Poverty 101. Chapter 1. Utilities

Beating the utility companies. Why the hell anyone thinks a utility bill over 100 bucks a month is acceptable is beyond me. But I am fortunate not to live in the insane regions of the country lol. None the less, I have to conserve as our income has not gone up in over three years- yet the friggin utility companies keep getting their yearly 9% increases. SO.

Electricity.

I unplug everything. EVERYTHING! If it is not in use, it is not plugged in. The only things that are always on are the freezer, fridge and waterbed. Microwave is only plugged in when it is in use. Same for the TV’s. Even our lamps are unplugged when they are not on. Even the stove- because it has electronic ignition. Unplugged unless I am using it. Washer and dryer the same- unplugged. Yes, it makes a huge difference. Our usage (and bill) was cut substantially. This winter I can throw the breaker for the chicken shed as there are no longer any animals out there. That should save some more. My electric bill is still under 100 a month.

Heat.

We have natural gas- and things were looking like we might get a break- as we live in fracking country. NOT! All that precious resource, instead of going to US, is being sold to China and Japan. God Forbid they should build a cheap natural gas vehicle here.  I live in a very old farmhouse- and it has little insulation. SO. I use the plastic over the windows- the kind you buy in a kit and then shrink with a blow dryer. I hang a barrier at the top of the stairs to keep the heat down here. (We have radiators- and the only radiator upstairs is in the bathroom to keep the pipes from freezing.) The radiators are a pain to keep clean and dusted- but they work! I turn the heat all the way down to 55 at night.  As I mentioned above we have a waterbed (and cats lol) so do not need the heat on while sleeping. I turn the heat on in the morning, just high enough to bring the hot water all the way through the system- usually about a half hour. That warms the house enough. Then I turn it down to 62 for the rest of the day. We wear layers at all times in the winter and have lots of lovely throws. On days when the wind is blowing from the back of the house I close the kitchen door so the draft does not come through to the rest of the living area.  And of course I do bake and also cook things by the low and slow method and that helps to keep us warm.

We are planning on putting cold frames up against the back of the house next year. Those will help insulate the foundation while we wait for the snow and also give me an early start on some spring greens. The back of the house faces south- my kitchen is there- but it is also the direction from which the prevailing winds come. Bonus is we don’t even own an air conditioner and rarely need fans.

In winter I keep the shades down and the curtains closed, unless it is a sunny day. Then I open the shades on the sunny side of the house. Reverse in the summer, close the shades on the sunny side to keep the sun from heating the house.  I also use an old trick my Nana taught us. I open the bottom window on one side of the house and the top window on the other- it helps with the air flow. (Not a scientist so don’t ask me why lol)

Also, I have the gas and electric on a balanced budget plan. The electric bill recalculates twice a year, the gas quarterly. (Damn gas company- always raising their rates) It does make it easier though to know how much it is going to be each month. I read the bills every month and look for abnormalities in usage. The bill generally shows your usage per billing period for a year and you can request records for further back too. I have to keep an eye that the husband does not leave the switch on for the garage. No need for there to be power running there unless he is working on something.

My gas bill is under $100 a month as well. That budget thing is great! Before I switched to that, I would have sky high bills in winter and next to nothing in summer. This is better. All told though we are paying close to $2400 a year for lights and heat. UGH. How do single moms on minimum wage do it?

Gasoline-

 Well not technically a utility I know- but still in the energy category.  We can not afford to buy newer vehicles that are more fuel efficient so we make do with the ones we have. As gas continues to skyrocket, we have of course had to cut back on other things. We never go to the movies, we don’t buy anything that is not an absolute necessity. And we plan trips. Appointments are lumped all in to one day as much as possible.  When we shop, it is on the way to or from work or another appointment. We try to keep the vehicles well maintained. Our local gas station has a loyalty card that gives us a three cent per gallon discount- and they normally take their price down another three cents on Tuesday- so we try to fill up then- as it is six cents off per gallon. Husband works close to the Ohio border, so I check their prices on line- and when they go way down he goes over the border to shop. Sometimes Ohio is .30 a gallon less than us, sometimes close to the same. That is a state tax issue I think. My mechanic puts and additive in twice a year that keeps the gas mileage just about where it was when I bought the car- 18 city, 28 highway. Husband drives an old Toyota Corolla and it gets even better mileage.

Phone, Internet and Cable

I unbundled these three and got rid of the home phone long ago. Our cable bill keeps creeping up- close to $60 a month just for basic! And it is that cheap because I get my internet from the same provider. Add the internet on top of that- another 35 a month and I don’t even get the highest speed.  And out here in bitter clinger land, there is only ONE cable provider. SO if we want TV – which husband does- they are it. Verizon is the only cell phone provider out here with reliable service (we have a LOT of hills that are high enough to block the signal when you are in the low places. Same reason an antenna for TV reception is not an option. Satellite tv is also a no go- when we get weather- which we get a LOT of- the signal dies.) I have heard NetFlix is the way to go- but our TV’s are ancient and don’t have the streaming capability. If things go the way I think, cable and internet will go- between the two that is a hundred bucks a month. When the Verizon contract runs out, I am going to one of the plans where I can pay a flat fee per month for unlimited talk, text and data. My Verizon bill is a bit over a hundred a month for two phones- with 500 shared minutes and unlimited text on mine. If I go with the prepaid ones- I can get one of the senior ones for the husband with talk only for around 25 and the one with text and talk for me for 45.  It is just so damn bizarre. I can pick up the prepaid ones at WalMart and the use the same Verizon towers. More importantly, the prepaid ones don’t carry the same taxes and fees as the contract ones. PA taxes the shit out of cell phones (luxury tax?) Plus the 911 fees and assorted other Fed and State taxes. Tacks almost 20 bucks a month onto the bill.

I sure wish we could cherry pick which stations we buy from cable. All the Channels I like are on the pay extra plan- so I watch only the news and a few movies and NCIS. The History Channel turned into red neck central- what the hell do alligator hunters have to do with history?

What tricks and tips do you have to contribute to beating the utility companies?

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3 Responses

  1. I’m always going around shutting off lights, but I don’t unplug everything. Does that really make a difference? I never really thought of it. Same with you, our kitchen and family room face the South so it’s wonderful in the winter when the sun is shining. I just sit at my kitchen table and take in all the sunshine I can get. Winter is very depressing for me.

    To be honest, I wouldn’t mind living alone in some cabin in the woods somewhere, and just go out for food and other household needs once a month. The food costs are what is killing us, we only have two (sometimes 3) at home and the food bills are higher than they when we had all the kids at home. It’s ridiculous.

    Happy Thanksgiving to you, kiddo. Hang in there.

  2. Love that video…..always loved the song, it’s on my iPod. Now it’s time to gear up for the War on Christmas. Good luck!

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