A Budgeting Challenge and The $5,000 Sweater

Jan 27, 2015
Activity, Budgeting, Current Events

Parents and teachers often wonder, “How can I teach my children/students to be more frugal?” Now that we are in the dead of winter (with the northeast socked in by a nor’easter), I thought it would be interesting to issue a challenge to students (and their families too).  OK, this idea might not make you so popular but heck it will save folks a lot of money.

The genesis of this idea came from this very entertaining NY Times Op/Ed piece entitled “This Cold House (you might see where I am going here).  Here’s the opening paragraph:

OVER the summer, I moved into a house in rural Nebraska where, for the first time ever, I had full control of the thermostat. It was a drafty 4,000-square-foot palace of cold-to-the touch cinder-blocks that had long stood empty. As fall approached, I started to think about heating. Keeping that whole place at 70 degrees with natural gas, for just one person, seemed like a waste. I wondered: How cold could I let my house get, while remaining comfortable?

Several key statistics jumped out at me in this article (and you have to read it to see if he survived:):

  • Home heating/cooling responsible for 9% of total energy consumption:  “A study published that same year in the journal Building and Environment found that home heating and cooling were responsible for 9 percent of the country’s energy consumption.”
  • Wondering what the average temperature in homes is?  “The average nighttime bedroom in the United States is around 68 degrees, and the average living room is more than 70, according to a 2011 study on obesity and indoor temperatures.
  • Finally, how much do people spend to heat their homes?  “The agency forecasts that American households will pay an average of $621 for natural gas, $943 for electrical heating systems or $1,586 for heating oil this winter.

The challenge for students is to find out what their heating bill was for last February (2014) and see how much they can save this year by “controlling the thermostat.”  I lived in a household where my Dad guarded the thermostat like the guards at Buckingham Palace protect the Queen (he was English after all).  His favorite response to the complaints of his six children, “Put on a sweater.”  Fortunately, he went to bed early so I can move the dial above the 60 degree mark after he dozed off, which would lead to some interesting conversations in the morning (but I digress!).

Label this contest, “The Biggest Loser” and see who can save the most on their energy bill on a percentage basis.  Maybehave their prize be hand warmers and a wool cap and gloves.  About that $5,000 sweater?  If your students can save 30% off their home heating bill of roughly $1,600/winter that amounts to about $500/year and with a shelf life of 10 years, that sweater you throw on could be worth $5,000 in energy savings.


Check out NGPF’s budgeting lesson on “What’s The Cost Of Living?”

About the Author

Tim Ranzetta

Tim's saving habits started at seven when a neighbor with a broken hip gave him a dog walking job. Her recovery, which took almost a year, resulted in Tim getting to know the bank tellers quite well (and accumulating a savings account balance of over $300!). His recent entrepreneurial adventures have included driving a shredding truck, analyzing executive compensation packages for Fortune 500 companies and helping families make better college financing decisions. After volunteering in 2010 to create and teach a personal finance program at Eastside College Prep in East Palo Alto, Tim saw firsthand the impact of an engaging and activity-based curriculum, which inspired him to start a new non-profit, Next Gen Personal Finance.