Money Stress Management

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.


  1. I have found that budget billing on all utilities that offer it can be a total life-saver. This option happens when the company takes the previous year's bills, averages the total amount out into 12 parts, and charges you that same amount each month. In theory, that will allow you to pay a little extra in the months you won't use it as much (like summer for gas/heat), and then "use up" the extra on the bills that are a little higher (like winter for gas/heat). Each year they reevaluate the monthly charge in an effort to keep you on track so in theory you're not way over- or under-paying each month. Plus, that way, with knowing exactly how much you'll owe every month, you can use services like billpayer and online payment options.

  2. Girl, you have no idea how much I can relate to this post. I made that exact same face a couple days ago.

    We'll make it through. We'll do it.

  3. Maybe check with the other apartments in your house - I can believe a $500 gas bill in winter in Cleveland for a big old house, but if everyone in your building got hit with $500, I would suspect that there might be an error in the bill.

  4. I live in the Uk and we too have had a very cold winter and yes I am scared of the bill which will arrive on my doorstep any day now.

    However I am prepared and have used by gas and electricity very wisely and have budgeted for a higher cost.

    I truely worry for all those who have not given it much thought. there will be many people with that face I'm sure any day now. :)

  5. Good post. - And good picture by the way.
    As my contribution: I present you and your good readers with the $84 challenge.
    - After your bills are caught up -
    the challenge is to save $84 a month. For most of us, not an unattainable feat. It can come from a thousand different places. Anywhere from going to the library instead of the bookstore / movie rental / theater, to having friends over instead of going out to eat, to turning down the heat when you walk out the door, to drinking tap/or home filtered instead of bottled water. It will be different for everyone. But what will be the same is that at the end of 12 months, you will have saved a thousand dollars. A thousand.

  6. I got on the budget plan after my first winter on my own. Now, it doesn't vary more than 5 or 6 dollars a month. While you have to pay a slightly higher bill all year round, there aren't any "large" surprises:-)

  7. All- thanks for the comments. We've switched over to the budget plan, which is a great relief right now while our bills are so high. Hopefully we'll remember not to grumble too much in the summer when we're paying an extra $100 above what we paid last summer.



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