A couple of years ago, I posted an entry about a $2000 light bulb. The problem was that California was trying to mandate use of CFLs (I'm not sure if they ever succeeded) and the cleanup from dropping/breaking a bulb could cost as much as $2000.
Thankfully, things have gotten better. There's an EPA procedure for cleaning the bulbs up, documented in this PDF. I won't say it's easy, but it's doable. I remember as a kid, we used to break thermometers and let the mercury roll around in our hand, so the mercury in these new bulbs can't be that bad. I still believe in freedom and that market demands should dictate what bulb you choose to use.
Which brings me up to today, or actually yesterday. On a trip to my favorite toy store, Lowe's*, I saw a display of CFL's. I had seen the display before, but this time I looked carefully. You get seven 60-watt equivalent bulbs for $10. The box claims that the bulbs will save you $329 over the life of the bulbs. That's for all seven bulbs, over nine years, so it saves just over $5 per year or 43cents per month. Can you tell a difference of 43 cents in your electric bill?
In my book, these "typical savings" numbers are never enough to make my jump on the new product, but a little more analysis helped in this case. First of all, 7 bulbs for $10 is a reasonable price. Saving me the hassle of changing bulbs every few months is worth something. And long term savings is always good, even if you never notice the savings.
But the best news (pay attention now) is the bulbs come with a $10 coupon off your next purchase at Lowe's (for $50 or more). This effectively makes the pack of bulbs free. So, I spend $10 today, get light bulbs that save me 43cents a month, save the hassle of frequent changes and get the $10 back? This makes it an easy decision.
I just wish I could get some sort of sticker on the bulbs that say "I'm a capitalist, not an environmentalist" (with apologies to Star Trek fans) to explain why I'm buying CFL's.
* Note: In the interest of full disclosure, I'd like to note that Lowe's is one of my customers.