Cutting Expenses Part #1: Utilities

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My husband was losing his job (his employer cut his hours way down which is a way to get people to quit) and my husband did indeed quit yesterday. We are going to tough this out and work hard to get him going working for himself. He has the skills, and now he has the time to concentrate on making it happen. With him working at his old job, it was comfortable for us. It was time to rock the boat to make bigger and better things happen for us.

It will be rough. We likely will not have extra money to put towards our debt for a while. But – we will make it.

So…we will be taking a look at all of our spending and figuring out things we can do to cut our costs. First up, UTILITIES.

1.) CABLE – Our cable service runs $15/month for the basic channels. This is the lowest plan we can possibly get. With this plan we have the major networks as well as a few other channels we enjoy (Weather Channel, TBS, Lifetime) so we will be keeping our cable. Without it, we are unable to get any local channels using rabbit ears because our area is too remote. Worse comes to worse, we will cut the cable. But for now it will stay in place as our form of entertainment with our cold snowy winter. We will not be making a trip to the video store for quite a while.

2.) CELL PHONE – Our current phone is one of those Tracfones. We pay $20 every two months for 60 minutes of call time and that keeps our phone working. Total cost yearly = $120. We purchased it for emergency use only, and it basically has been for that purpose. We have, however, used some of our cell phone minutes (they roll over) when the balance is over 100. We call our parents with it. I’m not sure about cancelling it, though. I like having it for emergencies and I feel better having it in the car when we are driving around. I believe this is the lowest priced cell phone I can possibly have but I can lower the yearly cost by $21.00 by purchasing a yearly card with 500 minutes for $99.00. I would do that, but we don’t have the money at the moment. Perhaps soon we can. Worse case scenario, we will drop the plan.

3.) ELECTRIC – This is the one where I know we can cut costs. Our bills runs 60-85/month for our small home. I’m not sure what is eating up all of the power, but I have a feeling it has to do with our computers, electric dryer and lights.

We have an area in our bathroom where we can dry clothes. We rigged that when I was out of work in late 2005. Once I found a good job, we started using the dryer again all of the time because it was convenient and our clothes came out soft. We will be going back to hanging our clothes to air dry, except we will use the dryer to finish off drying socks, underware, jeans and towels. They are stiff as a rock when you air dry them completely. Come summer we will hang clothes outside.

On the note of laundry, we will keep washing all clothes in cold water and use less soap/fabric softener per load than we are using now. Time to make everything stretch a little longer.

As for the computers, there isn’t much we can do while we are working on them. BUT, when they are off we will turn off power strips OR unplug things. I may look into those Smart Strips that supposedly cut power to things when they are turned off. I’ve been reading a little bit on them, and it’s surprising to read how much power electronic equipment can draw even when turned off.

As for our lights, I have looked at those bulbs in the store that claim to use less energy and last for 5 years. As far as I know, they will help cut our energy costs, but those bulbs aren’t cheap. I’m still thinking about buying a few to try them out. In the meantime, I plan on using some candles we have at night in the kitchen at least. I don’t feel comfortable using them anywhere else in the house.

4.) GARBAGE – We pay $27 every three months for garbage pickup. That is the best price in the area. Any extra you see within this category when I post my monthly spending is for garbage bags. We will continue to purchase kitchen garbage bags, but we will purchase the cheapest we can. We will also reuse plastic bags from grocery shopping for other garbages in the house.

5.) GAS – We do keep our heat fairly low (around 65-66) but it’s time to drop it back down again. We have purchased a programmable thermostat and we will tier the heating so it will be around 58 at night and in the morning go to 62. When my son comes home from school we will have it go up to 65. That’s the plan for now, it probably will change a little once we see how it goes. I am hoping the programmable thermostat will help because sometimes I would forget to turn down the heat at night.

We will also turn down the termostat on our hot water heater since it is heated by our gas. Just a few degrees can save you money, but not be that noticeable when you are using the hot water.

6.) INTERNET – I work at home, and I have to have high speed internet. AT&T DSL in my area is the cheapest deal at $24.95/month. Unfortunately, that means I must have AT&T as my telephone provider to get a discount on the DSL. However, this is supposed to change in the future so I will be keeping an eye on things. It would be great if I could get the “naked” DSL deal and reduce my internet costs to $20/month.

7.) TELEPHONE – Our telephone charges run $29/month. We do not have anything fancy on our phone and I thought we had the lowest plan possible. I decided to call them last week and tell them specifically that I want the cheapest plan available. While the customer service gal was super friendly, somehow me asking for the cheapest plan available prompted her to plug three way calling. I don’t get it. Anyways, I was able to take long distance completely off of my phone (it will cost me $9 to do that – silly charge if you ask me!) but it will save me $2.00 a month in monthly charges. I also reduced the amount of local calls we have available. We use our phone to make approximately 15 calls/month, so we went with the lowest local call plan available. We will be saving another $2.00/month. So, overall we will be paying around $25/month for our telephone bill now.

Every now and then, you probably see our telephone bill higher than $29/month. That means we purchased minutes for our telephone card. We sometimes receive calling cards from Sam’s Club as presents. We’ve taken one and have adopted it as our permanent calling card for long distance calls. Whenever the minutes get low I recharge the minutes. That’s handy for us, because we do not have a Sam’s Club around us and the minutes run less than 4 cents each. That’s a pretty good price.

There is a site I found where they claim you can earn free calling card minutes and perhaps I will look into it. I am always super-cautious about things like that because I don’t want to get suckered into anything.

There are also VoiP plans (like Skype) that I plan on looking more into for our long distance calling. The only problem there is that we’d have to have our computer on to make calls. Anyone use Skype and care to share their experience? $14.95 for a year of long distance calling isn’t bad at all.

8.) WATER – We pay about $52 every two months for water. Since we have been living in our current home, we have never used over the minimum amount charged for water. We cannot lower our water bill at all since we already have it as low as we can go. We can only make sure we keep our water usage constant so we never go over the minimum.

CONCLUSION

I thought there would be more pennies to pinch from our utilities, but there really isn’t that much unless we spend money to save money. We are already spending the least amount possible on a few of them.  I am hoping the changes we can make will save on average $30/month. If it saves $50/month I would be jumping off the walls :)


32 Comments

  • Reply Mark |

    First I’d like to say that I absolutely love your blog. I just discovered it and have been catching up by reading the archives, etc. Second, I am sorry that your husband lost his job, but it sounds like it all happened for a reason; there’s a better job, and situation, out there for him :)

    I hope this isn’t intrusive, but I’m wondering why he didn’t wait to get fired? I mean, that way he could collect unemployment and that would help with your expenses. I live in CA, and you have to get fired in order to collect unemployment, if you quit you don’t get anything.

    In any event, best of luck from a (new) faithful reader and when life gives you lemons, grab the tequila and the salt!!

  • Reply mapgirl |

    Mark, When you really need the money, waiting it out to get unemployment can put you further in the hole, so it’s better to quit and find a new job as fast as possible.

  • Reply D |

    In Illinois if the employer cuts your hours or makes the working conditions change, you may also apply for Unemployment.

    Trica, check your states website. If you can’t find the answers, have your husband go in and apply (unless he can do it online). The worse they can say is “no”. It’s worth the time.

    He should stick by the fact the hours have been diminished and the working conditions changed.

    It will work out!

  • Reply HC |

    I’ve used Skype on a PC-to-PC basis (I have a friend living in Nicaragua for a few years). On a computer connection, all “calls” are free.

    I was very impressed by the sound quality even with my basic computer speakers and microphone. I would imagine that proper telephone VOIP would be as good if not better.

    Good luck.

  • Reply Don |

    I’m pretty sure that 911 service is guaranteed from a cellular phone even if you don’t have service in it (assuming there is a cellular tower in range that talks to your phone). You can keep an old phone in your (or your kid’s) car’s glovebox and they’ll always be able to make a 911 call.

    I’m looking for some kind of documentation on this now.

  • Reply Sara |

    First, I am sorry to hear about your husband’s job. My husband is exactly the same, and now that we have a son, he is in school studying to become a librarian (hallelujah!). Sometimes we all need a kick in the pants to make things better.

    Second, you mentioned reducing laundry soap. Get a box of 20 Mule Team Borax. It’s about $2 a box, and it works as a laundry booster, allowing you to cut your detergent use without any noticeable effects. Plus, you can do all sorts of cleaning things with it! Oh, and you should still use hot water to wash your bed linens, to kill bed nastsies and dust mites!

    Third, make sure you don’t lower your water heater below 120, as that is the lowest degree that will still kill germs. I have also heard good things about a water heater timer. Basically, you tell your water heater when you want it to run, from 4-9 a.m. and from 4-9 p.m., for example, and the rest of the day, your water heater is off. This could work well if you don’t really use water during the day (you take showers in the morning or evening, wash dishes then, etc). However, I have no idea how much they cost and how well it works.

    Finally, do you think you could add insulation to your house? It’s an expense, but it could drastically cut down on heating/cooling costs. But be aware that you CAN have too much insulation, preventing water vapor from escaping and causing mold to accumulate.

    Good luck, and keep the good ideas and motivation coming!

  • Reply Lazy Man and Money |

    I used Skype to make a few calls from St. Marteen (cost for the dial-up internet for a week was $30). It allowed us to make international calls all week for just a few cents instead of their $4 a minute (or whatever it was) charge. Using Skype on dial-up wasn’t the best voice quality, but after a quick explanation it got the job done. Using it over broadband is typically pretty good.

    I use Vonage now, but I’ve been thinking of Skype to get things to a rock-bottom price. I’m just not sure that Skype is as easy as Vonage as Vonage is just a hardware solution. Your computer can be off and it still works.

  • Reply reggie |

    Don’t know how close u are with the neighbours, or co-workers, or if u have family in the area..

    But buying groceries can be very cheap when purchase in bulk, meaning that u buy at wholesale prices and share the cost around each other, then split the groceries.

    re-using shopping bags for garbage, is a good saving tool, i have been doing that for over 3 years now..

    don’t know where in the usa u live, and how cold it get’s there, but i live in the netherlands, and it gets very cold hereso..
    i have save a lot on heating, buy only using the heater when really needed,
    that’s when it gets very cold, we do have double glass, so that helps insulate the house.
    but when i’m indoors, i’m will padded, two shirts, and a sweater…
    and sleep under a thick quilt..don’t know if your family can resist that…but it works for me, save some cash..

    For telephone, check a voip solution, it really saves money, no monthly cost, pay as u go.
    but do keep the cell phone for those emergency calls, must voip solutions, in the USA does not provide 911 calls as yet.
    http://www.voipbuster.com free calls in the USA, they also has hardware solutions, meaning, u don’t have to have your pc on all the time, and u can talk via a normal phone, and not via the computer with a mike/headphone

    I do miss on item on your list (smile), don’t have to do a full stop, start breaking down slowly but surely (reggie being funny)

    I rechecked your december report, ain’t see much more that u can cut back on…

    make good usage of those coupons at the grocery store, might save a few change..

    Hope this doesn’t mean that u have to cancelled your newly agreed upon 401k…

    don’t know what field of work your husband is in, but maybe he can see what kind of online jobs he can find….

    success..
    still owe u an e-mail, have to will find some time to reply in the course of this week…

  • Reply bluntmoney |

    If Virginmobile has service in your area, you can get cell service for $15+tax every 90 days if you auto-pay. Your regular telephone company should have a plan that’s even more basic than what you described. Something like where you pay per minute for outgoing calls and are allowed only x number of those calls per month.

  • Reply Kellie |

    Tricia, I’ll chime in with some of the others here – check into the cellphone and 911 service. I too have been told that even if you don’t have a cell phone provider you should still be able to dial 911 in an emergency. Also, I agree that your husband should apply for unemployment even if he thinks he won’t get it – no harm done and you never know. I don’t know what your situation was before, but if he was driving to work everyday – there is some more money you’ll save – if he’s not driving he’s not using the gas.

  • Reply NCN |

    Tricia…
    Sorry to hear about the situation with your husband. What line of work is he in? (You don’t have to be super specific…) What are the chances of a “yuck, I hate to be doing this but I’ve got make ends meet” type of job? Just for the short term? Good luck, NCN

  • Reply Tricia |

    Thanks for those who mentioned about the cell phone. I found a link here that seems to show that you can call 911 even if you do not have a plan. I do like the cell phone as well because it’s a way for my son’s school to get a hold of us if mom and dad decide to leave the house. That doesn’t happen often, but I like knowing they can get a hold of us if we do.

    About unemployment, I still have to look into it/think about it. I say think about it because it’s hard. We finally were on our own in terms of not having state assistance (when my son’s health insurance was lost because we made too much). Maybe it’s pride, but I’d like to see if we can do this on our own.

    My husband could find a part-time minimum wage job at the grocery store or something (he has past experience with that), and he actually brought that up. I would rather he focus 100% on being his own boss. He has a business he has been working on, but hasn’t gotten it off the ground except for a few clients. He needs to push it, and when he was working so much before he didn’t have enough time to commit to it.

    I look at this whole thing happening as a crossroads of sorts. It’s either my husband continues working low wage jobs or he gets his business going full steam. Trying to do both wasn’t working before, so it’s time to commit to one or the other. I think the business route will be the best in the long run because he can do what he enjoys doing.

    BTW – I hope no one worries about being intrusive. I don’t mind :)

  • Reply 3 things about money |

    I am so sorry about your husbands job — I know that can be really hard. And, having once been on welfare, I share your feelings about government assistance. But Unemployent is not a form of welfare, he has been paying into the system for years, and it is his money, in a sense. I suggest you go for it. Anyway, I love your blog and this is just my two cents.

  • Reply Mandi |

    You can make home made Laundry Detergent. I have spent at most $12.00 a year in the purchase and making.

    I hear good thinkgs about Vonage, but we can’t take up on that offer, we haven’t got high speed in my area.

    How are you at baking? Home made bread has so many qualities. It’s a chemistry lesson for your son. It warms the house. It is a wonderful scent. It’s family time well spent. It saves money.

  • Reply Matt |

    Every little bit helps, you’re already pretty cost conscious, I’m sure you’ll be able to find some little ways to cut costs.

    You’re correct in your assessment from your utilities, they seem pretty streamlined already. Which reminds me… did I pay the gas bill?

    What does your husband do?

  • Reply Mark B |

    Sounds like one of those “works out for the better” moments and it is great that you are embracing it. I have two points:

    1) Unemployment is not state assistance, your husband has been contributing to unemployment through his payroll his entire working life. You are losing out on valuable money that is owed to him if you do not file.

    2) Maybe this is the situation that you have been looking for to motivate you to quit smoking. Just a thought, not trying to tell you what to do, but that would be an instant savings in your budget…….but being a stressful time in your life it might not be the best time either.

    Good Luck

  • Reply Flora |

    What about getting rid of the home phone and just having cell phones? My husband and I didn’t get a land line when we moved recently, and we haven’t missed it. My sister’s done the same thing. It makes it easier for your loved ones too, because they always know where to reach you.

  • Reply Gerri |

    I would like to know how you go about getting started in doing this? I need all the help I can get to become debt free and get my credit rating back in good standing. My sister-in-law is going an accountant and she will be handling all the financial resources that come in to pay off my debts and get me back on track. Please tell me how to go about doing this so that I don’t end up filing for bankruptcy.

  • Reply Melinda |

    Sounds like you guys are doing great. I know you guys can do it! Sometimes we just need a kick in the pants to get us started:)

  • Reply Tricia |

    In Michigan, unemployment is not paid for by the employee. So, my husband has not paid into it. The employer pays into unemployment out of their own money. No, unemployment isn’t exactly state sponsored but it still feels like a type of aid. I know, I know, I’m too proud for my own good. I am looking into it, though.

    As for getting rid of our home phone, I can’t at the moment because I need to have the phone plan to get our DSL. If we ditched the DSL, the only other option for high speed internet is cable and that runs $50/month by itself. You can get it cheaper if you bundle with more than basic cable service, but then our cable cost will skyrocket.

  • Reply Jarrod |

    An even cheaper solution, if you qualify is Universal Lifeline. It’s about $5.00 flat rate for local phone calls. You can still have DSL on the line as well.

  • Reply Mark B |

    Don’t let your pride stand in the way of taking unemployment.

    “Pride costs more than hunger, thirst and cold.” – Thomas Jefferson.

    I loved the blog about bumps in the road. Thanks for a great and inspirational site.

  • Reply Jen |

    Sorry about your husband’s job :( It’s a shame his boss can’t have a sitdown with the wife and explain to her that her attitude is losing him valuable employees!

    Anyway, the programmable thermostat should help with utilities. I have them and I calculated that I heat my home at 65 about 10% of the time! The rest of the time it’s at 60. So that has to help some.

    Also, if you have a light that is on a lot, such as a living room light, then you might want to consider buying one fluorescent bulb for it. I do notice a drop in my electric bill whenever I replace a bulb with a fluorescent one, but they work best in lights that are on a long time.

  • Reply Marcy |

    Hi there! Love the blog! Sorry about the predicament your husband is in right now with work. I have to reiterate what others have said before me regarding filing for Unemployment Insurance. I used to work for the U.S. Department of Labor (in my “former life” before I became a SAHM) and dealt firsthand with layoffs and unemployment issues at the state and national level nationwide. PLEASE FILE!!!!! It is a RIGHT OF ALL WORKERS who have experienced negative employment consequences. It is NOT a handout! I cannot reiterate that enough!!

  • Reply Monika |

    Hi There,
    we have been trying to cut costs as well, I would like to reiterate the earlier suggestion to get the most basic phone service. We pay about $10 for our line, then about $.02-$.03 per call plus taxes. When you ask the phone company for a “plan” they will try to sell you a package. I’ve had that happen. Ask them for just the most basic service.

  • Reply Mary |

    One more tip on the laundry. . . A quarter cup of white vinegar in the rinse water helps the detergent rinse out better and leaves line-dried clothes softer. Even in the winter we are able to line dry most everything, but sometimes toss jeans and such in for ten minutes in the dryer- to make sure they’re dry before putting them into the drawers. Otherwise, it can take days to get them all the way dry, and we need the racks for the next load before then!
    Fluorescent bulbs are real savers over the long term, especially when lights are on much of the time.
    We did just have a friend tell us that there is mercury in the bulbs, and I checked it out. That’s true, and most jurisdictions still consider them safe for landfill disposal, but do collect them on hazardous waste disposal days. Check http://www.earth911.org for local options, especially if your local area incinerates trash.

    Good luck on your debt reduction goals. It’s really worth the effort. (Speaking from experience!)

  • Reply Marsh |

    The black boxes that plug into your wall outlets can consume a bunch of power. put them on a power strip and then switch them off…my computer room has a light switch which controls the power strip. TV’s and stereos are the same.

    Vacuum the coils on your fridge. If they are dusty you lose power that way as well.
    Those light bulbs are a challenge, given the light they give off…just use them in non-critical areas.

    If you use electric heat or water heat the same applies (vacuum the registers). If you have forced air, then change the filter.

    I dumped my cell and use USAData Net for calls, buy my pet supplies at Petshed.com, and
    have explored ordering pharm drugs overseas..Canadian Pharmacy.com
    Do apply for UInsurance.

  • Reply Wisely Sunshine |

    I love reading your blog and all these comments. Thank you for always post good stuffs.

  • Reply Amanda |

    I switched to all cold water for laundy after reading this post and just got my first electric bill for a full month of cold water laundry.
    Last month it was $183 (that’s about what it is every month). This month it’s $149!!! So, I’m sold. :)

    We obviously have an electric water heater and do a lot of laundry! Thanks for the idea!

  • Reply Debra |

    Call your local utility company and see if they have someone who will do a free energy audit. We had one done and they gave us 6 CFL bulbs for free besides! Use them in your most frequently used lights to cut on your electric bill.

So, what do you think ?

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