GAINESVILLE, Ga. (BP)–With apologies to Charles Dickens for misusing the opening line from his “A Tale of Two Cities,” these are “the best of times” to be alive as Christians, but for many these may be “the worst of times” economically. Due to large numbers of job cutbacks, families who had been doing fairly well financially now find themselves struggling to keep up with the bills.
Generally, expenses related to housing take the largest chunk of the paycheck, and housing expenses normally include more than just rent or mortgage payments. Most housing arrangements require paying for utilities, and if you own your own home, you also must pay for other housing expenses that might include maintaining and repairing the home or things around the home.
Even though utility company rates are fairly inflexible, there are ways you can save money.
Save on water expenses
Water costs vary around the country. But even if yours are low, every penny counts when you are working with a limited budget. In most cases you are using both water and a utility for heating water. The following suggestions will help reduce the use of these resources:
— Take quick, cooler showers rather than baths.
— Turn off the water while brushing teeth.
— Fill the dishwasher completely before using, and use the short cycle without automatic drying, or wash the dishes by hand instead of using the dishwasher.
— Wash only full loads of laundry, use the proper water temperature, and avoid the extra rinse cycle.
Save on electrical and heating expenses
Energy costs are high across the nation and tend to keep rising. You can reduce consumption of these resources and thus lower your monthly expenses by remembering to do the following:
— Set refrigerator and freezer thermostats on the warmest settings possible that will still keep food cold or frozen, and limit the time refrigerator and freezer doors are open.
— Water heater temperatures of 120-125 degrees F. provide plenty of hot water for normal households. At 130 degrees, serious burns occur in 30 seconds, and at 140 degrees only 5 seconds are required. That time is cut in half for children under age 5 and some adults over 65. Gas water heaters can be adjusted easily. However, call your utility company for directions to adjust an electric water heater, because it requires shutting off the electricity to the water heater and removing the cover plates to adjust the thermostat. After the thermostat is turned down, check the hot water temperature 24 hours later to make sure it’s low enough to be safe.
— In winter, lower the thermostat a degree or two and wear warm clothing; in summer, raise the air conditioning temperature or, if you have no air conditioning, open windows when possible.
— Whether you heat with gas or electricity, at night and when leaving the house for the day, adjust the thermostat a few degrees but not too much, because it costs more to cool a hot house and heat a cold house than to maintain a moderate temperature.
— Keep windows and outside doors shut when using heating and cooling systems.
— Turn off lights, televisions and other electrical items when they’re not being used.
— Limit TV, video games and computer time.
The whole family can participate in cutting down on the use of utilities, and your local gas and electric companies can help you learn other ways to save.
Save on communication bills
Most families today use communication services, such as cell phones, Internet access and cable television. However, when budgets are stretched to pay necessary housing expenses, you may need to reconsider some of these options.
— Cell phones give us the benefits of convenience and security. Many plans start very low, but rates increase quickly as plans advance to levels with more features and minutes. Determine your real need for a cell phone, how much you can afford, then choose an appropriate plan or a prepaid phone card. Don’t overbuy.
— Investigate free Internet access; it’s still available through several sources.
— If you can pick up local stations without cable access, then save your money. If you need cable for local channels, don’t get premium channels or expanded cable. You’ll save money and have more family time.
Keeping up the home
Reduce your maintenance and repair expenses by learning how to do simple jobs. Local hardware or home improvement stores usually have very helpful staff members who are willing to offer tips to customers, and many stores offer instructional classes for home improvement projects.
These simple suggestions can help lower monthly housing expenses. However, there may be times when you’ve done all you can to save money but find that you’re faced with an emergency need that you can’t handle on your own.
Your church probably has an established benevolence ministry to provide financial assistance in emergencies. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. There also may be people in the church who can help you with your need by providing a service, a consultation or a referral.
You would be willing to help others in the same situation you find yourself, and others may be waiting to help you. But, in order to help, they must know about the need.
Burkett is chairman of the board of Crown Financial Ministries, which merged last year with the ministry he founded in 1976, Christian Financial Concepts. A Southern Baptist layman based in Gainesville, Ga., Burkett is the host of the national “Money Matters” radio program and author of two resources published by LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention: “How Much Is Enough? 30 Days to Personal Revival” and “Jesus on Money.”