Warm up winter by getting into better financial shape for summer

Winter is the time when most local authorities raise their rates as well as their tariffs for water and electricity supplies, and with the last salary increase seeming like a distant memory, it can be a very tough time for homeowners.

“And the recent revelation of Eskom’s plans for a further five years of hefty increases has done nothing to lighten the mood,” says Jan Davel, MD of the RealNet estate agency group.

“But rather than giving in to the winter blues, or incurring more debt as their budgets come under pressure, we suggest that homeowners take determined steps over the next couple of months to cut household costs and get into financial trim by summer.”

Starting with municipal costs themselves, he says, consumers can combat increases and in many cases even lower their monthly bills by systematically instituting household energy-saving measures.  

“This doesn’t have to be hard, or involve large capital outlays. Some of the most effective of these measures are also some of the easiest to implement. For example, start replacing spent lightbulbs with energy-savers or LEDs, switch off your geysers whenever possible, insulate your ceilings, make sparing use of heaters and air conditioners and install some rainwater tanks.

“There are of course many others and as you see the savings start to mount up, you may well be inspired to consider solar geysers, heat pumps and wind-power installations, but the main thing now is to make a start.”

Now may also be a good time, Davel says, to take a good look at your telephone and cell phone bills and explore ways to lower them. “Phone costs chew up a surprisingly large percentage of the disposable income in many households now, but fortunately competition in the communications sectors has really heated up in the past year, with every operator working hard to attract new customers with special packages and lower call rates, and it is really worth your while to shop around for the best deal.”

Similarly, consumers should shop around for the best rates on their homeowner’s, household contents and car insurances. “Of course you have to make sure that you are comparing apples with apples, especially when it comes to the excess you will be required to pay if you make a claim, but your insurance cover should in any case be reviewed at least once a year.

“And it is certainly worth finding out what difference it would make to your premiums if you increased the security of your home – with the installation of an alarm system, for example – since this would have the added benefit of increasing your personal safety.”

Other major budget items to review, he says, are of course food and transport costs, “which you may be able to lower by using part of your garden to grow some of your own produce, perhaps, or eating out less, or making more use of public transport or even a bike for short trips to the shops.

“The point is that each and every item of your budget should be subject to careful scrutiny now, because most can be made to yield at least a small saving and, added together, these will no doubt amount to quite a substantial total over a few months – and give you the added satisfaction of feeling more in charge and less financially vulnerable.”

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