Poverty 101. Chapter 1. Utilities

Beating the utility companies. Why the hell anyone thinks a utility bill over 100 bucks a month is acceptable is beyond me. But I am fortunate not to live in the insane regions of the country lol. None the less, I have to conserve as our income has not gone up in over three years- yet the friggin utility companies keep getting their yearly 9% increases. SO.


I unplug everything. EVERYTHING! If it is not in use, it is not plugged in. The only things that are always on are the freezer, fridge and waterbed. Microwave is only plugged in when it is in use. Same for the TV’s. Even our lamps are unplugged when they are not on. Even the stove- because it has electronic ignition. Unplugged unless I am using it. Washer and dryer the same- unplugged. Yes, it makes a huge difference. Our usage (and bill) was cut substantially. This winter I can throw the breaker for the chicken shed as there are no longer any animals out there. That should save some more. My electric bill is still under 100 a month.


We have natural gas- and things were looking like we might get a break- as we live in fracking country. NOT! All that precious resource, instead of going to US, is being sold to China and Japan. God Forbid they should build a cheap natural gas vehicle here.  I live in a very old farmhouse- and it has little insulation. SO. I use the plastic over the windows- the kind you buy in a kit and then shrink with a blow dryer. I hang a barrier at the top of the stairs to keep the heat down here. (We have radiators- and the only radiator upstairs is in the bathroom to keep the pipes from freezing.) The radiators are a pain to keep clean and dusted- but they work! I turn the heat all the way down to 55 at night.  As I mentioned above we have a waterbed (and cats lol) so do not need the heat on while sleeping. I turn the heat on in the morning, just high enough to bring the hot water all the way through the system- usually about a half hour. That warms the house enough. Then I turn it down to 62 for the rest of the day. We wear layers at all times in the winter and have lots of lovely throws. On days when the wind is blowing from the back of the house I close the kitchen door so the draft does not come through to the rest of the living area.  And of course I do bake and also cook things by the low and slow method and that helps to keep us warm.

We are planning on putting cold frames up against the back of the house next year. Those will help insulate the foundation while we wait for the snow and also give me an early start on some spring greens. The back of the house faces south- my kitchen is there- but it is also the direction from which the prevailing winds come. Bonus is we don’t even own an air conditioner and rarely need fans.

In winter I keep the shades down and the curtains closed, unless it is a sunny day. Then I open the shades on the sunny side of the house. Reverse in the summer, close the shades on the sunny side to keep the sun from heating the house.  I also use an old trick my Nana taught us. I open the bottom window on one side of the house and the top window on the other- it helps with the air flow. (Not a scientist so don’t ask me why lol)

Also, I have the gas and electric on a balanced budget plan. The electric bill recalculates twice a year, the gas quarterly. (Damn gas company- always raising their rates) It does make it easier though to know how much it is going to be each month. I read the bills every month and look for abnormalities in usage. The bill generally shows your usage per billing period for a year and you can request records for further back too. I have to keep an eye that the husband does not leave the switch on for the garage. No need for there to be power running there unless he is working on something.

My gas bill is under $100 a month as well. That budget thing is great! Before I switched to that, I would have sky high bills in winter and next to nothing in summer. This is better. All told though we are paying close to $2400 a year for lights and heat. UGH. How do single moms on minimum wage do it?


 Well not technically a utility I know- but still in the energy category.  We can not afford to buy newer vehicles that are more fuel efficient so we make do with the ones we have. As gas continues to skyrocket, we have of course had to cut back on other things. We never go to the movies, we don’t buy anything that is not an absolute necessity. And we plan trips. Appointments are lumped all in to one day as much as possible.  When we shop, it is on the way to or from work or another appointment. We try to keep the vehicles well maintained. Our local gas station has a loyalty card that gives us a three cent per gallon discount- and they normally take their price down another three cents on Tuesday- so we try to fill up then- as it is six cents off per gallon. Husband works close to the Ohio border, so I check their prices on line- and when they go way down he goes over the border to shop. Sometimes Ohio is .30 a gallon less than us, sometimes close to the same. That is a state tax issue I think. My mechanic puts and additive in twice a year that keeps the gas mileage just about where it was when I bought the car- 18 city, 28 highway. Husband drives an old Toyota Corolla and it gets even better mileage.

Phone, Internet and Cable

I unbundled these three and got rid of the home phone long ago. Our cable bill keeps creeping up- close to $60 a month just for basic! And it is that cheap because I get my internet from the same provider. Add the internet on top of that- another 35 a month and I don’t even get the highest speed.  And out here in bitter clinger land, there is only ONE cable provider. SO if we want TV – which husband does- they are it. Verizon is the only cell phone provider out here with reliable service (we have a LOT of hills that are high enough to block the signal when you are in the low places. Same reason an antenna for TV reception is not an option. Satellite tv is also a no go- when we get weather- which we get a LOT of- the signal dies.) I have heard NetFlix is the way to go- but our TV’s are ancient and don’t have the streaming capability. If things go the way I think, cable and internet will go- between the two that is a hundred bucks a month. When the Verizon contract runs out, I am going to one of the plans where I can pay a flat fee per month for unlimited talk, text and data. My Verizon bill is a bit over a hundred a month for two phones- with 500 shared minutes and unlimited text on mine. If I go with the prepaid ones- I can get one of the senior ones for the husband with talk only for around 25 and the one with text and talk for me for 45.  It is just so damn bizarre. I can pick up the prepaid ones at WalMart and the use the same Verizon towers. More importantly, the prepaid ones don’t carry the same taxes and fees as the contract ones. PA taxes the shit out of cell phones (luxury tax?) Plus the 911 fees and assorted other Fed and State taxes. Tacks almost 20 bucks a month onto the bill.

I sure wish we could cherry pick which stations we buy from cable. All the Channels I like are on the pay extra plan- so I watch only the news and a few movies and NCIS. The History Channel turned into red neck central- what the hell do alligator hunters have to do with history?

What tricks and tips do you have to contribute to beating the utility companies?

About ProudMilitaryMom

Poverty survivor!
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62 Responses to Poverty 101. Chapter 1. Utilities

  1. Next chapter will be food frugality. Maybe even some recipes lol.

  2. myiq2xu says:

    As far as saving on electricity, there are two things to consider.

    1. Low usage/long time: You already addressed this when you talked about unplugging stuff. Nowadays just about everything that is plugged in is burning a little juice. It may not be much, but it adds up. A few cents an hour per device, multiple devices, burning juice 24/7/365. $.50 per day is $15.00 per month.

    2. High usage/short time. These are the appliances that really burn thru the juice. Clothes dryers, blow dryers, space heaters, ovens, stoves, microwaves – when you turn them on your electric meter starts spinning fast. If you can reduce the amount of time you use them by just 5 minutes a day it can make a big difference.

    • YES! I have lines in the basement for hanging clothes too. Some things just suck up a huge amount of electricity to dry- bath towels and the like, so I hang them.
      Funny on the oven- ours is nat gas- but that electronic ignition is always on if it is plugged in- so I pull the plug when I am done using it. I don’t need the clock on it- I have a kitchen clock that runs on batteries.

      • myiq2xu says:

        If you have a dishwasher turn off the dry cycle and let stuff air dry.

        • Good one- though I do not own one. My sis moved into an apt- and the landlord installed a brand new dishwasher- Supposed to be energy efficient. Right. It took over an hour to run the cycle- without the dry cycle. She used it once and never again. Had the brother who is a master electrician come in an put the thing on its own breaker and then shut the breaker off. Useless thing.
          Plus before my disability I was a restaurant manager. Dishwashers are notoriously filthy things- and most home units do not get to a high enough temp to kill bacteria. Nasty the stuff that grows invisibly in those home units.
          My Mom asked for a dishwasher once- My Dad pointed to us and said- “You have four!”

        • elliesmom says:

          A clothes dryer with a sensor that shuts off the dryer when the clothes are dry saves energy, too. You can choose how dry you want the clothes to be. I used to set the timer on the old dryer for an hour, but the new dryer usually shuts off at 40 minutes or so. If you keep opening the dryer to see if your clothes are dry, you lose valuable heat if they’re not. Now before I open the door, I know the clothes are dry.

      • elliesmom says:

        My electrical outlet for my gas stove is down behind it. The stove weighs 700 lbs. It gets to use all of the electricity it wants. lol

    • swanspirit says:

      Our co-op sends email notices of PEAK TIMES , when it is most expensive to use power. I do laundry and sometimes cook at off hours . Peak times are usually 5PM – 8PM in the evening , when everyone is home awake and cooking , and on weekends 3PM-7PM
      I also have seriously lowered my bill with a small space heater, that has a built in thermostat .It shuts off when it reaches the temp you set . I have been able to lower my house thermostat since I use the space heater , and my bill has been staying around $100 / month .

  3. Here in PA we are charged on our electric bill for future installation of the damn smart meters like they have in CA. I don’t need one and I don’t want one- but there it is- the envirofreaks forced it into a bill. So someday down the road the electric company will be able to brown us out at will,
    I reduced my electric bill by half with the strategies listed above. The electric company thought I had a faulty meter- so they came out and installed a new one. NOT a smart meter (those are not on line here yet thanks be to god) Now I will be way way way down the list for the smart meters when they are finally forced on us. heh.

  4. Elliesmom- good point on the newer dryers with the sensors. My dryer is ancient- and given the horrible experience I had with buying a new washer- I think I will just try to keep the old dryer alive as long as possible!
    The new washer sucks. It needed repaired after only having it for a month. The same part has been replaced three times now. It is supposedly energy efficient, but takes an hour to do a load of wash as opposed to the old, non electronic one that took about 30 minutes. It does not save one single minute of drying time either. I hate the damn thing. And we are on the lookout at local auctions to find an old one with no electronic parts.
    Who had the bright idea to put electronic parts in a machine that fills with water? PLASTIC parts no less!
    The old washers that lasted twenty years were far superior to the new junk made in China.
    Gotta run to church- bbl

  5. DeniseVB says:

    Our big juice suckers are the heat pumps (2 zone), changing the filters often and having a maintenance agreement that includes tuneups before the busy summer and winter seasons helps them run more efficiently. It’s also an insurance policy for extreme weather, if one breaks down during hot or cold days, we get a priority house call at no charge, 24/7. I like to call it a peace of mind policy 😉

    Ceiling fans in every room let’s us keep the summer settings higher too. Our kwh rates double in the summer.

    We also benefit from passive solar and deciduous trees, our heat rarely goes on in the winter, especially on sunny days.

  6. angienc says:

    Hey DM

    I left you 2 replies in the other thread to your “response” to me — which you wrote AFTER I told everyone I was going to bed — I don’t want you to miss them, so please make sure you read them.

    Long story short: when you don’t know what the word “insolvent” even means you should refrain from espousing on why a company liquidates assets, but you should especially refrain from “explaining” how bankruptcy proceedings are *profitable* for investors.

    For the love of god.

    • gram cracker says:

      For some time now I’ve been wondering what topic, if any, DM wouldn’t feel a need to “explain” to us unenlightened, misinformed rubes.

      Used to be in a car pool that had an “expert” that could pontificate upon any subject. For fun some of us used to bring up random topics just to see if there was any subject in which he didn’t feel a need to dominate the conversation. Being a stereotypical big city New Yorker type he never could just go along for the ride and let others do most of the talking. He never did catch on that we were setting him up and laughing behind his back.

  7. FYI, you can turn any TV into a Netflix streaming TV with a device called Roku. You can buy it for about $80 new, or cheaper if you can find it on eBay or Craigslist. They just came out with a brand new model, so I’d look right after Christmas. You can stream Netflix and more on it right to your TV. There is no monthly charge on it, you just have to buy the Netflix subscription.

    We’re lucky in the gas department. Kroger offers a deal where for every $100 you spend in groceries, you can get 10 cents off a gallon, up to a $1. Then they sometimes run specials on gift cards where they offer double or quadruple points for those. When they run that special I buy Kroger cards and Starbucks cards, and if we’re planning to eat out (not often) whatever gift card for that restaurant. Right now we have over a 1,000 points, so I’m taking both vehicles up later today to fill them both up for a $1 off a gallon.

    We put plastic up over our windows this year. Got one more big window to go, which we’ll do tomorrow.

    Good stuff, PMM.

    • Thanks for the info Lola- I really need to get rid of cable.
      One of our local grocery stores offers a similar deal on gas- but I have found their prices for groceries to be about 10 to 15% higher than the other choice we have. When they run the special on the gift cards, I do that though. Buy a lot of Christmas and birthday gifts when they have that special.
      We are not lucky enough to have a Kroger’s here- I have shopped in them though and thought they were competitive.

      • We went cable-free last year during baseball season (sorry, Myiq), but hubby had a fit when football season came around, so we had to get it again. I wish you could just order, like, five channels for a reduced fee each month. I can live without a 100 channels of crap. We just watch our locals, ESPN, AMC, and Showtime basically.

  8. piper says:

    good thread and suggestions – close interior doors and shut heating vents in room not being used.

  9. tommy says:

    My utilities are way cheaper cos I reside in a foreign country. Electricity is never over $20/month. Don’t need heating at all. I live in a city thats got excellent public transportation, so I hardly use my car (on weekends only). My transportation charges would max amount to $60/month. Phone, net & cable would cost me another $12/month. With additional expenses of the maid manually washing the clothes and cleaning and swabbing my place, I max spend $110/month.

    • Jessie Britton says:

      as more employers reduce hours of work to 29 hours or less to avoid obamacare, they will also hire more at 29 hours or less to replace those hours This will show increases in the employment numbers and drive down the under employment number. This will make the numbers look good, but they will all be making less money per week, plus being part time, they might also lose some other benefits.

    • Did I read that correctly? Brought the unemployment number down to 10.1%????
      WTF? And this state voted for more of the same?

    • lorac says:

      After the California Employment Development Department made an announcement that federal benefits for as many as 400,000 unemployed Californians could end on December 29, California’s unemployment dropped in October as more Californians looked for — and found — work.

      I think this was the point of the story. Studies over many years always show that a large number of people on UI wait until their benefits are about to expire to find a job they want to have (in the meantime, they apply for jobs they know they won’t get to meet UI requirements of a job search). The good news is that even in this economy, they’re able to find work now that their benefits are ending…

      • Lorac! Hiya!
        Yes, they found work- now that benefits are running out- but what kind of work? Part time, lower wages? Or comparable to their previous employment?
        And ten percent unemployment? TEN PERCENT? That is incredibly high. How come this was not played nightly on the news?
        Oh wait. Never mind.

        • lorac says:

          PS I thought of you when I wrote that, because I know you went right back to looking for work after being released from your injury!

          I think UI here pays .67 of the person’s former wage, so I hope that if they’re stuck with one of those downsized jobs (formerly FT, now PT) that they’re at least at .67 and not losing even MORE ground! It’s just that, UI lasts, how long now, 2 years….? Now that’s it, there’s no more money for them, so I’m glad at least a lot of them are finding SOMEthing! On a systems level, it’s terrible that Obama’s “fixes” are making things worse for people – but on an individual level, I’m glad many are finding some work – vs. no income at all.

        • LOL Lorac- yup. Here I be making next to nothing- but at least I can show active, current employment on the resume while I look for more!

  10. foxyladi14 says:

    I have a clothes dryer with a sensor that shuts off the dryer when the clothes are dry saves energy, too. Got it at a thrift store almost 30 years ago.Lady Kenmore i love it. 🙂

  11. HELENK says:

    where I live, water is the most expensive thing . I use dishwater to water plants. Put a bucket in shower to catch extra water to use on plants. Do not let water run unnecessarily

    Since I am the only one here no lights are on in rooms I am not in. things are unplugged when not in use. Do have overhead fans.

    thanks for all the tips

    • Helen- good point- we are so blessed to be on a well- even though our water is super hard. I do save the water from dishwashing for the garden- nothing beats soapy water to kills aphids lol! I don’t run water unnecessarily as one is never sure when you have a well. Best to conserve!
      We also do not have municipal trash here and I refuse to pay what the private company wants for trash removal. Garbage goes in the compost, recyclables I take once a week to the drop off, leftover proteins go to the dog and all else is burned.
      (Yes we are still allowed to burn trash here) Our county does not even require emissions inspection for vehicles the air is so good here. Just the safety inspection.

  12. swanspirit says:

    If I could afford it , I would add a windmill generator and solar panels and go off grid as much as possible . I estimate that annual energy costs for me run at least $1200 – $1800 , and for that investment , I could go almost completely off grid , and save that much every year after . What a thought! How long until so many people figure this out and do it . There should be a way to finance that kind of investment , it isn’t that much .
    You can buy them
    build them
    add partial solar to begin
    even home depot has alternative choices
    I so want to do this !
    I think the future of energy is in individual applications . I sometimes envision most homes as individual energy independent units , energy and water and waste recycle independent . All of that built rightinto the home at construction .I wonder sometimes , if all those homes built during the housing boom had been required to include solar panels and energy production systems , with the cost built into the cost of selling the home , how much of an energy cost crisis would have been avoided .

    • We could easily run a windmill here- alas- the cost of permitting is beyond what we could afford. Have to get permission from every neighbor that abuts us, AND from any who could see it. Permits from Zoning. Permits from the people who issue building permits. Inspections. Fight the electric company to make them purchase the excess.
      The govt- fed, state and local- make it hard.

      • swanspirit says:

        Cheez Louize what a nightmare . An individual windmill is less offensive aesthetically than the satellite dishes . And they are quiet . Why the obstacles? Government doesn’t really want people energy independent ? Lost in the bureaucracy and unfamiliarity ? Sheer stupidity !

        • Indeed. We have neighbors over the past ten years that have gas rigs (not fracking ones)- the permitting process for those is even worse. One is across the road and up the street about a half mile. They had to get our permission AND test our water.

        • lorac says:

          A lot of our cell phone towers are made to look like palm trees – but they don’t really succeed lol – obviously fake

    • Propertius says:

      I put in a 5kW solar system a little over a year ago. It should pay for itself in about 8 years – and I must admit that I do enjoy getting a check from the utility company most months. I sunk about 6k into weatherizing and insulation improvements that have cut heating and A/C pretty significantly as well.

  13. swanspirit says:

    Uh Oh my previous post is in moderation , must be the multiple links sorry 😦

  14. Simofish says:

    We live in CA right now. With PG&E you can track your usage. Two things are energy hogs. 1) TV 2) Computer — we always keep the TV turned off when not in use and turn the computers off at night. — Well, don’t tell the Mrs but I sometimes don’t turn off my work computer at night.

    Once we did this – our energy bill dropped considerably.

    We installed a gas insert with a blower into our fireplace. HUGE difference. Natural Gas is cheaper then electricity. It heats up the whole downstairs.

    I can’t wait for the recipe post !!! I love cooking.

  15. swanspirit says:

    I just looked at Home Depot , there are kits that are grid connected and expandable
    Adding accessories and mounting would probably total the cost for a system the size I would need would be about $8000 to installed and running .


    This kit can generate between 2,150kWh and 5,040kWh of electricity per year. The specs say this is half the watts used per annum for a 1200 sq foot home . My monthly wattage is about 600 per month , which totals 7200 kwh / year , so it would be much more than half in fact almost all .

    $8000 financed over say 5 years would be monthly payments about the equivalent of my current electric bill bill , and in 5 years , no more bill ! I would love that !
    If the costs of these systems comes down at all , many many more people will be figuring this out . And can you imagine the sale appeal of a home with LITTLE TO NO ELECTRIC BILL?? woohoo

    • DeniseVB says:

      They’re about to start a revolution over on twitter, uncovered some interesting “tricks” during the recount, like 900 votes cast in a precinct with 7 registered voters?


  16. gram cracker says:

    Love how this hybrid technology is coming out of a state university in the south. It isn’t just universities like MIT that lead innovation.

    A group of Tennessee researchers and graduate students are changing the face of fuel economy. They are designing a unique, plug-in hybrid retrofit kit that works on any vehicle on the road, potentially saving those who make the investment 50-100 percent on in town fuel costs.

    The system is compact using electromagnets which fit between the back wheels and the brakes. Dr. Charles Perry at Middle Tennessee State University has built a prototype from a decade-old Honda Accord which he has converted to a fuel-efficient hybrid vehicle.

    “It’s a relatively low powered solution — just for use in town” Perry said. “Low power means lower cost, lower components and batteries that don’t have to be as big. The controllers don’t have to be so robust — all of that gives us low cost and simplicity which we think will give us an edge in the market.”


  17. britgirls says:

    I grew up in a drafty house with single glazed windows. It was really cold and damp all the time. We always used hot water bottles in bed and to stop drafts gusting under the doors we used draft excluders. They’re easy to make … usually a snake or a Dachshund type of stuffed animal shape:


  18. HELENK says:

    another off topic


    the nailed bush to the wall over Katrina, and rightly so.
    where is the outrage over this?????????

  19. anony says:

    OMG! THANK YOU, proudmilitarymom! this is exactly the BRILLIANT info we need to get through & prepare for what’s on the horizon. I cannot thank you enough for addressing these seemingly simple things that make our scarce resources fly out the window & into the pockets of the greedhead corporations!
    next up are pulsed magnet generators (or some other tesla inspired variation) that frees us from dependence on oil, propane & gas once & for all!

  20. Working on the food tips chapter.
    Just remember, when you are prepping for that turkey- keep all the veggie trimmings for the stock lol!

  21. yttik says:

    Fabulous advice! Don’t let me discourage anybody from their creativity, I just need to say again that, darnit, this is one of the the richest countries in the world and people should not have to hang blankets and only put the heat on to keep the pipes from freezing! An elderly friend of mine who has seen it all likes to say, “WTH is this, WW2?” She grew up with no electricity, no radios, air raids, rationed food, everyday a struggle just to meet your basic needs. Now when we have a storm and the power goes out, she always says, “WTH is this, WW2?” He point is a good one, this is not a third world country, we aren’t in a war zone, people should expect to be able to provide themselves with some creature comforts. If we aren’t able to, somebody needs to step up and explain why.

    I’m married to a contractor, so luckily we have lots of insulation and really good windows. The windows heat the house all day long and keep the heat inside just from the light bulbs and the appliances that are already running. We don’t even put heat on until it drops below 30 outside.

    • Lucky you not putting the heat on til it is under 30! I agree though- there is something seriously wrong when so many are searching for and implementing creative ways to save. I am very thankful my grandmother and my parents told the old stories about the Depression- I have lots of ideas to implement.
      Very sad- my grandparents were brought here by their parents to escape the hardships of life in the Europe of the late 19th and early 20th century. To have a better life for their descendants. How sad they would be to see how far America has fallen.
      Though even if I was the poorest person in this country I am still more fortunate than 99% of people living on this big blue marble.

  22. soupcity says:

    I love these posts PMM!
    We use the plastic on the windows and shut off any rooms and the heating vents to them all winter. Also use the budget plans on gas and electric bills. Really helps for winter heating bill in this drafty old house.

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