You might agree that one of the most difficult areas to manage on your household budget is utilities. Although it’s the beginning of Fall, and you may have managed to conquer last winter’s sky high gas, electric, and water bills, Winter will be here in a few months.
If you haven’t taken any precautionary measures to weatherize your home, your gas and electric bill will be equal or greater than this past Winter’s bill.
You may have trouble meeting the due dates on these bills because of other demanding payments, and if you’ve tried the pay some now and manage the rest later, you know all too well that this strategy does not work if you don’t pay at least half of the bill.
In some cases, even if you pay a large amount, you may still receive a shut-off notice which indicates that your service will be terminated within two weeks or less.
Recently, I watched a few videos on fuel poverty in Britain. The staggering number of deaths that have occurred annually due to some citizens’ inability to pay for heat and electricity is unbeliveable. Quite a few of the cities operate on a prepaid meter system which makes it difficult for residents to use the utilities freely.
The most disturbing aspect about this statistic is that elderly people are among the number of those who can’t pay their bills. Although we cannot immediately control regulations and rates, there are a few steps you can take to ensure that your lights and heating stay on during the cold months.
If you have to forego several activities or switch a few bills around to pay this bill, making this payment a priority is not only critical to your health, but your life. Here are a few recommendations that can give you a little breathing room if you’re on a tight budget.
Save or Pay Ahead
Since the economy has been fluctuating over the past eight years and the job market is equally unstable, whatever funds you can set aside specifically for future utilities now, make every effort to do so. You will be able to avoid this type of headache later.
If you’ve recently been laid off, terminated, or your financial status has changed due to a disability, using a portion of your severance pay or other income to pay utilities in advance could also keep worry at bay while you’re looking for employment.
If you don’t trust yourself to hold onto your savings, pay ahead, and your account will receive a credit each month until your the money runs out.
Ask for Help
If you’ve found yourself in shut-off status several times, you know how stressful it is trying to scrap up money to meet the deadline. If you’re currently in shut-off status and don’t think that you will get the money you need on your own soon, contact your local Department of Human Services to apply for a State of Emergency Relief payment to cover your bill.
If this route does not work for you, contact your utility company to inquire about low income programs that could help you offset some of the expenses.
Some utility companies offer shut-off protection, senior program, low-income, low-income self-sufficiency, and general assistance. If you’ve gotten off track financially, these programs can help you maintain your household budget over a one or two years depending on the terms of the program.
Although the low-income and DHS programs need extensive financial information from you to determine your eligibility status, there is one program that does not require indepth information.
If your utility company offers a shut-off protection program, you should contact the company or register for an account online to inquire about the down payment amount. This type of program will require that you make a down payment based on the amount of your outstanding balance generally one-half or more.
You will be given a deadline to make the payment. Thereafter, your monthly payment should be a reasonable amount you can handle every month. Your initial payment may be large, but the sacrifice is worth making especially with rising energy costs.
If you don’t choose this option, your challenge with managing this bill will be like trying to conquer a giant that will never yield. When utility bills become as large as or higher than your monthly housing payment, it’s time to act fast. Utility bills will not wait to accrue the next time you get paid.
So if you make the sacrifice now with the shut-off protection plan, you can at least have a stable budget for the next 24 months. Each state and country utility rates vary, so it’s critical that you speak with a representative to see which plan may work best for you when you realize that you can’t make your current month’s payment.
Don’t wait until you receive the notice with the red letters especially if you have children or you’re caring for a sick spouse or an eldery parent. If you’re lucky enough to still have a job, set up a payment plan now as indicated above and begin setting aside at least six months to a year of utility payments to prepare you for an unexpected job loss and long term unemployment.
Opting for the automatic payment method can also help you avoid utility emergencies. You should also take time to review the billing cycle of your utility bills. This will help you determine when you’ll receive your next notice which may be structured around the previous two months’ billing cycle or the current month.
Another recommendation you should consider is emergency preparedness. You may have achieved your goal of meeting your utility payment deadlines, but unexpected power outages can also be a challenge in extreme weather conditions. Solar generators and heating fans are backup products you can use to stay warm.
Unlike summer months that allow you to camp outside or go other places that have air conditioning, you may not be able to leave your home if a Winter storm occurs which could leave you trapped in your home for days.
It may be sunny today, but being well stocked is a choice that you will never regret even if a storm never comes. My grandmother used to say “It’s better to have and don’t need than to need and don’t have.”
Here’s a list of items you should stock up on in case the unexpected occurs like the recent gas shortage in the U.S. Southeast region.
2) Emergency food
3) Fuel starter
5) Portable heater fans
6) Solar generator
These are just a few ideas, but if you can think of other items you need, add it to your list. You dont’t want to rely on local stores which may be closed during an emergency.