Utility bills aren’t the most glamorous expenses, but they can add up to hundreds of dollars per month so they’re definitely something to budget for. Read on for utility bill examples, how you can save money on yours and what to do if you can’t pay.
What is a utility bill?
A utility bill is a monthly statement of the amount a household or business owes for essential services or utilities, like electricity, water, gas and council rates for homeowners.
Depending on how you define utilities, you could also add sewage, rubbish and recycling, as well as TV, internet, phone and streaming services to that list. For people living in remote parts of the country, phone, internet and other telecommunications charges are often deemed essential services.
A utility bill lists the customer’s name, address and account number. It also states the amount owed and due date, as well as guidance for how to pay.
Utility bills typically give information about your usage of the service, too. A water bill, for example, would list the amount of water you used during the billing period and may show how that amount has changed over the last several months.
How much utilities cost varies widely depending on the service, provider, location and usage.
Types of utility bills
These are the most common types of utility bills in Australia.
Issued by energy providers, this bill covers the cost of being connected to an electrical grid and consuming energy.
To save money on your electric bill, try to be more efficient with your appliances and devices. Investing in a programmable or “smart” thermostat that will adjust temperatures for when you’re home or away can save money on your electric bill.
You might also wait until you have full loads before running your dishwasher and washing machine. Or try a smart power strip, which turns off electricity to the products you aren’t using.
Water bills are issued by utility companies for consuming water at a home or business.
To lower your water bill, check for and fix any leaks in faucets, showerheads, sinks and toilet valves. You also might consider upgrading your appliances to more efficient ones. As a bonus, most states and territories have schemes that help to cover the cost of energy-efficient home and appliances.
Tweaking your habits can also help. Shortening your showers and turning off the tap while brushing your teeth will save water — and money. And rethink hand-washing your dishes each night. If you have more than eight dishes to wash, consider running your dishwasher instead.
Part of water bills, sewage charges cover the maintenance of local sewage and stormwater drains.
Natural gas bill
Gas suppliers charge residents for connecting to a gas mains network and using natural gas to fuel things like appliances, heating and hot water sources. Some Australians use liquid petroleum gas, or LPG, in their homes and businesses, so they may receive bills for restocking or refilling LPG cylinders at their properties.
Given that much of your natural gas bill likely goes toward heating and cooling the house, save money by monitoring your thermostat. In the winter, allow for lower temperatures while you’re away or asleep. In the summer, allow for warmer temperatures.
Homeowners are typically charged council rates, which are levied by the local council to pay for maintenance and improvements to various services. These may include library and public health services, and the upkeep of public parks and pools.
Since council rates are set in stone, there isn’t any room for negotiation. Instead, focus on comparing providers and finding ways to save on your other utility bills.
How to handle these bills
Utility bills can stack up, especially if you own property,, so it’s helpful to understand how much you’re spending on them. Consider tracking these bills and other expenses in a budget app.
And give the 50/30/20 rule a try. This type of budget divides your monthly take-home income this way:
- 50% toward needs, like those utility bills, as well as rent or mortgage payments and groceries.
- 30% for wants, such as meals out and vacations.
- 20% toward savings for the future, such as emergency funds and retirement accounts, as well as paying down debt.
There are several other types of budgets if this breakdown doesn’t work for you.
What if you can’t pay your bills?
If you don’t pay your bills, the provider will eventually shut off the service. You also risk late fees and damaged credit. But you have options:
Call the customer service line of your provider. You can likely find this number on your bill or through a quick online search. Explain your situation and request help — providers are legally required to offer you a payment plan or hardship policy. The company may lower your bill, give you an extension or waive late fees. The same goes for council rates — if you’re struggling to pay yours, reach out to your local council to ask about your options.
Apply for a utility rebate or voucher. National companies like Service Australia and Telstra offer vouchers for utilities like electricity, water and phone usage.
Check if you’re eligible for Centrepay. If you receive Centrelink payments, you might be able to deduct bills and other expenses via Centrepay. You can set up regular deductions to ensure you don’t miss utility payments. You also may qualify for an advance deposit on your usual Centrelink payment.
Look into a no-interest loan. The No-Interest Loan Scheme, or NILS, is offered through Good Shepherd. If you’re eligible, you can use the funds to pay for essential services like utility bills.
Speak to a financial counsellor. These counsellors offer free, confidential help for people dealing with money issues, and they can negotiate with creditors on your behalf. To be connected to one, call the free National Debt Helpline on 1800 007 007, or use the site’s online chat function. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples can call the free Mob Strong Debt Helpline on 1800 808 488. These agencies typically take calls on weekdays from 9.30 a.m. to 4.30 p.m.
If you’re in the United States, read this article on the NerdWallet US site.