You spent all night tossing and turning in sweat-drenched sheets. To cool off in the afternoon, you grab a bowl of ice cream — but it’s half-melted before you take your first bite. You watch with pity as your dog pants and chases every patch of shade on the carpet.
It’s official: The sweltering heat of summer has arrived.
And while the heat can cause enough dread on its own, you might already be bracing for what will follow shortly after: the monthly electric bill. Utility bills tend to spike during the summer months because we blast the air conditioning, but it’s not our cooling habits alone that are to blame for rising costs.
Last year, the Energy Information Administration charted the largest year-over-year growth in electricity prices since 2008 — and there are no signs that surging prices will slow down.
So what’s the cause of rising utility bills, and how can you keep yours lower?
Why Is My Electric Bill So High?
A surprising electric bill that’s double the cost of what you paid just a couple of months ago can strain your budget. When you open a Chime Checking Account, you can receive your paycheck up to two days early¹ to pay that electric bill on time.
But why are you paying more in the first place? The past few years have been the perfect storm for rising electric bills across the country — from climate change to political turmoil to the pandemic. Here’s a look at how these major events impact the cost of electricity:
The weather has a big effect on your electric bill. When temperatures rise, and more households crank the AC, utility companies have to work overtime to avoid blackouts. This added energy use typically means they invest more in their grids.
Some utility companies, especially those out west, are also spending tens of millions of dollars on upgrading their systems to reduce the risk of starting wildfires.
Of course, the companies don’t eat the cost of all these investments. They pass it on to customers in their monthly bills.
But you’re up against more than just higher temperatures in the summer. As climate change leads to more frequent and extreme weather events, there is a higher risk of damage to power plants, like the Texas power grid failure in 2021. Similar events could continue to drive up the cost of electricity.
Inflation is the buzzword of 2022. Its cause is rooted in plenty of problems — from ongoing supply chain issues and shifting job markets related to COVID-19 to the ongoing war in Ukraine.
These complex problems have all devalued the dollar, which means companies, including utility providers, are raising their prices.
Coal prices, in particular, have been going up — and much faster than the reported 8.3% U.S. inflation rate by the New York Times. And though the U.S. is decreasing its reliance on coal, coal still accounts for nearly a quarter of U.S. electric generation.
Why are coal prices so high? Demand for coal is on the rise in China and India, but the war in Ukraine is just the latest event that has led to a global supply shortage.
But it’s not all doom and gloom. American Progress argues that clean energy (solar and wind) is better for the environment and will also be more affordable for all of us. If we can cut back our dependence on fossil fuels, we should see lower electric bills — and give Earth a nice break while we’re at it.
Bad HVAC and Poor Insulation
So far, global events causing higher electric bills might feel out of your control — and they kind of are. But there’s one major cause of your high electric bill that you can solve on your own.
If your AC is constantly running, but your home always feels hot, your HVAC system might need repair or maintenance. Call a contractor and have them troubleshoot any issues.
And if your HVAC is not the problem, it could be that the cool air is spilling out of your home as fast as your AC is churning it out. In that case, you can look for ways to better insulate your home, like stopping leaks from your doors and windows.
Why Is My Gas Bill So High?
It’s not just fuel prices at the pump that are surging. According to CBS News, natural gas prices are also rising due to climate change and global supply chain issues.
Many suppliers use a variable-rate gas plan, which means natural gas prices go up when they’re in high demand. In winter, expect to pay premium prices for heating your home with natural gas.
But even if you have electric heat, you might still pay a lot for gas year-round if you have other gas-powered appliances, like a gas stove or a gas-powered water heater. Older, inefficient gas appliances can lead to higher bills all year long.
On top of that, much of our electricity in the U.S. is generated by burning natural gas. So even if you’re in an all-electric home, you’ll still feel the squeeze from rising natural gas prices.
How to Save Money on Your Electric Bill
The rising cost of electric bills is surprisingly complex. Wars, global warming, pandemics — it’s enough to make you throw up your hands and say, “Welp, there’s nothing I can do.”
But there are ways to save money on your electric bill. Small improvements to your monthly bill can make more room in your budget for groceries, rent, and a nice night out now and then.
Here’s what you can do:
Turn It Off
The easiest way to save money on your electricity bill is to, well, not use electricity. When you leave a room, turn off the lights. If you’ll be away from your laptop for more than a few minutes, close it. And if you like to fall asleep with the TV on, use the sleep timer so that it doesn’t play all night.
But the most expensive thing you can turn off in the summer is your AC. If you’ll be out all day (and don’t have fur babies waiting for you at home), adjust the AC to a much higher temperature — or turn it off altogether.
If you have a programmable thermostat that you can adjust with your phone, you can turn it back on before you head home.
Don’t Use the Oven
Cooking in the winter is a great hack for heating your home — just leave the oven door open when you’re done to let the remaining heat spill out into your kitchen.
But in the summer, it has the reverse effect. Not only will you spend money on electricity (or natural gas) to heat your oven, but your AC will have to fight extra hard to cool your kitchen.
Don’t worry, some Chime members have recommended several quick and easy meals to try — none of which use an oven.
Close Off Rooms
If your home or apartment is cooled by central AC, the system is designed to heat everything evenly. But if you have a guest room you never use, it might make sense to close the AC vent in there and shut the door.
Your AC can reach the set temperature faster and run less frequently with one less room to worry about.
Change the Air Filter
When’s the last time you changed the air filter in your HVAC system? Over time, air filters can get clogged and dirty, so your HVAC has to run extra hard to push out cool air.
Replacing your air filter every three to six months can keep cooling costs down. If you’ve got a furry friend who sheds like crazy, stick to the low end of that range. You can pick up air filter replacements from a hardware store for under $10 each.
Look for Cheaper Electric Providers
It’s easy to feel like the electric company has a monopoly on the market. Where else would you get power?
But you can actually shop around for cheaper electricity plans. And one easy way to do that is using WattBuy. Whether you’re a homeowner or renter, you can use WattBuy to browse energy suppliers in your area, compare prices, and pick the option that saves you the most money.
You can find discounts and deals for WattBuy and other Chime partners in the Chime Marketplace, right in the Chime app.
Yes, really. A few strategic purchases can save you money on your electric bill. Plus, getting out of the house on a hot day means turning off the AC and letting the mall worry about keeping you cool.
Here’s what you should be shopping for:
- LED light bulbs: The U.S. Department of Energy reports that switching to LED bulbs saves the average household $225 in energy costs every year.
- Thick curtains: Drafty windows can let your precious cool air slip out during the summer months, and the blazing hot summer sun can raise the interior temperature of a room just by shining through the window. Invest in thick curtains to keep the cool in and the heat out.
- Fans: Running the AC is expensive. When it’s not unbearably hot outside, it’s more cost-effective to open your windows and use box and pedestal fans to create airflow throughout your home. If you’re a homeowner, install ceiling fans in bedrooms and the living room to create a constant breeze. Just make sure the fan is spinning counterclockwise in the summer — pulling hot air up with an updraft. (Most fans have a switch on the base to change directions.)
- Programmable thermostat: Smart thermostats can learn your habits and automatically adjust the temperature when you come and go. And if you sync it up with a smartphone app, you can adjust the temperature when you’re away from home.
Invest in Energy-Efficient Appliances
LED bulbs and programmable thermostats can yield some noticeable savings on your energy bills. But for significant reductions, try replacing outdated appliances with energy-efficient ones.
Add a washer, dryer, refrigerator, and dishwasher to your appliance wish list. Just make sure they get the thumbs up from Energy Star to make them worth the investment.
These aren’t cheap purchases you can make on a whim; instead, utilize your High Yield Chime Savings Account to save money over time. You’ll earn 0.50% on all the money you stash away, and you can opt into Round Ups and Save When I Get Paid to help reach your goals faster.
Bonus Tip: Run your appliances at night, whether it’s a load of dishes or laundry. Electricity costs more at peak hours; it’s typically cheapest overnight when most people are sleeping.
Get Your HVAC Repaired
Thick curtains and closed doors can only go so far. If your air conditioning system is not functioning properly, you’ll spend more money as it works harder to cool your home — and it’ll still probably leave you hot and cranky.
HVAC technicians aren’t cheap, but if your AC isn’t working properly, they’re your best bet for cooler temps and lower bills. They might be able to repair your unit, but if your central air system is over 15 years old, it might be time for a replacement.
If you rent, contact your property manager and request a yearly HVAC inspection.
Fix Leaks in Doors and Windows
Once your air conditioning is running properly, keep the cold air inside as long as possible. Check your doors and windows for any leaks and caulk any suspect areas.
While you can pay a contractor to do this for you, it’s a relatively easy DIY project. The U.S. Department of Energy even shared a handy how-to. If done correctly, caulking your doors and windows could lead to 10% to 20% in energy savings.
Final Thoughts: Take Charge of Your Electric Bill ⚡
The cost of electricity might remain high, so it’s important to do what you can — from installing LED bulbs to changing the air filter — to reduce consumption. If you’re up at 2 a.m. and feeling unproductive, run a load of laundry to shave some money off your summer electric bill.
If you’re worried about your monthly utility bill taking your account down to zero, check out our top ways to get one month ahead on your expenses.