Chilly winter is turning the heat up on household budgets
RISING energy prices can hit harder in winter, and now's the time to see if you can take the spark out of power bills.
According to comparison site Finder, one in three Australians are coping with higher heating bills by trying to cut back energy use. But you shouldn't have to pull the plug on appliances just to get through winter.
Nationwide, we spend an average of $1700 on electricity annually and that means there's plenty of room to save.
Switching from one provider to another can seem like a hassle, so an easier option is to contact your current energy company to ask about a better deal. Don't be shy about making it clear you're thinking of taking your business elsewhere. There's nothing like a flight risk to get energy providers serious about discounts.
Some power retailers offer fixed rate contracts that let you lock in the price, usually for two years. Fixing can end up costing less than variable rate deals though the catch is that you're taking a punt how energy prices will move in the future. That said, prices don't look likely to fall any time soon.
One of the downsides of a fixed price contract is that you could be hit with fees if you bail out before the contract period ends. This is definitely something to watch for.
To help consumers get a better deal on power bills, Energy Consumers Australia has set up a website - powercall.org, that guides you through the process of checking to see if you power retailer is providing the best possible plan.
To see if you could save by changing to a new provider, take a look at the Energy Made Easy website. Have your latest power bill on hand so you can enter some details about your past power consumption. From here, the website compares your usage patterns with different providers to see if you could save by switching.
If you're unlikely to pay your bills on time it's probably a good idea to steer clear of plans that give you a discount for doing so. If you don't pay on-time you might lose your discount and also rack up a late fee.
Some providers offer a discount for direct debiting each bill. This can make it easy to pay your bill on time. Just be sure you have enough money in the account when payment falls due to ovoid overdrawn or over the limit fees.
Ask your energy supplier about any apps they have that let you track your power consumption. It can help you plan ahead for bills and identify key times when you're burning through the watts faster than normal.
Paul Clitheroe is Chairman of the Australian Government Financial Literacy Board and chief commentator for Money Magazine.