One of the simplest ways to save money is to evaluate needs and wants. Utility costs are a definite need, but there are still ways to cut costs. We have to pay utility bills for electric, gas, water, phone and cable (although that one still qualifies as a want!), but they can almost all be reduced—often with a few quick phone calls.
Ask about budget billing. For services that fluctuate throughout the year, find out if there is a way to balance your budget a bit by paying one price every month. Budget billing programs work a couple different ways. One is to pay one price for 11 months, then have a settle up month which will be either lower or higher depending on how closely the utility company computed your costs. Another is a rolling budget payment, which may be recalculated on a quarterly basis to keep your payment in line with your average utility costs.
Be leery of a fixed payment option. Some companies will offer a guaranteed monthly payment which will not go up, but it also won’t ever go down if your costs are reduced. This may be a great idea if you can buy in at a low gas price, but isn’t such a good option when prices drop drastically in the middle of your budget program. You should also avoid any budget program that charges a monthly convenience fee.
Ask about any current specials. Often, companies (phone and cable, especially) will offer a promotion to new customers. It is often available to current customers upon request. Companies will also provide a grandfather clause to current customers, which allows you to keep your current pricing even if they change their packages or options. However, the old price isn’t always the best price so it pays to find out what is currently available to you.
Shop around. If there is more than one company in your area, price the various services. You may find significant savings by switching to another provider. Before you deal with the expense and annoyance of changing providers, though, call your current company and let them know what you have been offered. They may be willing to match the price just to keep you as a customer.
Over the next few weeks, we will explore specific ways to reduce your expenses for energy, phone and cable. If you can lower your budget on actual needs, you’ll have even more money to do the things you want!