cover image The ultimate guide to save on utility & household bills

The Ultimate Guide to Save on Utility & Household Bills

Yes, this is an electricity shopping site. But saving on electricity is only part of it. Most of our customers are looking for other ideas on how to reduce expenses and save money. When you focus on household bills, especially utility bills, you can drastically cut household expenses. That’s why we created this guide.

Unlike most tips lists, The Ultimate Guide to Save on Utility & Household Bills gets into the nitty-gritty of exactly how to do it, including how much money you can save.

Pick just one or two of these ideas and you are on your way to banking some serious home savings. Implement all the ideas? You’re a home genius.

Let’s get started.

How to Save $1,093 on Electricity in Just 5 minutes

How to Cut the Cord and Save $985 a Year on Cable

Get Out of Hot Water and Save on Your Natural Gas Bill

How to Lower Your Cell Phone Bill by $900

Save on Your Internet Bill and Pocket $600

How to Save on Your Water Bill by Not Being a Drip

Cut Money from Your Grocery Bill (Plus Save Time)

How to Save $1,093 on Electricity in Just 5 minutes

Electricity is so common to our everyday life. Our consumption of it is almost without thinking. But it powers all of our home comforts, from our heating and cooling, refrigeration, entertainment.  And it’s a big part of your home bills. We ran the numbers. Here’s how you can save around $1,000 a year on your electricity.

Figure Out Where You Use Electricity

You use most of your electricity in heating and cooling your home.

Sure, there are other things to focus on, and lots of articles with ideas about LED bulbs, ceiling fans and electricity vampires. There are even articles on how to save on your electricity bill with aluminum foil! But 50% of your electricity spend is on heating and cooling your home. Focusing on that half of the bill lets you zero in on some specifics.

There are some free and easy things you can do to lower your heating and cooling costs. First, make sure the outdoor equipment is free of mulch, weeds or other debris. Second, change your AC filters regularly; this reduces strain on the system. Third, have your air conditioning system serviced regularly. This can keep you from having to make an expensive service call at the peak of heating or cooling system.

But we find the two biggest ways to reduce your heating and cooling costs are to install a wifi smart thermostat, and shop for electricity.

Install a WiFi Thermostat to Reduce Usage

A smart wifi thermostat can save you 23% or more on your heating and cooling. And 50% of your electricity usage is in heating and cooling. So you could cut your total electricity usage by 10%!

Thermostats that we like are the Nest Learning Thermostat, the Ecobee3 Lite Smart Thermostat and the Ecobee4 Smart Thermostat. Some electricity companies even bundle these thermostats with their electricity plans.

Yes, you will pay a slightly higher price for your electricity plan. But you get a free thermostat that would normally cost $150-$250, and if you use it correctly, you will cut your electricity bill by 10% overall.

How do wifi smart thermostats save you money on your electricity bill? They learn how and when your family uses the heating and air-conditioning in your home, program themselves, and adjust automatically. They can also predict how much heating or cooling your home will need based on the day’s weather forecast and adjust your thermostat accordingly. And, you can adjust your thermostat remotely, from your smart phone.

You can also participate in what’s called “demand response” programs. With these programs, you allow your electricity company to adjust your thermostat on days when electricity demand is expected to be very high. You’ll earn rebates on your bill for participating.

Installation of these devices can be tricky if you don’t have the proper wiring in your home. If you have an older home, you may want to pay an electrician to install the thermostat. Or watch a YouTube video to make sure you have the installation down pat.

Shop for Electricity

If you are in a state where electricity is deregulated, like Texas, Ohio or Connecticut, you can shop for an electricity supplier. Deregulation separates your electricity delivery from your electricity supply. You can purchase your electricity supply from any state-approved supplier and it’s delivered with the same reliability.

Shopping for an electricity provider can literally take just 5 minutes. All you need is your zip code on ElectricityPlans.com. Then view available plans and make a selection. Want to know more about shopping for electricity in Texas? We’ve written the “book” on it — The Definitive Guide to Shopping for Electricity in Texas. Don’t worry, it’s a quick read!

There are plans available with free electricity on nights or weekends, and plans that include free stuff, like a smart wifi thermostat.

Not in a deregulated area? Call your local electric utility company anyway. Ask about what energy efficiency programs they have. You may be able to score a home efficiency audit or a free A/C tune-up.

Savings by Installing a Wifi Thermostat and Shopping for Electricity

This example assumes you are in Texas, which is where we are based. 

  • Electricity Spend: $2,460 (15,000 kWh annually * 16.4¢/kWh)
  • Wifi Thermostat cost: free with certain electricity plans
  • Reduced Electricity Usage after thermostat: 13,275
  • Price per kWh after shopping: 10.3¢/kWh
  • Electricity Spend after Thermostat and Electricity Shopping:$1,367

Year One Electricity Savings: $1,093

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How to Cut the Cord and Save $985 a Year

You’ve probably heard the phrase a thousand times — cut the cord. The average home spends around $100 a month on cable or satellite TV. That’s $1200 a year that you could be saving. Here’s how to do it.

Figure Out What You Watch

First, make a list of what you watch. You may (or may not) be surprised at how few channels you are actually watching.

Once you have a list of what’s important to you, you can move on to the next step.

Pick An Alternative Device

Next, evaluate your options. These assume you have a TV that has an HDMI port.

  • Roku gives you the most channels available, and they range from things you’ve heard of to things you’ve never heard of.
  • Apple TV is a premium product and premium price, but if you are an i-fan, you’ll have access to any iTunes movies you’ve rented over the years, plus your Apple music, plus a number of free and subscription channels.
  • Amazon Fire Stick is super easy to set up, integrates with Amazon Alexa, and gives access to Amazon-exclusive content.

Pick a Streaming Service … or Not

The two most popular streaming subscription services are Netflix and Hulu. Both offer original content as well as access to movies and TV shows. And, both offer free trial subscriptions. Try them out before you buy a subscription. Each cost around $10-$12 a month.

If you have Amazon Prime at home and go with the Amazon Fire Stick, you will have full access to original Amazon content. You can add Netflix or Hulu to this, but you may not need to. Check out what you have access to and make the call. Speaking of making the call…

Make the Call

You have your backup plan in place. Now it’s time to cut the cord. You will need make that dreaded phone call. No one likes to be the one to break it off. Even if it’s no longer working for you. Be strong. Make the call.

Ok, seriously though, you will likely get passed to the retention department. They will try to talk you into keeping your plan and locking into a new contract. They may even offer to bundle something else into it, like internet.

Listen to their offer and think about it. If you are still going to be saving money by cutting the cord, even after the bundling “savings,” don’t take the bait.

What about Local TV and Sports?

Of course there are still the all important questions: can I watch local shows and sports.

Yes you can still watch local broadcast channels if you cut the cord.

Local broadcast TV networks are available over the air with a simple TV antenna. We’re not talking about the old fashioned rabbit ears. Today’s digital TV antennas are about 1/2 the size of a piece of notebook paper, and can pick up a signal attached to your window. The best part? They are around $20-$25.

Before you buy a digital TV antenna, make sure your TV has a digital tuner. If you bought it after 2007, you are all set. If you don’t know, look for an “antenna coaxial port” on the back of the TV.

And you can still watch sports. If it’s locally broadcast…see above. But if it’s only playing on ESPN, or not the local team, you will need to add on a subscription service. You can get access to sports through DirectTVNOW, SlingTV or HuluLIVE.  Really love football? NFL GamePass is only $99 a year for every game. Pass the chips.

Savings by Cutting The Cord

  • Cable or Satellite bill: $1200/year
  • One time cost of Amazon FireStick: $39
  • One time cost of digital antenna: $20
  • Amazon Prime Membership: $12.99/month

Total Year one savings: $985

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Get Out of Hot Water and Save on Your Natural Gas Bill

First up, take a little survey of what uses gas in your home. It’s probably your water heater, stove top, dryer, and your central heating. Maybe your fireplace and a grill….

Wait, go back. That water heater. That’s the item in your home that accounts for 17% of your natural gas bill according to Energy.gov. And that’s what we’re going to tackle with some super easy tips.

Lower Your Water Heater Thermostat

The quickest way to save on your water heating expense is to adjust the temperature on your water heater. Most people have it set too hot, wasting natural gas to keep it at that temperature even when it’s not being used.

When you use your hot water, you usually have to add some cold too, so it’s not scalding? Yup. Your water heater is set too high.

Lower the temperature on your water heater to 115-118°F. For every 10ºF reduction in temperature, you can save from 3%–5% on your water heating costs.

Reduce the Shower Flow

Switch to a low flow shower head. Yes this saves water, but it also saves on natural gas used to heat the water. This tip is especially important if you have an older home, since newer shower heads tend to be more efficient.

Want to see what your shower flow is? Turn on your shower at the normal water pressure you use. Then hold a 1 gallon bucket under the shower head and see how quickly it fills to the 1 gallon mark. If it takes less than 20 seconds to fill, you could benefit from a low-flow shower head.

A lot of hot water is going down the drain in your home.

  • The average shower flow rate is 2.1 gallons per minute.The average American shower water usage is 17.2 gallons with the average shower length being 8.2 minutes.
  • Imagine you have a home with 4 people in it, all taking a shower a day. That’s almost 70 gallons of water in showering.
  • Suppose that 60% of that water is hot water… and you have a 40 gallon water heater
  • Add in the dishwasher and washing machine and you’ll easily be heating a tank and a half every day.

The amount of natural gas needed to heat the water varies depending on how efficient your tank is.

Cold Water Wash

Lastly, use cold water in your washing machine. Unless your clothes are stained or oily, hot water may not be necessary. Even if you do wash with hot water, use a cold water rinse.

Rinse water has little effect on stain removal or cleaning; so cold water works just as well to rinse away detergents and suspended soil. Set the washer dial on cold rinse and leave it for every load. You’ll save money by not paying to heat the water.

Savings by Using Less Hot Water

Unlike the other tips listed here, we don’t show a specific savings for your natural gas bill.

Why? Because there are so many variations in water heating tank sizes and efficiencies.

But taking the steps above should reduce your water heating costs (which again, are around 17% of your gas bill) by 15-20%.

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How to Lower Your Cell Phone Bill & Save $900

Unless you really do talk, text and surf all day, you may not need that unlimited unlimited unlimited plan. And that means your phone is costing you way too much.

Why You May Not Need Unlimited

The unlimited plan sounds great when you sign up. $100 a month for fully unlimited. No worries! No restrictions! But, have you ever stopped to check just how much mobile data you are using each month? If you want to lower your cell phone bill, you need to know the answer.

With the availability of WiFi — in coffee shops, stores, at work, at home, etc — you may not be using as much mobile data as you think.

Check Your Data Usage

Log into your cell phone account or look at your latest bill and check how much data you’re actually each month—the results may surprise you.

You may only be using 5GB of data each month, but paying for an unlimited data plan. If this is the case, check out cell phone plans that offer less data each month. These plans cost significantly less than plans from major carriers.

Use WiFi Whenever Available

You can also keep your data use in check by using WiFi whenever available. Change your phone settings to look for available networks at all times.

If you have internet in your home, your internet service provider may have a public network that you can use on the go. For example, Xfinity has over 8 million hotspot locations across the country. All you need to access free WiFi is your online account information.

Shop for A Plan

You may be sticking with one of the bigger players — Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile.

Did you know that the smaller companies — like Boost, Cricket, and Mint — typically rent space on the big boys’ network? You may be able to get the same service level and coverage and lower your cell phone bill. For example, Mint currently offers unlimited talk and text, plus 8 GB of 4G LTE data.

Assuming you own your phone, you can switch to a new network by switching out the SIM card in your phone. (Need help? Ask a friendly teenager!)

If you are in a contract, talk to your current provider about switching from unlimited to a plan that’s more in line with your usage.

Since you’ve picked a plan that’s in line with your usage patterns (see above, Check Your Data Usage), you will want to monitor usage to avoid going over your plan. With most providers you can check that right on your phone.  You may also want to use a monitoring app to make it easier.

Consider Putting the Phone Down

We’re not your mom. We aren’t going to lecture you. But consider the benefits of using your phone less.

Better concentration: Your phone is a distraction. Researchers at the McCombs School of Business at The University of Texas at Austin studied nearly 800 smartphone users who took computerized tests which necessitated full concentration in order to score well. Participants were told to silence or turn off their smartphones and place them face down on the desk, in a pocket or personal bag or in another room. The people who kept their phones in another room significantly outperformed the ones who kept them nearby. Merely having a phone within reach makes it harder to focus because a percentage of the brain has to actively work to not pick up or use the device.

Better sleep: researchers at the University of California San Francisco calculated the amount of time spent looking at a phone screen within a 30 day period. On average, study participants spent 38 hours of smartphone screen time. People with longer screen times have poor sleep quality, take longer to fall asleep, and aren’t as rested when they wake up.

Relief from Tech Neck: Yup, it’s a thing. Your chiropractor will be sad not to see you as much. But your neck will thank you for putting down the phone.

Savings from Dropping Your Unlimited Unlimited

  • Unlimited Unlimited Plan with major carrier:  $100/month or $1200/year
  • 4G LTE plan with smaller carrier (our example is from Mint): $25/month or $300/year

Year One Savings: $900 (plus chiropractic co-pays)

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Save on Your Internet Bill and Pocket $600

We like things fast. Heck, the average attention span now is 8 seconds. And we like fast internet. And we’re using the internet for so much more now — gaming, streaming audio, streaming video, conference calls. But how fast do you need?

What’s a Mbps?

First off, what are we talking about with speed? Internet network speed is measured in megabits per second or Mbps. The more Mbps you have, the faster your internet.

Every piece of media or content on the internet uses a certain amount of data, most commonly seen measured in megabytes (MB) or gigabytes (GB).

  • 1 megabyte (MB) = 8 megabits (Mb)
  • 1 gigabyte (GB) = 1,000 megabytes (MB)

Some file types, such as text documents and PDFs, may take only a few MBs. But to download an HD movie can easily take 4 GB.

What do Most People Need

Internet packages today offer Gigabit speed (1000 Mbps) or higher for around $89 a month. But you probably don’t need that much.

One gigabit package promoted online promises extreme speed. They say, “With 12+ devices, enjoy the speed needed to power heavy-usage activities across all devices simultaneously.” Is that you?

According to Angie’s List, if you are just using the internet to browse the internet and send email, you only need between 10 and 12 Mbps. For online gaming or video streaming (like the cable alternatives above) you need a minimum of 20 Mbps.  If you have three or four things going on at the same household, like two people gaming on separate systems and one streaming a movie, you will get some lags at lower speeds These problems will pretty much go away with internet speed above 50 Mbps.

Dropping to a download speed of 60 Mbps will drop your cost to around $39 a month.

How Much Speed Do I Need?

We came across this nifty tool to help you calculate how much speed you need in your household.

You can input the number of devices connected in your home, number of users, and how you use your internet (audio streaming, internet phone, gaming, video downloads).

The results will show you the minimum Mbps you need for your household.

Savings by Slowing Down Your Internet

  • 1000 Mbps package: $89/month or $1,068/year
  • Lowering to 60 Mbps package: $39/month or $468/year

Year One Savings: $600

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How to Save on Your Water Bill by Not Being a Drip

Showering drives almost 17 percent of water use in homes, according to the EPA. We talked about showering above…using a low flow shower head will not only cut your natural gas bill, it can also help your water bill.

But the there are two other big drivers of water usage that don’t get enough attention: leaks around your home and your sprinkler system.

How to Find Hidden Water Links

It’s funny… one of the Google searches that will pop up when you search “how to save on your water bill” is “does flushing the toilet affect your water bill?”  Funny, but real.

Many homes have hidden water leaks that are costing you big time.  If your faucet is dripping at the rate of one drop per second, you can expect to waste 2,700 gallons per year which will add to the cost of water and sewer utilities. And a leaky toilet (or one that runs long after you flush the toilet) is a big cost.

It’s easy to check if you have a water leak issue. Check your water meter before and after a time period where no water is being used in the house. If the meter does not read exactly the same, there is a leak. Then, go hunt it down. If you find a leaky faucet, that can usually be fixed by replacing a washer.

The most common source of leak is a continuously running toilet, or a leaking toilet. Test for toilet tank leaks by adding food coloring to the tank. If the toilet is leaking, color will appear within 30 minutes. Then check the toilet for worn out, corroded or bent parts. Most replacement parts are inexpensive, readily available and easily installed. (Flush as soon as test is done, since food coloring may stain tank.)

And sometimes the cause of high water usage isn’t so obvious. Like this example of a cat flushing the toilet just to play with the water. Be vigilant.

Check Your Sprinkler for Geysers

If you have a sprinkler system, it’s probably set to run in the early morning or in the evening. You may have a geyser and not even know it.

Coordinate with a neighbor or friend and run your sprinkler system one zone at a time. Replace any sprinkler heads that are missing (geysers) or not functioning properly. A typical sprinkler system uses 12 gallons per minute. If you have a missing sprinkler head, water is flowing unchecked and costing you a substantial amount.

Next up: once you you have the geysers under control, look into a smart sprinkler systems that can manage your water usage. The Rachio Iro Sprinkler Controller and the Skydrop Smart Sprinkler Controller will both monitor local weather conditions based on your zip code and adjust your sprinkler system automatically. These require an investment of $300-$400, but are sometimes bundled with electricity plans in deregulated energy markets.

Water Savings from Not Being a Drip

We pondered on this one. Water prices vary across the country depending on where you live. And not everyone has leak issues.

A running toilet can cost $200 a month in excess water bills. One leak at a sprinkler head could be 225 gallons per cycle, 3,000 gallons of water per month. All money down the drain if you aren’t watching.

Best bet: check for leaks around your home once a quarter, and check your sprinkler system once a month.

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Cut Money from Your Grocery Bill (Plus Save Time)

Grocery shopping services cost too much money, right? Wrong. Grocery shopping services can save you money.

Sure, there are paid shopping and delivery services like Instacart and Peapod.

But in the competitive grocery world, many stores — Safeway, Walmart, Costco, Target, Kroger — will shop for you for free, and some will deliver for a small charge.

The biggest savings? Impulse shopping. When you shop online, you aren’t tempted by those special offers or new products that look so tempting. The second benefit? Exclusive online deals and coupons that you can’t get in the store. And the third benefit? Saving time that could be spent doing other things… like checking for water leaks around your home.

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Conclusion

So, that’s it! Now, any of these can be done quickly and easily, but it’s not likely you will do all of these in one day. That’s ok! Just pick a place to get started, and knock them off the list.

Of course, we think you should start with shopping for your electricity or natural gas, but that’s just us. 🙂

Happy savings!

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Here are some of the fantastic resources we used for this article. Go check them out!

Cable

Frugal Rules on how to cut the cord
USA Today piece comparing Apple TV, Roku and Amazon.

Electricity

9 Tips to Beat High Summer Bills
Electricity historical price examples
Ecobee savings

Natural Gas

The Spruce
Energy.gov

Cell Phone

Nerd Wallet
LifeWire

Internet

Angie’s List
Consumer’s Guide to High Speed Internet

Water

ABC Home & Commercial

Groceries

The Penny Hoarder