Winter heating bills can be a real blow to your budget. Ariel Anderson, CFP®, shows how Grownups can save money—while still staying warm.
Winter has arrived, Grownups: There’s frost on your car, you can see your breath, and you need to bundle up even to run to the corner store (unless you’re lucky enough to live in the South). While many of you may be psyched for snowboarding, skiing, and the beauty of the season, others are wishing they could fast forward to spring.
However, we all agree on one thing—colder months means higher heating bills (regardless of the type of energy you use in your home). As Grownups on a budget, how can we plan for this financial burden?
Get to know your bills
Look at your historic winter heating bills and identify how much more, on average, you’re spending during these colder months. If this information is hard to obtain, or you’re new to the home or apartment, take advantage of free services from your heating company. Many bills have a line item embedded in the breakdown of charges, sometimes called “energy conservation” or “energy efficiency,” which pays for things like free in-home energy assessments. These assessments can help you understand your heating usage and learn ways to optimize your consumption potentially. Some programs even have incentives for renters who take advantage of conservation/efficiency offerings.
Next, review your bank and credit card statements to look at your other recurring bills. Can you find any wiggle room by canceling subscriptions you don’t frequently use? Any areas you can scale back on will help free up cash to apply to your heating bill.
Also, keep in mind that some bills might actually decrease in the winter. If you’re like me, you’re spending less on dining out and entertainment in the winter, because some nights are so cold, you just don’t want to be out braving the elements. If your electric bill is separate from your heating, you may find that this has also declined since you’re not using air conditioning.
After taking a holistic look at your expenses, consider establishing a separate “winter heating bill” account and adding a modest amount per week to it over the course of the year. You can then use this accrued savings to offset the more expensive winter months, lessening the overall burden when the time comes.
Understand your payment options
Explore prepayment options with your heating service provider. Many energy companies offer payment options where you can estimate usage and prepay the heating costs all at once (and lock in current oil and gas prices—which could work for or against you). Other arrangements allow you to budget by spreading out the costs over 12 months, aiming to equalize your heating bill all year long. This will help you plan and not be faced with a surprise bill. Be sure to estimate and crunch the numbers, though, to make sure this is cost-effective for you in the long run.
Lastly, be creative in how you consume heat in the first place. Can you easily eliminate any drafts? The Department of Energy has an entire list of problem areas to check out and seal to conserve energy and reduce your bill. Also, consider lowering the heat in a section of your home that’s unoccupied during the day, or while you sleep. If you can bear it, turn the thermostat down (but high enough to preserve your pipes, of course) and bundle up.
Ariel is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professional who believes that good financial advice starts with asking the right questions and determining how each Grownup personally defines success.