― Thomas Browne.
When I volunteered answering the phone for 211, if there was someone that I couldn’t provide referrals to or, they exhausted their service options in their particular community, I would brainstorm with them trying to find ways they could save money. If they could save money from one area of their budget and expenses, they could then divert funds to other more important areas of their budget. Many people are not willing to give anything up, however. Some people, for instance, would rather spend $70 or $150 per week on cigarettes rather than pay their heating bill. That’s another problem altogether. Here are some tips to save money:
In the winter, turn your thermostat down. If you are home during the day, 60 – 65 degrees can be very comfortable, especially if you wear two or three layers and there are no children, elderly or sick people in your house. If you absolutely need or want to be warmer, so be it. But, turn the thermostat down when you are gone for the day or when you sleep at night. I turn my thermostat down to 55 when I go to bed because I like sleeping in a cool room. I have several layers of blankets on top of me and I often wake up sweating and I find myself peeling off a layer or two. I know someone who keeps his heat set at 75 degrees day and night, whether he is home or not. He is always complaining about his heating bill. At night, it is often too warm for him to sleep so he has a fan pointed at his bed to keep him cool. Who does he blame for his high utility bills? The utility company and the economy. Instead of heating wisely, he puts in for overtime at work.
Make sure your windows are not ciphering heat to the outside. If you can’t afford to replace your windows, get some window plastic from any hardware store and seal them yourself. If there are rooms you don’t use during the day or even rarely, such as a spare bedroom, turn off the heat or close the vents and doors to those rooms. I keep my bedroom door closed during the day and open it at night when I go to bed. There is no need to heat a room if you are not using it. There are grants to assist homeowners to winterize their homes if they qualify. Call 211 to find out about them or if they exist in your community.
Based upon your income and expenses, you may qualify for HEAP. This is a government subsidized program to assist people in paying their heating bill in the winter. The amount they may offer you varies from county and/or state. Qualification depends on a multiple of factors. I’m sure a brief internet search for HEAP and your state will provide all the details you need.
Buying clothing, shoes, accessories, some electronics and other merchandise from Ebay and China can save you a lot of money. Many of those vendors don’t charge for shipping or tax and, their prices tend to be lower than what you will find in your local US store to begin with. Many venders from China sell on Ebay or Aliexpress. Just make sure the vender you buy from has a good rating and has a strong history of sales and satisfied customers. My brand name laptop is priced at $800 in my local electronics superstore, I acquired it for $300 online. You can find many brand name products online for less money but keep in mind if it is too good to be true, it just might be. Be a wise consumer and do your research.
Don’t eat out. It is less expensive and healthier for you to buy and cook your own food. Also, shop at some of the discount markets and buy store brands. There is a discount market near me which has great produce. Their milk is priced at $2.37 a gallon while at the brand store it is $3.99 a gallon. This little market is actually an overstock store for a major supermarket so you are getting the same quality at less the price.
Would you be willing to pay $16 for a two liter bottle of soda? Of course not. But when you pay $2 for a glass of soda or a bottle or water at a restaurant, that is what you are paying. Don’t buy drinks at restaurants. If you shop around for sales, you can get brand name soda for as little as eighty eight cents for two liters. Ninety nine cents most of the time. Would you pay $50 for a salad? Of course not, but, you can buy six heads of Romaine lettuce for under $2.50 and make about 15 or 20 salads out of it. Don’t eat out or at fast food joints, either. It is not cost effective.
The same principle goes for coffee. For under ten bucks you can buy a can of coffee and make your own before you leave for work. A few pounds can yield about 250 cups. That will cost you over $500 at your local drive through coffee house. Would you pay $500 for a can of coffee grounds?
Cancel your garbage pick up. If you bag your trash on a daily basis, crush the cans and shred the paper, well packed trash takes up very little space and you can deposit small portions of it in garbage cans found everywhere such as gas stations, markets, work, school, etcetera. Burning is not allowed in most jurisdictions but safely lighting up your daily paper waste each day is not like igniting a raging fire once a week. I have a smoker and use my paper waste to start my fires. I also go for walks and collect small chunks of wood for smoking, saving on the cost for propane.
Another key factor here is to minimize the trash you bring into the house. Cancel junk mail and catalogs you don’t use. Don’t bring paper waste into the house in the first place. Another option is to talk to your neighbor. If they pay for trash pick up, maybe you can make a deal to share the service and split the bill?
Free internet is everywhere. If you need to be connected 24 hours per day, can you wirelessly connect with a neighbor and split the bill?
What about “cutting the cable” and eliminate cable TV? Do you need all those channels? Do you find yourself watching the major networks which are actually free to begin with? Why would you pay for something that is free? If you have a newer TV (since 2008), you don’t need a converter box and can probably pick up the major stations with just an antenna and then you can eliminate your cable bill. Many of your favorite shows are available for free online the next day anyway and you can watch them at your leisure.
Ultimately you would be better off if you didn’t have television at all. Calculate how many hours you spend per day or week watching TV. Now imagine what you could accomplish with that time if it were spent pursuing a hobby, exercising, with your children, with friends, sitting on the stoop with neighbors, reading or cleaning the house. Buddha once said that in order to find enlightenment, one must chop wood and carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood and carry water. You won’t find much enlightenment watching TV.
When closing accounts to your cable or trash pick-up, make sure you have your very first bill. There are many companies who when you open an account, will charge you in advance for the first month. Say for instance that I open a cable account on January 1. They will charge me for the first month and around the middle or end of the month I will get a bill for February. At the end of February I will get a bill for March. After several years of service, one may forget that they are paying in advance of receiving the service. Unless your bill states the pay period, as most do, you may forget about your advancement and the company may trick you into paying for the current month when you close the account. Let’s say halfway through the month of April you decide to cancel your account and forgot that your March payment WAS for April but the company may say that since fifteen days have elapsed into the month, you owe them for the fifteen days of service. Knowing the day you opened the account and that you paid in advance might save you from overpaying and giving the company additional money. The company can get around this by changing your due date at some point, “for administrative purposes.” This tactic can complicate your argument should you challenge them on it. That is why you should at least keep the first bill and any bills relating to changes in your account due dates and pay periods.
If times are really tough, there are a couple of free cell phones offered by the government. Assurance Wireless is one. You don’t get many minutes, about 300 per month but, the phone is completely free. If you qualify for HEAP and several other government offerings, you would qualify for this. It is perfect to help get you through the tough times or eliminate an unnecessary bill. If you have internet access, Google offers a free “voice over internet phone (VOIP). All you need is a Gmail account and then sign up for the free phone. You’ll get your own number and it is completely free. It is not the same as a cell phone but you will save a lot of money each month, money you could spend on heat or food. It is best to not allow yourself to lapse into a downward spiral of debt in the first place. I was raised – If you don’t have the cash, you can’t have it.
If you are truly poor, you have probably been in contact with the Department of Social Services and already know what you qualify for regarding health care but keep in mind that many hospitals offer charity care programs. Call your local hospital and ask if they provide that service. Hospitals are businesses and they are discovering that it is less expensive for them to prevent illness than it is for an uninsured person to come in when the illness becomes chronic or worse and the uninsured person can’t pay the hospital for expensive treatments and service.
Finally, call 211 and ask them for assistance in finding organizations who may help you with paying your specific bills. 211 ONLY makes referrals and many of the organizations they refer you to may be tapped out already, but, it doesn’t hurt to ask.
Something else to keep in mind when calling 211, be patient as some of the call specialists may have to ask you personal questions which you may be embarrassed to answer or don’t think are relevant, but, they are. For instance, say you need assistance paying for your dog’s vet bill. You may be ashamed, insulted or think it irrelevant to be asked if you or anyone in your household has HIV but there are organizations who will pay your vet bill but only if you are afflicted with that particular disease. The same thing is true for military veterans, or if one is living in your household. Other stipulations may include income, age, gender, sexual orientation or race. You may not think that is relevant but to the organization offering the free service, they do. Some organizations will only assist you with your utility bills if you have children or elderly people in your household. Others, only if you don’t. Be patient, answer the questions and let the database do the work of filtering out the services you may qualify for. You don’t want 211 to refer you to a company only to find out that they won’t help you because you didn’t answer the questions up front.
Ultimately, if you can’t pay your bills and getting more work is not an option, you have to cut back someplace – unlike schools and town governments which don’t cut back – they just raise your taxes. If you don’t go to town or school board meetings and speak up about their wasteful spending and budget management, don’t blame them if your taxes go up. Not to act is to act.
Speaking of which, if you are having financial difficulty, write your elected officials. Of course they won’t do anything for you but, they need to know the difficulty their constituents may be having. If you have a Catholic education and don’t know how to contact your elected officials, go to this website: whoismyrepresentative.com – then type in your zip code to find out who you may or may not have voted for. Then contact them and let them know how they are doing and how you are doing. If your elected official doesn’t know you are having a problem, then there is no problem, right? We don’t truly live in a democracy if the silent majorly remains silent. Then the people who do speak up get to make the rules you then live by.
If I had my druthers, I’d make it so that nobody earned more than $30,000 per year, we all had a stay at home parent and for the working parent, more time was spent with family than at work. Our lives are backward. Instead of spending the best part of our day with our employers and our most exhausted time with those whom we love, we should reverse that. We could all learn from having less. Buddhist philosophy suggests that it is not happiness that makes us grateful, it is gratefulness which makes us happy. It is hard to be grateful when you have everything and in order to obtain everything, you have to give up everything.