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As you look over your budget and where money is going, one category that feels very stuck in stone is Utilities. We have to heat the house and take showers, so looking at the electricity bill and water bill can be frustrating. There are things that we can do in every area to save money though, or in some cases to just make the budget more stable.
We are going to cover all of our utilities today: electricity and gas, water, cable, phone, internet, trash.
Electricity & Gas
Freezing yourself in the winter and boiling the family in the summer only saves so much money. So rather than taking a budget approach that makes everyone miserable lets look at things you can do to decrease usage.
Become more energy efficient. If you are looking at your door and you can see light all the way around the door coming in, this needs to be fixed. The same with window jambs or any other opening that shouldn’t be there. In most cases these are things you can easily fix your self. Get two things: Weather Stripping and a can of Great Stuff. The weather stripping goes around the door jamb to make a seal around the door when it is shut. It has a removeable back that makes it like a giant sticky rope, you just press and seal. The Great Stuff is spray foam that expands and fills holes and gaps that may be in a wall, around pipes coming in and other places.
One other thing that can help here is getting a programmable thermostat. These start around $20 and will turn the air up or down when you aren’t normally home. Many have a program for each day of the week so you can change settings for weekends and weekdays. If you are home all the time at least have it set to turn the air up/down while you sleep. You can also look at closing air vents in rooms you don’t use a lot and keeping those doors shut. You can go big and put a piece of wood over the space or go little and just put a box on top of the vent. Remember not to close more than 30% of your vents it will put too much strain on the main system.
For more tips, see if your electricity company does in home assessments. Many offer these free of charge to come through and give you tips on things to fix. You’ll be surprised how many of their tips are easy things you can do yourself.
Budget Billing. This won’t save you anything but a panic attack when the electricity bill is double over the previous month. Sign up for budget billing with your electric company and they will average all of your payments from the last year and give you one flat rate to pay each month. If you end over paying this year (since it was based off last years numbers) then your last bill of the year will be reduced by that amount. You could end up with a December bill of $12! To have the set rate every month is very helpful as you plan your budget and a big stress reliever in the winter months.
Seriously there isn’t much in this category to do, other than doing a quick check to make sure you have no leaks in plumbing or running toilets. An easy way to check for leaks in the toilet is to grab an Easter egg dye kit and take a tablet out of it and put it in the tank. See if after a few minutes the bowl water is still clear or if it’s not a nice Eastery color.
You can start to time showers… that won’t make people happy though. One thing you can look at is your shower heads and make sure they are low-flow. If they aren’t you can get a new shower head starting at $5 that will use probably half the water of your old one! Make sure to also get some plumbing tape, and you can easily tackle this project yourself. If you have older toilets that aren’t low-flush you can use the brick trick. Add a brick to the tank to reduce the amount of water in the tank and thereby reduce water used per flush. If you don’t have a brick take a plastic jug and fill it with water and place in the tank.
Seriously… this isn’t needed and should have gone ages ago if money is tight. My husband and I are going on 12 years of marriage this year and we’ve never had it. Grab a Roku and watch a ton of things online (even your favorite shows). If you can’t give it up at least make sure you are paying for any equipment rentals. Many times you can find used receivers on Amazon, Craigslist and many other places.
It’s time to drop the home phone. I can’t think of anyone I know that has one anymore other than my Dad and honestly I can’t remember the last time I heard his ring.
As for saving on cell phones, check out the great deals you can get with month to month pay as you go type phones. Many stores offer B1G1 deals on reloading cards, plus you are only paying for what you use. With traditional plans, at least throw family members on your plan with you. It costs $75 on average to have your own plan or $30 to add a line. So get 3-4 family members together and split the plan evenly.
As a blogger, internet is something I need, but for many households this really is just like cable. You are just as addicted to your Facebook as he is to ESPN. Try for a week to not use the internet at home and only use free WiFi when you are out. If you can do it and not have convulsions, then cut it. As the budget has more room then you can add it back in.
To save without cutting, at least make sure you are on the lowest speed possible. We all grew up with dial-up so believe me the lowest speed is thousands of times faster than what you used to have… Many homes won’t even notice a difference in speed, they just up-sell you without really giving you a different product.
This is one I added at the last minute as I remembered that in past areas we have lived trash was an additional fee and not part of our taxes (where we live now it is part of your taxes and you have to pay). If trash pick up is a service you pay for on your own, please consider dropping this too. For years we ran twice a week by the “dump” (really a trash location in our county). It just takes you working it into your routine, but this saved us over $200 a year to just take it ourselves.
Do you have any tips for lowering utility costs?
Tomorrow, many of you asked for it so we are going to cover childcare (not officially in most online budget guides).