Archive for Utility Bills

Oct
24

Who Do You Know?

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It’s the middle of October, and a cold snap is due to hit next week.  I’m going to have to turn the furnace on, and it needs to be serviced.  I read the other day that 1/100 of an inch of dust on the motor can reduce the efficiency quite a bit.  I have no doubt there’s enough dust on the motor that a cleaning is needed!  The furnace is getting up there in age, too, and it really needs to be checked for carbon monoxide.

The price of a regular seasonal furnace check from any of the licensed companies in the city is approx. $150.  I was able to find a few coupons, which would bring the cost down to about $100.  If I want to bundle services and buy a package deal for both summer and winter check-ups, the cost is around $200.

I’m going to spend $50 to service the furnace – because I know Jerry..

Side Work Is Lucrative

In April, my husband lost his job. I had an appointment scheduled the very next week for an AC check-up, and I’d scheduled the package deal for $200.  When I made the appointment weeks before, the package deal made sense – buy summer and winter and get a discount!  Of course, I took the package deal!  Because of the job loss, however, I was reluctant to spend that kind of money – even with an emergency fund available.

The next day, during a trip to the mailbox, I ran into my next-door neighbor.  I asked him if he knew anyone that did home AC servicing, and did they do side work?  Bingo!  He did know someone – a young man who worked for a heating and cooling company in the city, and had serviced my neighbor’s appliances for the last couple of years.

I made a call to Jerry, who came out that weekend.  While chatting with Jerry, I found out he was in his early 20’s, had a 3 year old daughter, and had been doing appliance service work in the 3 years since he’d graduated from Vo-Tech school.  He worked for a family-owned small business that had been in the business for 30 years.  Jerry played hockey on the weekends, and serviced all the rental homes of a couple of real estate agents in town – and one of those I happened to know.  When Jerry was finished servicing the unit, he gave me a written report about the unit and its performance – and a bill for $50.

In July, on the hottest day of the year, the house woke up to a broken AC unit.  I called Jerry that morning, and at 8 PM, after he had finished his work schedule for the day, he came by and fixed the unit.  A capacitor had burnt out and needed replaced.  Total cost:  $75.  This fix normally would have been a $150 repair.

If you know the right people, or know the people who know the right people, you can save money on just about anything.  Auto mechanic, auto body repairman,  heating and cooling, hair dresser, roofer, concrete finisher, brick layer, teacher, carpenter – these are the occupations of people that I personally know that work a regular 8-5 job, but will also do side work.

Ask around, you never know who your friends know!  Not only can you save money, but the person doing the side work also profits.  Depending on the job, a lot of money can be made by doing side work.

Side Work to Self-employment

If you have dreams of owning your own business, or simply going out on your own and away from any employer, you can use side work to build up a clientele.  Once you’re got enough money coming in that you can replace your employee income, jump out into your dream.  (Beware of any contracts you signed for your current employer:  non-compete, exclusivity, etc)

 

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Oct
11

Emergency! Emergency!

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No Job SignSix months ago, April 6th, on Good Friday (oh, the irony!) – my husband lost the job he had for 13 years. This came completely out of the blue, with no warning. I now know what the bug hitting the zapper in the back yard feels like.

Once the initial shock wore off, we took stock. We had an Emergency Fund, and my husband was owed vacation pay. When I added the two together, we had approx. $25,000 cash. I knew we’d be alright for a few months with the emergency fund, but I also knew we’d have to cut spending to the bone. We didn’t have any credit card debt, nor any car payments, which was a big plus. Those are expenses that can drain finances quickly. We did have a mortgage, insurance, utilities, food, gas – basic and necessary expenses that kept the roof over our heads, the Internet lights on, and food on the table.

I wasn’t overly worried. MrBP is good at his job. I knew the phone would be ringing fairly soon with a job offer, or he’d be able to network a bit and find an opening. This layoff was going to be just a little bump in the road in the overall scheme of things, and we would be fine.

The first thing MrBP did was file for unemployment. Unemployment in this country is not fair to the unemployed, as I’m sure anyone out of work will tell you. MrBP did qualify for the maximum amount of weekly unemployment: $320.00. Wow. I know $320 is better than nothing, but a month of unemployment checks still wouldn’t cover the mortgage. MrBP could also draw unemployment for the maximum number of weeks: 20. Another Wow. Twenty weeks of unemployment equals thirteen years of work history. If he had worked the for company for 30 years, 20 weeks was still the maximum number of weeks he could draw. There is something wrong with that government math!

When a person files for unemployment it takes some time to get that first check. Remember that vacation pay I mentioned? That had to be claimed as income for 3 weeks.  (If what you claim is more than the amount you’re eligible for – you don’t get paid unemployment that week)  At the end of the 3 “vacation” weeks, a waiting week had to be “put in”. This happens to everyone – the first week you are unemployed basically doesn’t count – for anything. Unemployment benefits don’t become available until the second week a person is out of work. Checks don’t come the second week either – the process of being approved for unemployment can take 2-3 weeks, or much longer. Considering the majority of the working population lives paycheck to paycheck, losing a job can be a big deal. All of this waiting for money is going on when people need that money the most!

MrBP was out of work for a month. He never did draw an unemployment check, because the 3 vacation weeks and the 1 waiting week took up that month. We had enough money in the bank that life went on as normal – we just didn’t spend any extra, we didn’t go out to eat, we didn’t go to the movies. Cutting out all unnecessary spending opened my eyes to the kind of money we did spend in some areas. Because there was enough coming in, neither of us had paid much attention to some of the conveniences that were going out. (After all, life shouldn’t be all work and no play, right?)

If we hadn’t had our Emergency Fund, life would have been a completely different story. We would have been in financial trouble fast, as fast as the bills came due. We spend $3000 monthly on house, utilities, insurance, and cell phone payments, but that doesn’t count food, gas for the cars, incidentals, etc.

Emergency Funds are as necessary as homeowners insurance is if you own your home, as necessary as car insurance is if you drive a car. Everyone should have an Emergency Fund. If you don’t have one, you need to start one. Don’t tell me you can’t afford one – you can’t afford NOT to have one!

An Emergency Fund is intended to replace income if you can’t work, but it’s also nice to have when the car needs major repair or the AC unit quits on a 100 degree day in July.

Most financial planners recommend having 3-6 months worth of living expenses saved. But, due to the state of the economy, the average length of time a person is unemployed these days is 9 months (Bureau of Labor Statistics). If you’ve only got a 3 month cushion, what are you going to do the other 6 months when the rent is due, and you’re still looking for work? I know what you’re thinking – you’ve got those credit cards in your billfold, and you’ll fall back on those if you really need to. Let me ask you this: when the credit line is used up, how are you going to repay that debt?

Starting and regularly adding to your Emergency Fund may feel daunting, and may seem like an insurmountable task.   The good news is, you may not need as much as you think. Sit down and make a list of every single bill you pay every month. Go through your bank statement and write down all debit card transactions and what they were for. Check the bank statement for ATM cash withdrawals, and write down what those were for. Get out your credit card statements and add those transactions to the list of money going out for the month. Add all the numbers up.

Now, cut out what isn’t absolutely necessary. The mortgage payment is necessary. $5 at Starbucks twice a week is not. Look closely at bills such as cell phone, cable, gym memberships, newspaper delivery, lawn care – if it came down to it, are these as necessary as food and electricity? No?  Cut those out. Once you figure out the basic living expenses you need to survive, multiple that by 12. Write that number down. Your savings goal is 12 months of basic living expenses in an Emergency Fund.

Work out a savings plan, even if all you can do is save $1 a week, or $25 a month, or the change from your pocket at the end of the day. Put that money in savings and forget it. Cut out one or both of those lattes every week and put that money in savings instead. Treat your Emergency Fund like it’s your water or gas bill, figure out how much you can save regularly, and pay the savings account just like it’s the mortgage company.  Start today.

I was glad we had savings to fall back on. We spent a lot of it, and it went faster than planned because the AC unit did break down on the hottest day of the year, along with a few other things.

During the 5th week of unemployment, the phone rang and MrBP was offered a job – at the opposite end of the state. A 3 hour drive, one way, from the home we’ve lived in for the last 24 years. Whoa.

The new job – and where it was at – brought up a lot of questions: were we going to relocate? Sell our home here? Rent it out? Rent in the new location, or buy? Where would MrBP live for the near future – with family in that area, and if so, for how long? How much was all of this going to cost? There were so many variables and many unknowns six months ago!  A few things didn’t work out, while great truths were learned … stay tuned to find out what happened!

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Jul
08

Hot Town, Summer In The City

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The last 17 days in my village have been scorchers.  People have been frying eggs on the sidewalks and baking cookies on the dash boards of cars.  12 of the last 17 days the temps were 99 to 110, and the night temps haven’t been much cooler.  5 of those 17 days never saw the temp below 95 during the day or 90 at night.

The central air unit has been running almost non-stop, and when it does shut off, it isn’t long before I’m headed down the hall to kick the thermostat down lower so the air will come back on.  Our lot is heavily treed, but it doesn’t seem to make much difference this summer – once the cool air stops pouring from the vents, the house begins to feel very warm, very fast.

I shudder to think what the electric bill is going to scream at me when it arrives – I may involuntarily scream right back.  Looking at our electricity usage on the last bill received, which had a cutoff date of June 22, we used 1,550 kilowatt hours – and the average daily temp was only 76 degrees.

I wouldn’t be surprised to see the current bill double that, based on how that AC unit has been running.  Every one of those 17 days where the temp was 95 to 110?  Every one of those will be on the bill that will be arriving soon in the mail.

Will the coming scorcher of a bill mean the difference between eating hamburger or Ramen Noodles in August?  No, it won’t.  I am concerned about the total bill, but it won’t affect my monthly expenses right away.  If I want to eat prime filet next month, I’ll be able to.

My local utility company offers a level pay plan, and I’ve been using that option for many years.  Each month, I know exactly what my electric bill is going to cost.  (Sometimes this is also called a Budget Billing Plan)  My electric bill is adjusted once a year, and in the past 5 years or so, what I do pay has gone up three times and down twice.  The utility company will “audit” my account annually, and based on the past 12 months usage, will adjust my monthly budget amount up or down for the coming year.

Level pay is a good thing because it is predictable.  It is easy to budget when you know exactly what your utility bills are going to be.  In addition to taking advantage of the level pay plan offered by my electricity provider, I am also on a level pay plan with the gas company.  The bills I receive from both show exact usage, and it is easy to keep tabs on what I actually owe vs. what I have paid – and by the same token, I can also see at a glance what either provider owes me at any point in time.

If you struggle to pay your utilities because your gas heat is high in the winter and the electricity is high in the summer, check with your provider(s) and see if they offer level pay plans.  Make sure and read the fine print closely – level pay is good, but if you use more than what you’ve paid for during the year, you may find that you owe a larger balance in the month the bill is adjusted – this is known as a “make-up” or “catch up” schedule.  Don’t get caught unawares when that annual adjustment period comes around.  If you have overpaid during the year for services, you will get a refund.  Also, be aware of when those adjustment periods are due; some utility companies audit and adjust more than once a year.

Level pay does not mean you can skip paying your bill or be chronically late with your payment.  Missed payments will get you kicked off of the level pay plan, and most utility companies require any balance be paid in full before reinstatement.  Get kicked off too many times, and they won’t let you participate.

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Categories : Budget, Utility Bills
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