Utility Angst: Reading the Bills (Angst Report)

Today I’m double -dipping. I wrote the post below for my friend Debra Galant’s blog, The Angst Report. It’s a blog about all the things that make us anxious.

I remember visiting my grandmother after she moved from her home in Queens, NY to an assisted living apartment near my parents in Connecticut. She had saved a pile of junk mail and asked me to look through it. The letters — all solicitations for things she didn’t need — combined with an onslaught of telemarketing calls, caused her to worry. To her, if it had arrived in the mail, or someone had called, meant it must be important. When I moved to toss everything in the trash, she became more anxious and insisted I save it to show my mother.

I was reminded of her anxiety when paying bills online last week. I’ve considered myself a rather informed consumer — look for sales, try to only buy what I use, and read labels. At least while food shopping. With gas, I try to find the cheapest, but also don’t drive an extra 10 miles to save 5 cents. But with my utilities, I realized how little I know about what I’m paying.

Why do I have two utility bills: PSEG and JCPL? I turn off lights, lower the heat, and unplug unnecessary chargers but the bill never seems to go lower.

Then there’s the cable television bill. I’m paying for things I have no clue what they are. What is “Blast!?” Why are there two State Treasury fees? (3 cents and 75 cents.) I don’t understand my cell phone bill either — I’m sure I don’t use half the services I pay for.

I know I could spend some time — no, lots of time — deciphering the bills by calling customer service. But that would mean either trying to figure out which number to push, only to listen a recording I won’t understand or trying to reach a human for explanation. I’m not sure who would lose patience first.

With caller ID, I don’t need to answer telemarketers. I toss junk mail directly into recycling. But I’m beholden to those utility bills. Today I turned off the heat. Hopefully there are a few weeks before the air condition needs to blast. Maybe I’ll use the time to learn about my bills.


About cyclingrandma

I was a journalist (Danbury News-Times, Ct), before becoming a teacher, and continue to write for professional journals. I have written several study guides for Penguin Books and write for Education Update, a newspaper based in New York City. (www.educationupdate.com). I’ve interviewed many authors, college presidents, and scientists. I wrote “The Kentucky Derby’s Forgotten Jockeys” for Smithsonian Magazine's website, www.smithsonian.com. (April, 2009). Two essays have been published in book anthologies; one for Wisdom of Our Mothers, (Familia Books) and the other in “College Search and Parent Rescue: Essay for Parents by Parents of College-Going Students.” (St. Martin’s Press). I was a middle school Language Arts teacher for more than 10 years and have just completed a five year grant position under No Child Left Behind in Newark, NJ public schools. I have three children, two daughters-in law, and six grandchildren. I'm an avid cyclist, knitter, cook, and reader. I love theater, museums, and yoga.
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3 Responses to Utility Angst: Reading the Bills (Angst Report)

  1. deanne says:

    Worse than all the things we’re paying for that we don’t use is the new business model of “only fools pay.” Did you know that when your cable contract is up, if you call and threaten to switch, they will lower your bill? That seems profoundly unfair to me, that squeaky wheels pay lower bills, or that there is a two-tiered pricing system; one for people who scream and one for those who don’t.

    Hubby has the patience to call and wail. I don’t.


  2. vimax says:

    Very nice your post . so


  3. Nathan says:

    The bills in NYC are extremely simple, I don’t know if that’s possible in suburbia. There’s one bill to Conn Edison for gas and electric, which is clearly broken down based on how much we consume each month and I see a big difference based on how much we use. The internet is a flat monthly rate from timewarner and we don’t have a landline phone so the cell phones again are fixed to Verizon, which tells me how money my phone was billed each month in a text message. Obviously the flat-rate maintenance fee to the building also makes it simpler because water and other utility costs are handled by the building.


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