I'd like to take a moment to talk about money, something that I haven't done a lot of recently but which definitely comes under the Scrimpalicious heading and mission statement (which is in my head). After all, I did start this blog with the intention of being helpful to people who haven't had years of practice at budgeting, making things, and trying to save money.
I just opened our gas bill, and to say I'm experiencing a little sticker shock is an understatement. I think that's probably the case for everyone, and those of you living in Southern states that have had all that unexpected snow can look forward to a similar experience next month, most likely.
So what do you do when a bill is way over what you budgeted for?
If "way over" just means an extra $20 or $50 and you can scrape it together, that's fine, but what if it's an extra $200 or even an extra $500?
Well first, you make this face:
When something like this happens, I always run through a mental list of freakout options. We could put it on credit. We could pay that bill and not pay something else on time--like rent. We could bury our heads in the sand and not pay it at all.
I'm just going to tell you right now, those are all bad options. Never use credit if you can help it, even for bills. Always pay your rent and try to make a payment on all of your bills every month, even if you can't make the full payment. And never just hope it will go away, because it won't.
In the case of our gas bill, which was indeed about $500 more than I was expecting (I kid you not), the thing you do immediately is call the company. Call them! If you don't communicate immediately and you can't pay it, bad things will probably happen.
The truth is, these people just want to get paid. But they also recognize that in the winter, and especially in this economy, people have extra expenses and can't always pay what they wish they could on their bills. Most companies, if you get to the actual company instead of letting it go to collections, will work with you to set up a payment plan, reduce your costs, or defer your bill if you need to wait till payday. For instance, our gas company agreed to cut that extra $500 into 12 chunks which will be added to our monthly bill for the next year. When we have a little extra money in our budget, we can pay down the balance faster (my plan is to pay it all down next month), but it means that our gas won't get shut off because we didn't budget for our gas bill to be ten times higher than it was last time.
We're also going to be trying to figure out if there was an error in the meter reading, but in this case I wanted to make sure that they knew we were going to be proactive about payments first, rather than waiting until we were sure it was accurate.
There's no shame in asking for a payment or extended billing plan. The worst outcome is that they'll say no, but the best outcome is that they'll work with you to help you pay without bankrupting yourself, destroying your credit, or being late on other bills. Is it embarrassing? It sure is, but it's even more embarrassing to have your utilities shut off, or your credit card deactivated, or your loans go into default, or your landlord kick you out.
And after you do all that? Take a deep, deep breath, get a hug from someone, and relax. The sky isn't falling, the world hasn't ended, and you're going to be ok.