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Apparently, more than 1/3 of Americans are struggling with bills. In a survey, Bankrate found that 39% of respondents chose “Getting or staying current on bills” as their top financial priority. That was ahead of saving money and paying down debt.
Clearly, people are still struggling, which doesn’t speak well of many Americans’ chances of weathering the next recession unscathed.
So what can they do?
Average the bills
Sometimes you get behind (or barely keep up) simply because you get whammied with a huge electric or gas bill. This can be in either the summer or winter (depending on what climate you live in), but a $300 to $400 bill can be quite a shock to the financial system — one that you might not be able to absorb.
It’s easier to plan for the same amount each month, so check with your utilities company to see if it offers averaged billing. Sometimes, the provider will base your bills on past years’ usage to predict a steady amount each month. This ensures that you know exactly how much the bill is going to be every month, which can be a great boon for the budget.
For example, I pay just under $135 for electricity every month. Now, that sucks when I’m barely using electricity (about $50-60 worth) in the winter. But it’s great in the summer when my bills would otherwise be $250. It makes budgeting a lot easier to be sure.
And if your utility company won’t average your bill? Do it yourself. Just put aside extra money in the cheap months for use in the big-bill months.
Cut the bills
It’s pretty obvious that if you can lower your bills, you’ll at least stay current — and hopefully even get ahead. Some of these are old tips, but some might be new or worth a second look:
Trim the electric bill:
- Get a smart thermostat
- Put on a sweater and turn the thermostat down (or take off some clothes and turn it up, if you’re in a hot climate).
- Know your peak and off-peak hours.
- Unplug appliances (even small ones) unless they’re in use.
- Check out Arcadia Power through Swagbucks (1,000 SB). This company purportedly can help you save on your utility bill. It doesn’t work with my utility company, so I couldn’t investigate much about it. But it’s worth a look, right?
- If you’re low income, see if you qualify for assistance. Most utility companies have some sort of plan that will lower bills for low income customers.
- If you’re low income, check out the Low Income Home Energy Assistance program.
- If you’re behind on your bills, check with local charities (including religious organizations — even ones you don’t belong to) to see if they offer assistance.
Trim the water bill
- If it’s yellow let it mellow.
- Put a brick or water-filled soda bottle in the toilet tank to decrease the amount of water used with each flush.
- Get a water-efficient showerhead.
- Listen to music in the shower so that you’re more aware of how long you’re in there.
- Ladies, turn off the water while you shave your legs. (You can turn it on briefly as needed to rinse the razor.)
- Get a bucket from the dollar store and save shower or bath water to use on any garden you have.
- If you have sprinklers, only use them after sunset.
- Again, if you get behind on bills, local organizations may help cover them. Religious organizations in particular tend to have assistance programs for just such cases.
Trim your cell phone bill
Switch to Mint Mobile for $15/month service (up to 3 GB of data), $20/month (up to 8 GB) or $25 (up to 12 GB). Be sure to go through Mr. Rebates for $15 cash back. So far, I’m very happy with my Mint service!
Mint uses T-Mobile. If you’re not a fan of that network, get a CDMA SIM card from Ting, which uses Sprint. (The company uses T-Mobile for its GSM SIM cards, so be sure to get the CDMA card if for some reason you want to avoid T-Mobile.)
Ting is a pay-for-what-you-use service. So, while more expensive than Mint, the service should still save you hundreds a year over a traditional carrier unless you’re a very heavy data user. Go through Mr. Rebates for $18 cash back.
If you have a non-Apple phone, you can also check out Republic Wireless. Plans start as low as $12.50 and go up to $40 per month. The only downside is that you get less data than you would with Mint and may pay more. If you sign up for Republic, go through Mr. Rebates for 2% cash back.
If you prefer unlimited plans, check out Boost Mobile where you can get four lines of unlimited talk/text/data for $25 per month. (It’s also on Mr. Rebates at 5% cash back.)
Cut your cable bill
It’s a great time to switch away from cable or satellite TV.
Swagbucks periodically (but still pretty regularly) gives 3,500 SB for Hulu sign-ups. That’s the equivalent of $35 for a $5.99 service! (Don’t want to sign up for Swagbucks? You can still get $5 back through Mr. Rebates. But… C’mon — $35!)
Mr. Rebates offers a $15 Amazon gift card for signing up for an Amazon Prime membership. At $119 a year, you’re paying just $9.62 a month and getting free shipping to boot!
But perhaps there are certain cable channels you can’t live without, like ESPN. In that case, check out SlingTV. Even the most expensive package is still only $40 a month. That’s a significant savings over cable.
But maybe you have a cable/satellite contract that you’re hesitant to break. Be sure to do the math because it may still be a better deal for you to break it and switch. Call the company and find out what you’d pay, then compare it to your savings. Chances are, the savings will quickly outweigh the penalty.
Determined to keep your cable/satellite? At least call the company and see if there’s any incentives customer service can offer you to stay.
If not, check out the competition and see if you can get a better deal there once your current contract is up. And if you end up switching to DISH, check out Mr. Rebates, which has a $75 rebate for the company.
Trim your grocery/drugstore bill
Of course, the best ways to save at the grocery store are to plan your meals around sales, stock up when prices are low and stick to the list you wrote before you smelled those delicious baked goods.
But there are now several ways to save even more.
Most stores now offer digital coupons, which can be loaded to your loyalty card. This makes saving at the grocery store/drugstore easy, while eliminating the need for a newspaper subscription.
If you don’t mind dealing with paper coupons, get the Sunday edition of the newspaper from the dollar store. In addition, print off coupons from Coupons.com. (Bonus: You can get points for printing and for using those coupons if you go through Swagbucks.)
And of course, if you haven’t tried Ibotta, you’re missing out. You’ll get an automatic 10 cents just for uploading a receipt each week. But you can also check for rebates on products you plan on buying and add items easily. After you’ve made your purchase, just take a picture of the receipt, and you should be credited almost immediately.
If you haven’t already joined Ibotta, please consider using my referral code — nimjwra — when you sign up.
Similar apps include Checkout 51, Dosh, ShopKick and Fetch Rewards. I haven’t personally tried these, so I can’t vouch for their effectiveness. But both Dollar Sprout and Well-Kept Wallet recommend them, which is generally a good sign.
Hustle (even with limitations)
Of course, struggling with bills isn’t just about carelessness. With this country’s stagnating wages — and a low minimum wage — you may have already trimmed the utilities (and budget) as far as they’ll go.
In that case, I’m afraid the only option is to find a way to bring in more money. The good news is that almost everyone can hustle in some form.
If you’re healthy
Walk dogs for Rover. Drive for DoorDash, Uber, etc. (Be sure to check Swagbucks, which often offers large incentives — think $100+ — to sign up for those. Inbox Dollars is offering $20 to become an Instacart or Postmates driver.)
Also, check out all sorts of gig economy opportunities on the Steady app. This shows you all the side hustles in your area available at the moment, including work from home jobs.
Another good site for finding work in your area is Sidehusl.com. It considers itself a sort of Consumer Reports of side hustle companies and rates them according to things like ease of use, payout times, etc.
If you have limitations
If you have a chronic condition that zaps your energy and/or limits your mobility — or if you just don’t have the time for something as involved as Rover/Uber — consider something more home-based like selling on Poshmark or eBay. You can print out the labels at home and you can even schedule package pickups. Or if you’re more mobile, simply drop off the package at the post office without waiting in line.
Be sure to check Goodwill and Value Village/Saver’s on their half-price days. You could get a lot of stock very affordably, and the cheap days are easy to hit. Here in Phoenix, Saver’s has a half-price day every Monday and Goodwill has one every other Saturday.
Also, check out Rev, which has you transcribe audio files. It doesn’t pay spectacularly, but it’s decent money, which is sometimes all you can ask for.
Again, don’t forget to check the Steady app, since it also has work-from-home options.
If that’s too much
If those activities are beyond your abilities/resources, take surveys via Swagbucks or Survey Junkie. Both sites let you redeem points for gift cards or PayPal payments. (Survey Junkie also has the option of a direct bank transfer.)
Swagbucks has the added benefit of requiring just 2,200 SBs ($22 worth of points) for your first $25 GC each month. This does not include PayPal redemptions.
Are you able to stay up to date on bills? Have you tried any of these hacks?