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Keeping Your Utilities in Check

GUEST POST BY: Cyndi Lobejon , author of Life By Cyndi

Ahh…utilities. These are things that are so essential to our modern lives as we know it, but often fade into the background of our minds as we sit in our toasty, well-lit homes, enjoying our roast dinners. We may hear about energy consumption on a daily basis through various media campaigns or advertisements, but how often do we actually stop to give it some thought in the context of our own homes? What if I told you that in your bid to master your finances, it’s well worth the time to do so? Here are a few ways to think about your own individual situation and assess how energy smart you’re being.

  • Especially if, like me, you pay for your utilities via automated direct debits, it’s easy to ignore the bills that pop intermittently into your inbox, or worse yet, logging into your online account and having a peek. A good habit to develop, however, is taking a look at your costs each payment period (whether this is monthly or quarterly) and keeping track of how these change in each billing cycle. Of course, how much energy you use up during any given time period will depend on many factor, not least of which are the season or weather. Nevertheless, if you spot your bills not just inching up according to the season you’re in, but actually making sizeable leaps, it’s time to cry “Whoa Nelly” and get to looking at the breakdown.
  • I’m convinced that in the past utility companies made understanding bills and one’s usage as difficult as they possibly could on purpose! However, times are changing and these companies now have to be more transparent. That being said, although it seems a most daunting challenge, it’s very important that you do take the time to understand how your bills are calculated and what they say about your usage. Pay special attention to things like per kWh prices, tariffs and standing charge. These are important points of reference that you will need when looking at the rates of competitors. The good thing is that normally your energy provider will provide an explanation of these terms either on their website or on your bill. There are also useful independent sites that give advice on this, like https://www.consumersenergy.com/, https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/ and https://www.thegreenage.co.uk/.

  • Know which type of tariff you’re on. Suppliers’ ‘standard tariffs’ are usually the most expensive ones and are the defaults for when you don’t specify the tariff you wish to be on. On the other hand, ‘fixed tariffs or ‘capped tariffs‘ are normally their cheapest tariffs and are excellent aids in budgeting, since they mean you don’t have to worry about your supplier suddenly increasing the rates at which they charge you for however much energy you use. If you’re on a special tariff that claims to give you variable rates based on peak and off-peak energy use times, then it’s key that you find out what these hours are, which typically depends on your specific energy supplier or your particular area. The off-peak times that these tariffs refer to (for example Economy 7 or 9 tariffs) tend to be roughly somewhere between 11pm and 8:00am. So if you’re on one of these tariffs, but the bulk of your energy consumption isn’t at these times, you might want to check out whether another tariff type would suit you better. At the very least, you could program some of your appliances like your washers to come on at these times.

  • Speaking of programming your appliances, many of the modern machines now allow you to set the time you want it to come on (which, when I first learned about, was like pure magic!). It’s recommended that you run your big appliances like your washing machines and dish washing machines at times when public energy consumption is lower, which means in most cases, late at night, and before 3pm and after 7pm on weekdays. Do bear in mind that these time brackets will differ depending on your area, supplier and season, so you will need to look up what these are in your neighborhood. In relation to boilers, even if you your specific make doesn’t have a timer in built, you can purchase a boiler timer separately (retails for around $30-$50) which will allow you to have full control over the times at which your central heating homes on, and make sure that it’s not constantly blasting out heat that goes wasted when you’re not home.

Tip: Be sure to make sure your radiators aren’t cranked all the way up, and only turn on the ones in the areas people are in your home.

  • If you think you’re still paying too much for your utilities, based on tracking it over time, and on household factors like how many people are there at any given time, don’t be afraid to ring up your current supplier and have a chat about this. You might be surprised over helpful they may be in checking if you could switch to a cheaper tariff (always find out if there are any exit fees and beware of tariffs with high exit fees), installing a different type of meter, or even installing a meter when there was none there before in the property. The last point resonates strongly with me, because we’ve just moved into a property, and when I found at about the estimated monthly payments we’d be making for our water (much higher than at our previous property), I rang up the water company and they informed me that this was because we were in an unmetered property and, based on the house’s characteristics and our household profile, we would be saving roughly half that amount if we had a meter installed! Best part? There’s no installation charge. Ahmm…yes, please!
  • Finally, even if your current supplier offers you a cheaper tariff, it’s always good for you to do a little price comparison yourself. Thankfully, there are lots of energy price comparison sites that make this super easy. All you need to have are your prices per unit, average annual or monthly usage in hand and you’re off! Sites like https://www.electricchoice.com/, https://www.electricrate.com/, http://www.moneysavingexpert.com/, http://www.gocompare.com/, or https://www.uswitch.com/ might be good starting points for you, depending on where you live.

Tip: Before making a move, be aware of any exit fees your current supplier may charge you if you decide to switch either tariffs or suppliers.

Hopefully all or at least some of the above suggestions will give you the courage to go out there and conquer your utilities, one step at a time.

About the author: Cyndi Lobejon is the writer of the blog Life By Cyndi where she discusses things she’s passionate about and has found useful in her own journey of self-fulfillment and joyful living. Her main interests are individual well-being, a healthy lifestyle, personal finance and anything else that brings happiness to daily living. Check out her blog at lifebycyndi.com.

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