You just got your latest power bill and it's an absolute whopper. The kids have been leaving the lights on (what else is new?), there are dozens of iGadgets and gizmos sucking up energy, climate control is setting you back an arm and a leg, and you might just have to take out a second mortgage to cover the beer fridge in the garage... And let's not even start on the household's environmental footprint.

We've all noticed our power bills surging over the past few years, which is partly because we have more appliances than ever, but also because of the jump in energy costs. And it's likely that we are going to pay a lot more for energy in the near future. So what can a household do? The first step is to see what appliances (and which family members) are responsible for the most energy use. That's where power meters, which monitor your energy consumption, come in.

What does a power meter do?

Power meters measure energy use, and calculate the hourly, quarterly and annual running costs of household appliances. Some also estimate the greenhouse gas emissions produced by using different appliances.

They are generally easy to use: you simply plug your appliance into the meter and it will track energy use and present it on an LCD screen. You can then identify power-hungry gadgets in your home and take action.

And the good news is that when we tested power meters in the past, we found that you don't need to spend top dollar to get a good one – most of the cheaper models will do the job.

What to look for

Wireless capability

This allows you to take readings without having to access the main socket unit.

Multiple appliance input

It's a good idea to get a meter that can monitor several appliances at once – that way you can get an idea of your energy use much more quickly.

Kilowatt hours

Look for a power meter that display readings in kilowatt hours (kWh) as this is what you see when you get your energy bill.

Multiple stored charged rates 

This allows you to input multiple rates (peak, shoulder and off-peak, for example) and calculate your appliance’s energy cost more precisely.

CO2 measurement

This shows you the estimated volume of greenhouse gas produced to generate the energy consumed by the appliance.

Top tips for saving energy

1. Know your different pricing tariffs and take advantage of off-peak pricing for appliances like washing machines, dryers and dishwashers. If you have a smart meter, the tariffs may vary depending on the time of day.

2. Turn off appliances at the power point, as even standby mode still uses energy in some appliances.

3. Check the energy rating label if you’re buying a new big ticket item like a TV or fridge. Buying an energy efficient appliance will keep your electricity bill down for years to come.

4. Switch to CFL (compact fluorescent lamps) or LED (light emitting diodes) lighting. While they are more expensive in the short term, they use less energy and last longer.

5. Consider the appliances you have and how you can save energy. If you have an old second fridge, for example, you could save up to $250 a year by giving it the flick.

Price

Price varies widely; expect to pay anywhere between $15 to over $400.