Go to the ant, you sluggard. Consider her ways and be wise. –Proverbs 6:6
Boy scouts aren’t the only ones who have to be prepared. Anyone who wants to live richly has to. The easiest expenses to prepare for are utilities. Everyone who maintains a household for a few months knows what to expect, so you should have a pretty good estimate of these monthly living expenses. If it’s so easy, why do we get jolted and look like this guy?
Here are the givens about utilities. (1) We have to have them. (2) We have little control over usage or cost. (3) They come every month (4) They fluctuate. Guess which one causes the biggest problem.
Modern living can be expensive.
Before the 20th century most people got by with well water, kerosene, candles, and coal or wood. There were no supply and delivery systems. You bought what you needed and handled the delivery yourself.
Innovation exploded. Electricity. The light bulb. Oil drilling. Monopolies flourished. Municipalities helped them. The perfect marriage—big business and government. A marriage of convenience.
That’s what we got—convenience, but no say in what we get or the price. If you don’t believe that, consider this. Did anyone ask you if you prefer this squiggly bulb? Me either, but there are some things we can do to tweak the utilities budget.
Water is our best buy.
We have to have water to live. Next to air, it’s most essential to life. I love to watch those survivor shows where they’re dropped into a hostile wilderness. The first thing they have to do is find drinkable water, and it’s kind of fun watching how much trouble they have to find it.
Unless there’s a drought, we don’t have to think about it. Municipalities do a good job of providing clean water at a relatively low cost. But we should never take water for granted. Conserve when you can because it’s a precious commodity, not because you’re going to save much money. If you’re really serious about saving water, put two kids in the bathtub at the time, or take showers with your spouse. You might even improve your marriage.
To my way of thinking, the best way to save money on your water bill is to stop buying bottled water. Lots of tests confirm tap water is just as good, maybe better than, as bottled. Go to waterepa.gov to look up water purity in your zip code.
Here’s a tip you can take to the bank. Buy a pack of bottled water and after you’ve drunk its contents, save the bottles. Before going to bed, fill them from the tap and put them in the refrigerator. The next morning, you can take your bottle jogging, to work, or wherever. No one will know the difference, and likely you won’t either. The water bill won’t change, and you’ll save a little on your grocery bill.
It’s hard to believe a water bill will cause any problems with the budget, even with sewage included, but I’ve seen a sign at my water department telling customers to roll up change used to pay bills. So, yes, even an increase in the water bill can cause problems.
Who controls energy costs?
The public doesn’t. Aside from increasing with usage, gas and oil prices are controlled by the international market. The industry follows China more closely than the United States. But all in all, things are looking up. Gas and oil production is up in the U.S. no thanks to the government that’s doing its best to wean us of oil consumption. Unfortunately it’ll have to wean China too. Look for gas and oil to fluctuate and trend upward. Electricity just trends upward, so adjust your budget periodically for energy costs.
As with all utilities, all we can do is conserve. The best way to reduce energy costs is to make sure your house or apartment is well insulated. Power companies may come out and run a test to tell you where you’re losing heated or air cooled air. Take them up on it. I found I was losing a lot of energy from the bottom of exterior doors. A strip made to stop drafts is best, but a rolled up towel can make a difference. Caulking windows is a cheap way to reduce energy loss too, and increasing the insulation in walls and ceilings may make a good investment.
What you must do.
No matter how well you insulate, energy costs are going up, as are bills for phone, computer service, and TV cable. This is where you need to be prepared. Your budget has to show an excess at the end of the month of one to two hundred dollars. Not too much, you understand. Having too much excess in the budget means you’re not budgeting wisely. Anything over a couple of hundred dollars should be put into interest bearing savings or investments.
I think everyone knows it’s not wise to live from one paycheck to the other. You have to have some excess in your checking account to take care of those fluctuating monthly bills. And, tweak the budget once or twice a year to re-estimate monthly expenses. Utilities will rise and fall with usage, but the price will surely increase.
There’s no way to live richly without utilities. In fact, this is my most prized material possession.
Because I write historical romance, I research how people lived in the days without utilities. I enjoy learning about it, but I wouldn’t want to live like that.
Notice my temperature setting? Actually this is my nighttime setting during the winter. I’m in bed under a thick comforter. I tell myself this makes up for setting the thermostat at 70 degrees in the summer.
I do what I can, but also make sure there’s a little excess in the budget to take care of fluctuations in utility bills.
Next week I’ll cover another living expense. Something we can’t do without so we have to pay for it. So get those coupons and sales circulars out. Grocery bills can be tweaked more than any other item in the budget.
Do you have any ideas for keeping utility costs down?