So Your Utilities Were Cut Off … Now What?

Unless it happened totally by accident, having your utilities cut off is probably a symptom of larger issues with how you manage your money.

The winds of winter may get cold, but there are few things nicer than being inside and warm as the frightful weather rages outside. Just close your eyes and imagine it. Or, rather, open them so you can keep reading, but imagine it anyway:

You’re sitting in a big comfy chair. You’re holding a giant mug of hot cocoa with little marshmallows, and it’s warming your hands but it’s not so hot that you can’t drink it comfortably.

The TV is playing a calming Christmas movie. Something about a businessman who never spent time with his family and then he was hit by a car but an angel let him relive his last week on Earth.  Now he can spend more time with his family, but at the end of that week, he’s still going to die.

But… come on… you know he’s going to end up getting to live somehow and they’ll all have a happy ending just in time for Christmas.

Yet, as that happy ending is approaching, the TV shuts off, along with the heating and lights.

Your utilities have been cut! Now what?!


Figure out if it was a mistake.

If you knew you weren’t going to be able to pay your utility bills, you probably should have done something earlier. But we’ll get to that later. For now, let’s assume this came out of nowhere. You had sent in the check or had autopay set up but something went wrong somewhere because one or more of your utilities are not present. Now it’s time to do some detective work.

“The first thing to do is call your power or water company to see if it was a mistake,” advised Sophie Kaemmerle, Communications Manager for NeighborWho (@UseNeighborWho). “If it happened due to failure to pay your bill, ask for an extension until you can get what you may be short on, or simply pay it right away if you just forgot.”

If it was a mistake, you’re going to have to give the utility company a stern talking to. Or a polite, but firm talking to that makes clear you need those utilities back.

“If our utilities get cut off mistakenly, the immediate priority is to get service restored to minimize disruption to ourselves and any other family or friends living with us,” explained finance writer and Middle Class Dad Jeff Campbell (@middleclassdad1). “While it’s rare for utilities to get cut off truly through no fault of the resident, it can happen.”

“While you can call or live chat with some providers, assuming they mistakenly applied your payment to someone else’s account,” said Campbell, “your best strategy is to go to the utility company in person and ideally pull up your bank’s payment system on your phone (since you presumably won’t be able to print anything at home) and show that the payment cleared your bank. If you paid in cash in person, simply show the receipt for the payment.”

And if it wasn’t a mistake …

Even if you know you’re going to come up short on a utility bill, it could still be worth trying to reach out to the company.

“The best thing to do if you utilities get cut off is to contact organizations that help with utilities,” advised life coach Katrina Mckissick. “They may be able to help pay all or a portion of the bill to restore your utilities.”

“It is always wise to call the electric company before it’s due to cut off and make payment arrangements. Most electric companies offer that but it has to be done before the service is disconnected.”

“If they get cut off because you weren’t able to pay them, still call the utility company and explain that you weren’t able to pay them,” suggested financial coach and author Karen Ford. “Ask them what you can do to get them turned back on.”

“Many times, when this question is asked, the company may not require the entire bill be paid, but a partial payment or partial payments to be paid are set up. Kindness will go a long way with them.”

In the meantime …

If the utilities aren’t switched back on immediately and you don’t have another place to stay, you’re going to have to find ways to cope until they come back.

Kaemmerle offered some tips for roughing it without certain utilities: “Keep lots of bottled water on hand for drinking and bathing. Be sure to have enough for each person in the household to have two gallons per day for at least a week. Wipes and bar soap will help with being able to wash as well. Have a stockpile of non-perishable foods that won’t need to be kept cold or cooked before being eaten.

“Purchase a portable charger for necessary electronics, such as phones or computers. Make sure you keep it charged and check that it still works periodically. If your lights go out, grab some battery powered lanterns or candles. Just be very careful where you place them so a fire does not burn down your home.

“To keep the food in your fridge from spoiling; get a good quality cooler or a small, portable generator to run it on. If you need to use up your food quickly because you have no cooler, you can cook it on an outdoor grill, or inside on a portable butane stove. Eat the food that will go bad the quickest first, and then move on to non-perishables to have as little waste as possible.”

And the next time …

If you’ve ever been worried about missing a utility bill, there are steps you can and should take to try to prevent that from happening, either again or for the first time.

“Some tips to keep you from forgetting is to set a reminder a week before the due date, so you are aware of it,” Kaemmerle told us. “It will also help to set aside a fraction of the bill each time you get paid between bills.”

“For example, four checks a month would need one-quarter of the bill set aside per check so you will have the full amount already saved when needed. Another helpful tip if you tend to be forgetful is to set up automatic payments for your utility bills.”

Campbell offered his own take: “Utilities getting cut off due to lack of payment is overall indicative of a larger financial problem. You need to first get on a written monthly budget and really scrutinize and prioritize how your money gets allocated.”

“Utilities would obviously be at the top of the list along with rent or mortgage and food. Cut all unnecessary expenses while you get your budget going. Money problems, aside from being created by not having a plan (ie: budget) are the product of either an income problem, a spending problem, a debt problem, or a combination of all three.”

“It’s often hard to figure out what to focus on until you have a budget,” he said. “Then you can determine which of those three areas needs the most improvement and you can begin to make a plan for that.”

Losing access to your utilities is never fun. But with proper preparation, it hopefully won’t happen to you!

One thing you definitely shouldn’t do when your utilities get cut off is to take out a predatory no credit check loan or short-term bad credit loan (think payday loanscash advances, and title loans) in order to pay your bill. To learn more about how you can take control of your finances and avoid situations like this, check out these related posts and articles from OppLoans:

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Contributors

Jeff Campbell (@middleclassdad1) blogs on all things Personal Finance, Parenting, Relationships & more at NewMiddleClassDad.com. He is a Dad, Husband, Martial Artist and worked for over 2 decades as a leader for Whole Foods Market.
Karen Ford is a Master Financial Coach, Public Speaker, Entrepreneur, and Best- Selling Author. Her #1 Amazon Best Selling Book “Money Matters” is a discovery for many.  In “Money Matters” she provides keys to demolishing debt, shares how to budget correctly, and gives principles in wealth building.
Sophie Kaemmerle is Communications Manager for NeighborWho (@UseNeighborWho). NeighborWho’s mission is simply to help you better understand your neighborhood. Learn about your neighbors, the houses on your street, current and past owners, access property reports and lookup public records. Public records are aggregated to compile in-depth reports on properties & people—NeighborWho provides a wealth of information at your fingertips.
Katrina Mckissick is a life coach. Her great passion is helping people to work through issues they face in life. She helps clients find healthy perceptions of themselves so they can be complete, healthy, whole and safe. She provides resources and tools to help others live an amazing life.