Getting kids to turn off lights

Our power bill has been creeping up lately. Granted, rates increased not too long ago.  But in looking at the breakdown that compares this month this year to this month last year, I saw we’re also using more kilowatt hours/month.  Since we’re already doing lots of power-saving things, this information displeased me. Nearly every light bulb in our house is fluorescent. We’ve got a wood stove that we use for the vast majority of our winter heating.  And thanks to a clothes rod and a drying rack in the laundry room, we hang-dry at least half our clothes — yes, even in the winter.  Recently I even turned off a freezer in our garage to save a little more money.

What else could we do? I figured that if kids got more serious about turning off lights, and maybe took shorter showers, we might be able to save a bit.   But I wasn’t about to add that to the already-long list of things that I nag them about.

Instead I offered them an incentive.   I told them that for every power bill where this month’s power usage was less than the same month last year, they’d each get a buck. (Yes, our kids are cheap to motivate. Comes from not getting allowance.)

During the first month that the incentive was offered, I watched in delight as they ran around turning off lights, and even reminded each other to turn things off.  The November power bill came, and lo and behold, they’d done it– they’d decreased our usage to below last year’s.   I happily handed out $7 and the kids were delighted.  Then, curious, I did the math to figure out how much they’d saved us.  Um. $7.  Guess mom and dad didn’t come out ahead there after all.  Ah well.  I consoled myself that they’re making good habits, and I told them to see if they could do it again.

Yep.  The December bill was even lower.  Our savings was a cool $20, which meant this time we came out ahead even after the kids were paid.  I don’t know how long the kids will continue to be able to do this.  By the time a year has passed, after all, they’ll be trying to beat their diligent selves, not their old careless selves.  But I’m delighted to have found such an affordable way to help them towards a habit that will help them save money in adulthood, and might even save John and me a little money right now.  Some months anyway.  🙂

March 2012 update:  the kids have continued their perfect record,  saving us on average $20-$25 a month. Even with $7 of that savings going into their pockets each month, I call that a win.



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  1. What a great idea – wish my parents had done this 🙂 My parents are very energy-conscious, too. There was a “5 minute rule” for all showers, complete with an egg timer in each bathroom!

  2. No kids yet, but i have the same problem with my husband! Every time i come home from work, he has left letting lights and electric heating on (maximum heat of course…). Any advice to convince him? I doubt the one dollar tip would work with him LOL

  3. Very creative! With only 3 kids, I’m sure I would come out ahead. Thanks for the great idea.

  4. Im sure you’ve heard of energy vampires but you might want to look around and see if there are any vampires, you can turn off.

    An energy vampire is basically any electrical device that continues to draw power from the socket when not in use. A great example is the TV, cable box, dvd player or anything with a little light or clock on it. When these items are not in use, they continue to draw a small amount of power and you can imagine that it adds up over time. A simple solution is to put them all on a power strip and turn the power strip off when not in use.

    • Yes, one of the things our kids decided to do on their own is to unplug the TV/DVD player before bedtime. They don’t do it quite every night, but I imagine it is helping!

  5. What a clever way to motivate yours kids without nagging them!

  6. When you mentioned having the kids take shorter showers, I think of my relatives. The showers taken have saved them hundreds in one year! They have a timer that was ‘hard-wired’ into their shower. How, I don’t know– but it is there. When you turn on the shower it is only on for one minute; so the process is to turn it on and use that first minute to get wet and when it turns off to soap your whole body then turn back on and use the next minute to rinse off. Another way to save money is to go to off-peak electrical rates which saves hundreds a year.
    Also a note on these florescent lights, not everyone should be using them. If your child/ren have seizure issues or any of the other medical problems that can be caused by being in an environment that has these type of lights, maybe like us you shouldn’t have them in your house. Talk to your neurologist though, ours recommended not using them as well as monitoring time in front of the television, using video games, and computers.
    What a creative way to set up habits for when they are not living at home.

  7. Hubby installed lights in timers in bedrooms. They turn it on for the time they need (up to 60 min.) and then it automatically turns off. It works slick as a whistle.

  8. Now that is brilliant!! (pun intended…brilliant light. Get it?)
    Anyway, I never thought of doing this. I just do the nagging thing. That isn’t working. I might try this…ours don’t get allowance either, so they are easily motivated by dollars! LOL!

  9. Stealing this. See also: try to find an incentive for the husband….

  10. Our power bill has mysteriously been LESS for the past 6 months compared to the same 6 months last year. I’m racking my brain trying to figure out why, although I’m not complaining. The only change we made, which might be the reason – is that we have our kids shower on alternate nights. 2 kids one night, 2 kids the next. We made the change because that last kid always had a cold shower. So now our water heater isn’t trying so hard to catch up on shower night. I have no idea if this makes a difference – but something must have done it!

  11. When I was a child my parents charged us 5 cents for every light that was left on. We all put our money in a can and after several months we used it to buy 11 Russian Bibles for a missionary. We definitely learned our lesson.

    In our current house we put 2 of the bathrooms lights on timers. Then the ones who can’t reach the switches yet don’t have to ask for help or we don’t have to leave the lights on all the time for them.

  12. I love reading about your little projects and experiments. This was a great one. I too hate nagging my kids. My husband and I decided to try this with our five kids. We got them together and explained the whole thing. Then, for a visual, we asked them to go through the house and turn on EVERYTHING they could find. We took them outside to look at the meter going around at a pretty good pace. While they continued to watch it, I went inside and started turning everything off. They were amazed to see the meter start to slow way down. It made a huge impact on them. They have really been good about keeping unused lights off. They even notice lights at neighbors houses that are left on. 😉 Thanks for the idea!

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  14. Brant Pagnozzi says:

    The best power strips are those that have internal circuit breakers in them. –

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