There are countless products designed to save you money — thermostats that help lower your heating and cooling bill, “energy efficient” appliances that help lower your electric usage, and new engines and fuel systems that help you get better fuel mileage in your car or your tractor.
While most of these things do have advantages, they also come with a price tag. Sometimes, I wonder if that price is worth the investment.
Take those fancy new light bulbs — those ones with the coils called compact fluorescent bulbs. They’re supposed to last several years longer than the traditional incandescent bulbs, and use much less electric.
Depending on the bulb, it’s not uncommon to see a savings on the package of $20, $30 or even $40 or more over the course of the bulb.
That’s a pretty big savings and I have replaced several of my own light bulbs with the newer kind for that reason. But I have to admit, it sure feels odd to be taking out old bulbs that have nothing wrong with them — and replacing them with bulbs that are twice as expensive, but supposedly use less electric.
I’m not knocking the technology, and the popularity of these new bulbs suggests they must be holding up, but I’ve kept some of my old bulbs in a closet just in case.
I’m also a little skeptical of some of these new car and even tractor engines. It’s great that we have alternative fuel vehicles and so forth, but have you ever looked at the price on some of those, or the additional care they require?
If you’re a dealer, of course the added cost is justified and it will more than pay for itself in a few years. If you’re a consumer, there’s the hard reality that it may not.
Here’s one that really gets me: home and farm energy audits. You have someone come in and tell you what you can do to improve your energy usage.
Depending on who you get and how practical they are, an energy audit can save you a lot of money. Or, it can leave you with a lot of lofty project ideas that if you complete them — will cost far more than if you just left things alone. And, there’s a good chance you’ll owe your “auditor” something for his time, whether you follow his advice or not.
I have a gas furnace that was installed in 1985, and I think my central air conditioner is just about as old. I’ve heard more than one salesman tell me about the cost savings of new, “energy efficient” units.
But the salesman I valued most was the one who told me to wait until they blow up, because while newer units are more efficient, my older and less efficient units still costs less to run than paying to install anything new and more efficient.
Speaking of heating systems, I recently bought a wood burning furnace that I thought would save me some money on heating bills and help do a better job of warming my home.
And it very well may — one day. But that day will be a few more years into the future than I had hoped, thanks to the cost of installation.
After four nights of burning wood, I discovered my chimney flue liner is leaking creosote and needs to be replaced and insulated.
The parts and labor will cost about twice what I paid for the burner, but hey — they’re stainless steel and come with a lifetime warranty. It may take a “lifetime” to pay off that kind of investment, but at least then I’ll be saving money! Sort of.
Weighing the costs
I’m not opposed to new products and new ideas. Some of them truly can save you a lot of time and money, but they can also cost a lot of time and money before you begin to save.
I guess that’s why they’re called an investment — you’re investing in something you think and hope will pan out. There’s risk in doing something new, and risk in doing the same thing you’ve always been doing. It’s kind of costly either way.