If you want to keep utility costs consistent month to month, budget billing may be for you.
Your utility bills likely make up a significant part of your monthly budget, so it’s important to keep a close eye on them. But while your rent or mortgage stays the same month to month, your utilities don’t.
Sweltering summer days and icy winter nights can lead to budget-blowing spikes in your utility bills, and no matter how hard you try to budget and plan, you can’t predict the total each month. Or can you?
Budget billing may offer the consistency you crave. Here, personal finance experts describe how budget billing works and explain who may benefit from it, empowering you to answer this question for yourself: Does budget billing save money?
What is budget billing and how does it work?
As you consider this option, your first question might be: What is budget billing? Budget billing is a service offered by some utility companies that provides a set monthly bill for services like gas or electricity.
How does budget billing work? To calculate your monthly budget billing amount, a utility company will look at your past usage, typically over the last year, and average it to determine your monthly charge, says Sara Rathner, financial author and credit cards expert at NerdWallet. This will give you a predictable bill to pay each month, rather than one that fluctuates.
Keep in mind that if you recently moved into your home, the charges used to calculate your budget billing amount may be based on the previous owners’ or renters’ usage, says Rathner. Your actual usage may end up being more or less than theirs.
Another point to remember on how budget billing works: While budget billing gives you a steady amount to pay each month, this amount can, and likely will, change over time. Some providers update bill amounts quarterly, some annually. There’s no universal timeline for these updates, so be sure to ask your utility provider about its specific process, says Lance Cothern, CPA and founder of personal finance blog Money Manifesto.
These changes are made to capture your actual usage, whether that usage has decreased (a mild summer allowed you to keep the AC off more often) or increased (a brutally cold winter forced you to blast the heat). Typically, you will be notified in advance of the change.
Now that you know how budget billing works, you may be wondering: Could it save me cash?
Does budget billing save money?
“Budget billing won’t save you money; it just evens your bill out over time,” Cothern says.
How does budget billing work if you end up using less energy and overpay? You may be reimbursed for the amount you paid above your actual energy usage, or the amount overpaid will be applied to next year.
How does budget billing work if you underpay? You’ll have to pay the extra amount to make up the difference. These payments or credits happen in addition to any adjustments your provider makes to your monthly bill if your usage changes over time, Cothern says.
What are the benefits of budget billing?
Overall, there’s a fairly straightforward answer to what budget billing is, and the benefits are clear, too. While it doesn’t save you money per se, it may allow you to more easily manage your monthly budget.
For example, if you know your monthly electricity bill will be $100, you can account for this expense in your budget and more precisely allocate funds into other expenses or savings.
“Anyone who sticks to a strict, detailed monthly budget may prefer the predictability of budget billing,” Rathner says. “You know exactly how much your utility bill will be each month and can plan your other spending around it.”
Combine budget billing with autopay and you can set and forget your utility bills, ensuring they’re paid on time and in full, making money management a lot simpler. This could also help you deal with financial stress.
What are the downsides of budget billing?
While budget billing has its pros, it also comes with cons. Does budget billing save you money? To help answer that question, consider the following:
You may face extra fees. Some utility companies charge a fee for budget billing. In Cothern’s view, this negates the benefit since there’s no reason to pay tacked-on fees for this service. It’s important to find out whether there are fees before signing up when you’re researching how budget billing works.
You may ignore your utility usage. Budget billing puts your monthly utility charges, as well as your actual usage, out of sight and out of mind. Without the threat of a higher bill or the reward of a lower one based on your energy habits, some people get complacent, Rathner says. They leave lights on or turn up the heat instead of grabbing a blanket. If this sounds like you, budget billing may actually cost you money in the long run.
“Always keep an eye on your monthly bill even though you pay a level amount for months at a time,” Cothern says. Most utility companies provide your usage information right on your bill.
If you can financially handle the seasonal swings of each bill, budget billing may not be much of a benefit for you, Cothern says. Paying the full amount also means you’re paying attention to the full amount, he says, which may motivate you to reduce your energy consumption. And that’s where the real opportunity to save money lies.
By considering potential fees and the impact on your energy usage, you’ll have a good sense of whether budget billing saves you money in the long run.
Make the most of how budget billing works with this hack
After scrutinizing how budget billing works, the potential downsides have led some financial pros, Cothern among them, to develop a new hack for paying utility bills.
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Instead of signing up for budget billing, open a savings account online specifically for utilities, Cothern suggests. You’ll also want to sign up for a rewards credit card, if you don’t have one already.
Next, grab your last 12 months of utility bills, total them up and divide by 12 to get your monthly average. You’ll then want to set up an automatic transfer of that amount from your checking account into the utility savings account each month.
When the utility bill comes, pay it with your rewards credit card and then pay that bill with the money in your savings. You reap the benefits of maintaining a consistent amount coming out of your budget, as well as credit card rewards and any interest earned on that money from your savings account.
Do your homework before signing up for budget billing
After weighing your options and considering your personal budgeting style, you may decide that budget billing is right for you.
If that’s the case, it’s important to read your utility’s program rules in detail. Yes, that means digging into the fine print to understand how budget billing works at the specific company, Cothern says, because budget billing is a general term for a wide variety of utility company programs. Budget billing may be called something else, like flat billing or balanced billing, and it may carry different nuances and terms.
Before signing up for budget billing, Rathner suggests calling your provider and asking the following questions:
Are there startup or maintenance fees?
How is the monthly amount calculated? How often is it updated?
What happens if you overpay or underpay?
What happens when you move or end service?
With the answers to these questions, you’ll have a better idea of how budget billing works for your provider. Armed with that info, you can determine whether budget billing saves you money and make the call on whether enrolling is right for you.
Whether you opt for budget billing or not, small adjustments to your home can result in major savings on your energy bills. For starters, check out these four ways to save energy by going green.
Articles may contain information from third-parties. The inclusion of such information does not imply an affiliation with the bank or bank sponsorship, endorsement, or verification regarding the third-party or information.
Love it or hate it, many Americans are spending more time at home. The coronavirus pandemic not only accelerated the work-from-home trend to warp speed, but it also shuttered schools and summer camps, scratched travel plans and canceled brunch and dinner reservations across the country.
Jen Dawson, a certified financial planner and managing director in Chicago, found that the uncertainty and stay-at-home lifestyle created by the pandemic prompted her clients to look at their financial situations in a new light.
âI think it just gives opportunities for people and families to reflect,â Dawson says. ââWhat do we want out of life? What do we want from our money?â Those conversations are really valuable.â
As Dawsonâs clients reflect on their goals, they (and many others) are also wondering, âHow should I adjust my household budget if weâre spending more time at home?â
How to optimize your budget for the stay-at-home economy in 4 steps
Ellen Rogin, a former wealth advisor and now a speaker, author and entrepreneur, notes that people across the country were affected by the pandemic in very different ways. While many workers were able to keep their jobs as they transitioned to working from home, many were not.
âThere are people who have lost their jobs and are being forced to make difficult decisions,â Rogin says. âAnd there are people who are still employed and earning the same income they did before, who have more options as they decide how they’re spending their money now.â
Even if youâve been spared serious financial challenges, you should still consider updating or creating a household budget or spending plan. This will allow you to determine how to save more money in the stay-at-home economy.
Rogin and Dawson encourage you to use this opportunity to ensure youâre at least staying on track to meet your savings goalsâand at best, shortening your savings timelines. Itâs also a chance to make sure that your spending habits, which have likely changed as youâve spent more time at home, are maximizing your happiness.
Below, we break down insights from Rogin and Dawson into four actionable steps you can take to save money in quarantine while living the best life possible. It all starts with taking an objective look at how your spending habits changed as you transitioned to a more domestic lifestyle.
Read on to see how to save more money in the stay-at-home economy by creating a new household budget:
1. Compare your spending trends before and during quarantine
As you set about creating a household budget for an at-home lifestyle and determining how to save more money in the stay-at-home economy, start by reviewing your spending.
âMost people donât really know how much money theyâre spending, whether times are good or bad. But it can really make you feel calmer to know what it takes to run your lifestyle.â
Dawson encourages you to refer to your debit and credit card statements to analyze the differences between your spending before staying home became the norm, and after. âYou can compare it and contrast and have observations and discussions around what changed,â she says. âWhat do you like that you want to keep going, and what do you not like about it?”
All you need, Dawson says, is a spreadsheet to total up your major expenses, such as housing, utilities, transportation, food and dining, travel, shopping and entertainment. Then, subtract the sum of those costs from the money you earned (aka income) over the same timeframe.
Do this exercise for three months of spending before quarantine and then again for three months of spending during quarantine. Youâll be able to compare the data to see whether you have more or less disposable income as a member of the stay-at-home economy.
Rogin notes that it can be a little scary to examine your finances like this, but thereâs no reason to feel anxious.
âMost people donât really know how much money theyâre spending, whether times are good or bad,â she says. âBut it can really make you feel calmer to know what it takes to run your lifestyle.â
If you see that your disposable income decreased while in quarantine (or that you no longer have disposable income at all), then youâll need to find ways to cut back on spending if you want to keep your savings goals on track. If your extra cash increased and youâre actually saving more money in quarantine, then you can start to consider how you might hit some or all of your savings goals more quickly.
Either way, you still have work to do as you consider how to save more money in the stay-at-home economy. Rather than focusing on external factors that are out of your control, Rogin and Dawson recommend that, as a next step, you ask yourself what matters most to you.
2. Ask yourself how your spending habits impact your happiness
Rogin considers the distanced, more remote way of life as a chance to reflect on whatâs really important in order to create your household budget. One example she points to is how many people have been cooking at home far more often than they once did.
âMaybe youâre spending more on groceries, but thatâs less than you were spending on eating outâand you enjoy it,â she says. âYouâre spending more time with your family. Youâre eating more healthily. So it gives you the opportunity to really assess your budget in a different way.â
Another example is travel. Rogin says that some people have told her that they really miss it, but others have been surprised to find how happy they are to pump the brakes on their jet-setting ways. In addition to saving money in quarantine from reimbursed travel and no more expensive trips, itâs allowed them to slow down and enjoy their time at home with family.
For her part, Rogin found that she wore the same two pairs of shoes during quarantine because theyâre comfortable, and no one can see them when sheâs video conferencing during work. As a result, Rogin cut this expense from her stay-at-home budget.
Whether youâre facing a cash shortage or surplus from more time spent at home, Rogin says that extending this line of thinking into a âvalues-based spending planâ for the stay-at-home economy will allow you to direct your money to what matters most to you, while diverting funds away from what doesnât.
Once you add up the expenses that are no longer necessary in your stay-at-home budget, itâs time to put that money to work.
Tip: When looking at quarantine spending, donât get too granular
Dawson underscores that evaluating spending patterns can be an emotional exercise. If youâre reviewing your finances with a family member, partner or spouse, try to resist the urge to nitpick every purchase. The trends should be easy enough to spot from a birdâs-eye view.
3. Put your stay-at-home savings toward your financial goals
Dawson and Rogin recommend having a plan when youâre trying to figure out how to save more money in the stay-at-home economy. That plan should include what youâre saving for, as well as where youâll keep the funds as they add up.
Rogin recommends framing your financial goals from a positive angle. For example, when you create a household budget, instead of focusing on cutting spending, you can set a goal for how much extra money you want to save.
If you have children or live with a partner or spouse, Dawson notes that this goal-oriented approach can help get them involved. The objective might be to start an emergency fund to ride out unexpected headwinds. Or, the focus could be on saving up for a big vacation to look forward to when travel restrictions ease.
When deciding where to keep your savings, a standard checking account wonât allow your money to grow like a high-yield online savings account will. Rather than pooling the money youâve saved in quarantine into one account, Dawson suggests opening multiple savings accounts, one for each of your savings goals.
âBe really clear about what each savings account is for,â she says. âThen youâre more likely to fund it.â
Of course, luxury savings goals like a vacation should not take priority over your long-term savings goals, such as retirement or college funds.
4. When saving money in quarantine, remember to support those in need if you can
If you are saving money in quarantine, Rogin suggests considering all the benefits of earmarking extra cash for philanthropic causes. It could go directly to the local small businesses you love that are hurting for revenue. Or it could go to any number of nonprofit organizations that are doing good in the world.
âSo many people are in need now,â Rogin says. âThere are so many beautiful ways that can help you feel like youâre making a difference for people by reallocating some of that money towards causes and people that you want to support.â
How will you start saving money in quarantine?
The stay-at home lifestyle may not have been in your plans, but you have the opportunity to gain control of your finances inside your home by creating a household budget that works for you in this new reality.
When you analyze, assess and optimize your spending and consider how to save money in quarantine, youâll be in as strong a financial position as possible when life gets back to normal.
If youâve been fortunate enough to save money in quarantine, consider starting or adding to your emergency fund. Not sure where to store your savings? Check out the four best places to keep your emergency fund.
Articles may contain information from third-parties. The inclusion of such information does not imply an affiliation with the bank or bank sponsorship, endorsement, or verification regarding the third-party or information.
The post How to Save More Money in the Stay-at-Home Economy by Focusing on What Matters Most appeared first on Discover Bank – Banking Topics Blog.
A pay cut, whether big or small, can catch you off guardâand throw your finances into disarray. While a salary cut is different than a layoff, it can leave you feeling just as uncertain.
How do you deal with a pay cut and deal with this uncertainty?
There are strategies to help you navigate both the emotional and financial challenges of this situation. One key element? A budget. Whether you need to create a budget from scratch or adjust the budget you already have, doing so can help you get back on your feet and set yourself up for success.
Hereâs a rundown of budgeting tips to survive a pay cut to keep your finances intact:
Ask your employer for the parameters of the income reduction or salary cut
First, keep in mind that a pay cut typically isnât personal. According to Scott Bishop, an executive vice president of financial planning at a wealth management firm, businesses often cut salaries to preserve their cash reserves while they stabilize their cash flow or weather some larger economic impact, like the coronavirus pandemic.
Secondly, make sure you understand the full scope of the salary cut. Bishop suggests you ask your employer questions like:
What is the amount of pay being cut?
Why is pay being cut?
When will the reduction begin, and how long will it last?
Will any of the following be affected?
Healthcare or insurance costs
Employer-sponsored training or continuing education opportunities
Hours or job responsibilities
What are the long-term plans to improve the companyâs financial situation?
Once youâve painted the full scope of what and why, you can determine how to handle the pay cut.
âFor some people who are big savers, it might not be a big deal,â Bishop says. âBut for some people who live paycheck to paycheck, itâs going to be significant.â
Settle any anxieties that might come with a salary cut
If you are dealing with financial stress, try settling your mind and emotions so you can make decisions with a clear head.
âThe emotional and mental toll can be one of the hardest parts,â says Lindsay Dell Cook, president and founder of Budget Babble LLC, which provides personal finance and small business financial counseling. âIt gets even harder if there are others depending on your income who are also financially stressed.â
When sharing the news with family members who may also be impacted, Cook suggests the following:
Find the right time. Pick a time of day during which everyone will have the highest mental capacity for the conversation. âFor instance, I am a morning person, so if my husband told me at bedtime about a pay cut, I would have a much harder time processing that information,â Cook says.
Frame it as a brainstorming session. Bring ideas of what you can do to handle the pay cut, such as a list of expenses you can cut or a plan for how you can make extra income.
Empathize with the other person. âReduced income is not easy for anyone. Everyone responds to financial anxiety differently,â Cook says.
“If youâre unable to maintain your previous level of saving after a pay cut, try to save at a smaller scale for goals like retirement and your emergency fund.”
Create or adjust your budget to handle a pay cut
Once you understand the salary cut and have informed your family or roommates, itâs time to crunch the numbers. Thatâs the first step to figuring out how to save money after a pay cut.
If you donât have a budget, find a budgeting system that fits your needs. Learning how to effectively budget takes time and practice, so be patient with yourself if youâre new to this. Cook suggests reading up on how to create a budget.
One system to consider is the 50-20-30 budget rule, which has you break your spending into three simple categories. If you prefer the aid of technology when determining how to handle a pay cut, there are many budgeting and spending apps that can help you manage your money.
Whether youâre handling a pay cut by creating a new plan or modifying an existing budget, Bishop suggests taking the following steps:
Add up your income. Combine your new salary with your partnerâs pay, and factor in any additional income streams like from dividends or savings account interest. Tally up the total.
List your expenses. Be sure to include essential expenses (e.g., housing, food, clothing, transportation) and nonessential expenses (e.g., entertainment, takeout, hobbies).
Look through your bank statement online and your past receipts so all expenses are included.
Account for infrequent expenses such as gifts, car maintenance or home repairs.
Track the amount you save. Note any regular savings contributions you make, such as to an emergency fund or retirement account.
Get your partnerâs buy-in. What needs do they have, and what is nonnegotiable in the budget for each of you?
Cut expenses with budgeting tips to survive a pay cut
If youâve crunched the numbers and found that your expenses add up to more than your new income, youâll need to find ways to cut back. Here are some tips on trimming your spending to survive a salary cut:
Cut back on takeout meals and stick to a strict grocery list or food budget, Cook suggests.
Avoid large discretionary purchases like a car during the duration of your pay cut, Bishop says.
Negotiate with your utility companies or ask if theyâre providing forbearance options, Bankrate suggests. You can also ask your car insurance provider if it has additional savings for customers who are driving less, according to Bankrate.
If you think you might fall behind on rent or mortgage payments as youâre handling a pay cut, both Cook and Bishop agree that early, proactive communication is key. Be honest with your landlord or mortgage company. âDonât wait until youâre past due,â Bishop says.
The same applies for other financial obligations, such as your credit card bill. Youâll likely find those companies are willing to work with you through the rough patch.
Cook also suggests you look into municipal assistance programs as a budgeting tip to survive a pay cut. âMany cities have established rental assistance funds to help taxpayers meet their obligations during the pandemic,â she says.
Continue to save money after a pay cut
As you consider how to cut costs, take time to think about your long-term savings goals and how to save money after a pay cut. By cutting discretionary spending through your new budgetâwhat Bishop calls âcutting the fatââyou may have freed up income to maintain your good saving habits during this time. He says itâs important to do that before slowing down on savings.
If youâre unable to maintain your previous level of saving after a pay cut, Bishop suggests you try to save at a smaller scale for goals like retirement and your emergency fund.
As you work to save money after a pay cut, Cook recommends setting up automatic transfers to your savings account every payday based on the amount youâre able to put towards savings in your new budget.
âIf your savings account is at the same bank as your checking account, you can transfer those funds fairly easily,â she says. âSo the worst-case scenario is that you put too much money in savings and have to bring some back to checking. The hope, however, is that some or all of those funds transferred to savings remain there since that money is no longer in your checking account just waiting to be spent.â
Seek extra income sources after a salary cut
You should explore additional sources of income if you need more cash to cover essential expenses or if youâre looking for ways to save money after a pay cut.
Determine if youâre eligible for benefits based on the reason for your pay cut. Cook recommends applying for unemployment if you think you may qualify. For example, some workers who experienced pay cuts due to the coronavirus pandemic were eligible for unemployment benefits. The details vary by state, so visit your stateâs unemployment insurance program website to learn what benefits may apply to you.
If you or your partner have some extra time on your hands, you can consider bringing in income through a side hustle to help you handle your pay cut. Bishop suggests using free or low-cost online video tutorials to boost your existing skills to make your side hustle more effective.
Cook also recommends getting creative. âAre there things you could sell to make some extra cash?â she says.
If you are unable to find additional sources of income, but you have an emergency fund, consider whether you should dip into that. “Your savings are there for a reason, and sometimes you need to use it,” Cook says. “That is okay.”
Stick to your updated budget to navigate how to handle a pay cut
Making your budget part of your daily routine is a budgeting tip to survive a pay cut, and it will help you save money after a pay cut.
âBuild rewards into your budget, such as ordering out every other week if you successfully saved money after your pay cut.â
âIf youâre checking it daily, there are no surprises,â Cook says. You can do this by logging into your bank account and making sure your spending and expenses align with your digital or written budget document.
âIf you see that your spending is high, your mind will typically start thinking through [future] transactions more thoroughly to vet if those expenses are really necessary,â Cook says.
Donât forget the fun side of accountability: rewards for meeting your goals. Build rewards into your budget, Bishop says, such as ordering out every other week if you successfully saved money after your pay cut.
Lastly, donât try to go it alone. Enlist others in your budgeting journey, Cook suggests. Make up a monthly challenge to cut spending from a specific category in your new budget and ask your partner or a friend to do it with you. For example, see if you and the other participants can go a full month without buying clothes or ordering takeout. Compare notes at the end of the month and see how much youâve saved.
Another idea? Try connecting with a budget-minded community on social media to get inspired.
Take these steps after the salary cut is over
Once youâve handled the pay cut and your regular pay is restored, donât give up on your newfound budgeting discipline. Instead, focus on building up emergency savings before you go back to your normal spending.
Bishop recommends starting with enough savings to cover three to six months of expenses. âIf you spend $3,000 a month, that means you need to have $9,000 to $18,000 saved.â
This might also be the time to revisit your budget and build a more extensive financial plan with a CPA or financial advisor to account for all of your future goals. Bishop says that these can include a target retirement date and lifestyle; your estate planning, such as a will, trust and power of attorney; saving for a childâs college; and purchasing a home.
Bishop says reminding yourself why youâre budgeting and focusing on your financial goals can be similar to motivating yourself to stay physically fit. Goal-based motivation can keep you accountable.
Remember: You can survive a salary cut
Handling a pay cut is never easy, but you can get through this time. While youâre in the thick of it, focus on budgeting tips to survive a pay cut and staying positive. Seek help from others and follow up with your employer to make sure you are aware of any changing details regarding the pay cut.
Most of all, try to keep a long-term outlook. âRemember that it will not always be this way,â Cook says.
If youâre considering whether or not to tap into your savings to handle a pay cut, read on to determine when to use your emergency fund.
The post How to Handle a Pay Cut: Budgeting in Uncertain Times appeared first on Discover Bank – Banking Topics Blog.