - where you try to beat a miles-per-gallon target you set yourself on a journey. Before long, I will be driving to the cash & carry slower than a tractor in an effort to beat my previous score.
However, this got me thinking about another expensive fuel cost I have to endure: the electricity bill. Like fuel, which has topped £1.00 a litre once again (this time with nobody complaining about it), electricity is expensive, but obscure meters mean we never know how much our current is actually costing us until the bill turns up. And often that doesn't make much sense, either.
Recently, though, I've discovered Real Time Energy Monitors - devices that monitor your electricity usage and display it in an easy-to-understand format that makes you realise just how much the cellar cooling is really costing you.
There's a plethora of monitors on the market, with prices varying upwards of £30; I recently opted for one that cost me £49, including a cable that allowed it to connect to my computer. The information is electrifying.
Like all of these monitors, the Current Cost CC128 ENVI that I've purchased doesn't require an electrician to install it (although, in these health & safety conscious days, if you're unsure then you really should consult a professional) and can be up and running in five minutes. Simply attach the transmitter to your electricity meter by means of hanging an inductor loop around the mains out (not as technical as it sounds) and then plug the display in to a convenient wall socket where you'd like it to be.
Immediately, it will start showing you how much electricity you're using. Try switching the kettle on - and watch how much your leccy usage leaps up. And how long it stays up if you've put enough water in to supply tea to your village.
This particular device also allows you to input the price you pay per kilowatt hour for your electricity, and then shows how much it is physically costing you to have everything switched on. For example, my display is showing that - at the time of typing - I'm using 4.76 Kw of electricity. That is about as tangible to me as calculating how many barnacles are currently attached to the hull of the QE2, but the display will tell me that, for my rate, this is the equivalent of £370 a month of electricity. Or roughly £11 a day. And that's before the kitchen's been switched on, ready to provide burgers & chips to all the queuing punters.
Cleverly, however, it will also plug in to your computer and plot both live and historical graphs for your electricity usage, allowing you to pinpoint the times in the day and the days of the week when you use the most electricity. For me, Saturday is my most expensive day, while Sunday lunch time is my most expensive trading period.
It's already saved its own cost, too, much like the Renault will save its purchase price. By putting the display in a place where my staff can see it, they've become more aware of the business's electricity usage too. Of course, it's easy to pinpoint that the glasswasher doesn't need to be switched on right at the start of every lunch time, especially if that's not a busy trading period, but now the result is far more corporeal to everyone concerned.
If such thinking saves me just £1 a day on electricity, that's £365 a year. The device cost barely fifty quid... And now I'm looking at other areas of expense, like the cellar cooling. Or the bar TV being left on when there's nobody in there. Or the children's PlayStation - they don't need that for the summer holidays, do they?
The manufacturers pitch these devices as being able to save Percy Polar Bear and his family from a watery grave, but I prefer to use it to help me identify areas where I can save money. If Percy and his crew benefit, then that's just a positive side effect.
To have a look at them yourself, simply Google 'Real Time Energy Monitor', find one that fits your budget and seems to fit your needs, and give it a go. Like the fuel savings on my new car, the unimaginatively titled CC128 is helping me hypermile my electricity bill.
But sshhh, don't tell my brewery. I don't want them putting up my rent to compensate...