September Challenge: The Results

A couple of weeks ago I announced the September Challenge, an experiment in reducing my footprint and living a simpler existence. Well, it’s the last day of September, and things have gone pretty damn well.

1) Biking

I ramped up successfully to biking to work 3-4 days per week, and carpooling at least once a week. I have also discovered that my apartment is geographically close to almost every place I ever need to visit! Restaurants, the Argosy complex, the post office, Lowe’s, the library, and the grocery store are all within about 10 minutes of riding. My office is about 20.

Once upon a time, I was a pedicab driver for a few months. So, fortunately I was already prepared to carry repair tools when I bike, and to negotiate with cars on the road. Getting my biking legs back hasn’t been too rough either, which is great because I climb a huge hill to work. I’ve lost 5 lbs or so, and I feel great. This feels sustainable.

Bike challenge: check.

2) Car-ing

I love my car. But, my criteria for using it has changed rather a lot. Now I only feel like my car is suitable for A) getting somewhere very quickly, B) going more than 5-6 miles away, or C) carrying way more stuff than my bike can hold. As a result, I’ll sometimes go 2-3 days without using my car. Also, last week I drove myself to work precisely one time.

So how’d that work out for me? Well, it’s been fun. And it’s pretty dang thrifty. This month, I succeeded in only using one tank of gas. Pretty freaking awesome right?! My gas bill for September was $35.

Also, I have cured my lead-foot syndrome. Even in an automatic-transmission vehicle, the principle of pulse-and-glide works pretty well. Accelerate quickly, and then only use the gas necessary to maintain your speed until you stop. Spend a lot of time coasting.

Doing this, I added about 5mpg in efficiency this month. In a Honda Fit’s gas tank, that works out to about 50 miles more per fill-up. 50 miles?! That’s like driving back and forth to my office five times. Pretty awesome.

So yeah, car challenge: check.

3) Eating

I reverted to my old July challenge, and attempted to eat restaurant food as little as possible. I averaged about 2 meals out per week, and cut restaurant spending in half. That is great!

Also, I feel way better from eating generally more reasonable portions. I feel happier having cooked most of my own food. I also wasted way less food this month. That’s because, for the first time in God-knows-how-long, I actually succeeded in eating all the meat and produce that I bought from the store. Mmm triumph is tasty.

Eat challenge: check.

4) Bonus items for September

Amidst all this change, there were a couple of other things I stumbled upon.

First, I re-discovered that I love to build things myself. I built my own bike rack with a piece of aluminum and a drill. I constructed a giant inexpensive bike pannier from a nylon shopping bag, and used it to carry all kinds of stuff this month. Building stuff with your own hands and wits is super fun, and is as healthy as eating a balanced breakfast everyday, or better.

Second, when I moved into my new apt, my utilities bill dropped like a bucket of lead. In August, at Argosy, I and my roommates used 2506 kWh of electricity, which is a ridiculous number, resulting in a bill of around $270. This month at my new apt, I used 330 kWh, resulting in a total bill of ~$50. Thus, I reduced my electric usage by a dividend of eight. Holy crap.

This is not necessarily a testament to my own fantastic choices. Rather, this seems to be what happens when you move …

From Location A:

A large top-floor apartment with tons of solar exposure and a west-facing balcony, with three power-hungry roommates taking extra-long steamy hot showers, running hot gaming computers all the time, and keeping the thermostat set at 70 degrees 24 hours a day …

To Location B:
A smaller bottom-floor apartment with better insulation, no direct sun exposure, blinds that stay closed all day, no computers or monitors running, A/C turned off during the day, and stained concrete floors with high thermal mass.

It is amazing what a difference these changes make. What would happen if all of America reduced their energy usage by a factor of 8? Even by a factor of 2?

It seems we can probably save the world just by living in more efficient buildings and easing up on the A/C some of the time.


5) Why any of this matters

I am of the increasing view that stewardshipof various forms, is desperately important for Christians who live in North America. This will be articulated more fully over the coming weeks, I hope. It’s a vision in progress.

Suffice it to say, I am not just spinning my bike wheels, trying to save money, for the sheer miserly fun of it. My aim is a bit bigger than that. I’m aiming for Jesus. We’ll get into more of this later.



Adding all this stuff up, it seems I saved about $200 this month. How about that? What would you do with an extra $200/month for the rest of your life?


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