If you’re having trouble keeping up with your utility bills, you’re not alone. Recent years have seen record-breaking job losses, soaring residential power consumption, and rising utility costs due to inflation. These changes are wreaking havoc on homes across the country.
According to the National Energy Assistance Directors’ Association, unpaid utility bills have more than doubled - to an estimated $27 billion. But knowing that you’re not alone is cold comfort for those struggling to keep up.
Getting informed is just the first step. Here’s where to go next:
There are many ways to lower your electric bill, and anything that feels wasteful probably is. So, walk around your house and take inventory of items that may be running up your electric bill. Remember to turn lights off when you’re not using them and unplug vampire electronics, like chargers and game consoles, which continue to use electricity even when they’re not on.
You can cut down even further by switching to energy-saving or energy-efficient light bulbs, sealing leaky windows and doors to save on heating and cooling, and air drying your clothes with an indoor stand or outdoor clothesline when you can.
Did you know that rates for things like water and electricity can vary throughout the week and even throughout the day? Peak hours are the times when rates are the most expensive. They typically coincide with the busiest parts of the business day, generally from 1 to 7 p.m.
Most of us can’t avoid doing these household tasks from Monday through Friday, but we may be able to change the timing of them. Running the washer, dryer, and dishwasher during off-peak hours instead can save us up to 50% on our utility costs.
The age-old advice to take shorter showers can be hard to follow. After all, who knows exactly how much time they spend in the shower and how much time they should be spending instead? Most of us would be surprised to find that the ideal shower time is between five and ten minutes.
This gives us enough time to get clean without wasting water or drying out our skin. Use a timer or songs on a shower playlist to get the timing right. You can also conserve water by running a full dishwasher instead of hand-washing and using cold water for your laundry instead of hot.
While a degree or two in either direction won’t make much of a difference to us, our thermostats are more sensitive than we are. During the summer months, raising the temperature on your thermostat by just one degree can save you two to three percent on cooling costs.
78 degrees is the sweet spot for saving in the summers. And in the colder months, try to leave your thermostat set to 68 degrees when you’re home. Experts maintain that this is the ideal temperature for comfort and cost savings. If you have a programmable thermostat, consider reducing the heat or cooling 60 minutes before you go to bed at night. Then, increase the temperature about 30 minutes before you get up. You can also set your “hold” or “vacation” setting at a more consistent or constant temperature when you are going to be gone from home for two days or more. Don’t forget, also, to change the batteries once a year to avoid any interruptions or inefficiency in your thermostat programming.
Even when you’re on a budget, total deprivation isn’t sustainable or practical. Everyone deserves the occasional coffee on-the-go, takeout meal on a long-awaited weekend, or another reasonable splurge. But the problem can be finding the right balance.
Look through your budget and past-month spending to see if there are any expenses that you can cut. Even if those cuts are temporary, they can help you get caught up. If you’re paying for a gym membership or subscription service that you’re not using right now, put it on pause.
If you’re buying lunch at work every day, can you pack a lunch from home every other day and reallocate the money saved? Get creative and find ways to cut until you get caught up. Chances are good that once you do get caught up, you won’t miss the things you cut anyway.
At the end of the day, if you’re still wondering, “how can I get help with my electric bill,” these resources may come in handy:
Contact your local Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) office to see if you’re eligible for assistance with heating and cooling costs.