Stop utility bill hell – turning the dial to zero

If your mail box is overflowing from the sheer volume of final-demand utility bills, you need to do something fast. Electric companies can and will cut you off if you don’t. So first, get on the phone and talk – most utilities will be open to agreeing a repayment schedule of arrears. But once the threat of imminent cut-off is dispelled, you need to do some serious thinking about how to manage your ongoing bills.

Too often, the bill warning signs are ignored because the money to pay them just isn’t there. The hope is that something will turn up and finances will improve – then the bills can be paid back in full. But this is really the eternal optimist’s delusion. Wishful thinking is stopping you from acting, and you end up making the situation much worse. If your finances are tight, you need to grasp the thorn-bush and realize you’re going to have slash your bills as well.

Being frugal with your heating and electricity use is a hard thing to accept at first. Heat, light and electrical goods are over-indulged comforts that we take for granted. But once you’ve accepted that you need to take action, it can actually become good fun, as you’ll find ways to turn the screw back onto the utility company. If you’re in the fortunate position of only being responsible for yourself, then it’s all just a matter of personal adaptation.

Starting with the electricity bill, the obvious first step is to have a ‘one light bulb’ rule. That means leaving only one bulb on at a time and switching off as you move from room to room. Try to make that one bulb an energy-efficient bulb too – and don’t touch the switch for halogen spotlights or strip lights. This also applies to outlets, as they connect to all manner of devices on stand-by. No matter what the efficiency, the outlets will all draw juice. So when you leave a room, turn the switched outlets and electrical devices off too.

Next, look at your hot water. This will be a big part of your electricity bill if the tank is electrically heated. Water takes a lot of energy to get hot. Don’t fret – it’s perfectly possible to wash dishes in cold water, and quite refreshing to wash yourself with cold water too. Our grandparents managed fine on it. Save the hot water for the weekly treat off a nice hot shower, but definitely cut out the baths. Being frugal means being brutal when it comes to hot water.

Then there’s heating your home, where again you really can knock the costs down, no matter whether your heat comes from electrical storage heaters or central heating fed by gas or oil. The money you can save is in direct proportion to how low you can turn the thermostat. If you are serious about cutting costs while not in the throes of a wintry blast, turn the dial down to zero. Of course, that shouldn’t be a literal zero degrees Celsius, as you’ll need to keep your house at least 40 deg F. to avoid freezing water pipes. But if you can keep the temperature below 50 deg F during the winter months, you’ll slash your heating costs big time. That means short bursts with the heating system when you’re home.

Obviously, you will need to compensate by wearing thick layers of clothing indoors. But you can also wrap your home up too. Pay close attention to your draft protectors, keep curtains closed at night, and add extra insulation panels onto windows as well as in the loft.

Whilst all of these tips will require a big shift in the way you manage your day-to-day life, it’s important to remember this is a means to an end. If you can get your bills down low and keep them there for a few months, you’ll be able to pay off debts quickly or avoid racking them up in the first place. Just remember that necessity is the mother of frugality.

This article is a guest post from Adana Lima, a stay at home mom with three cute kids (Jamie, Pablo, Guerrero) who writes on the topic of adjustable dumbbells.

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