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Save money: How to lower your utility bills in Los Angeles

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As an actor cultivating a TV or film career, you’ve got to be living in LA, but the City of Angels isn’t the cheapest place to hang your hat. While a fair amount of actors are consumer savvy, many overlook their basic utility bills as a place where they can save some cash. Here are some ways to lower the monthly hit for your electric, gas and phone bills, besides using more blankets, getting a roommate, and buying candles.

ELECTRICITY

LADWP

The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power offers a number of financial assistance programs to qualifying residents. For example, if you’re just a bit low on cash this month, you can make payment arrangements that spread out the bill in installments, or delay it. If you’re a senior actor or on disability, they offer a few options for you. If the adjusted gross income on last year's 1040 is low enough, you may qualify for their low-income assistance.

Unplug

You’re probably familiar with Energy Star (a program of the EPA), if only because their logo crops up on a lot of newer appliances, from your flat screen to the dishwasher. According to their website, the average consumer spends about $100 per year powering devices that aren’t even on. Referred to as 'energy vampires', items in standby mode (i.e., your microwave), disconnected from their source (your cell phone charger) or even off (a lamp) are sucking up electricity simply by virtue of being plugged into an outlet.

The obvious solution is to unplug each item that’s not being used, but that can be kind of a pain. One way to make that option simpler is by using control strips wisely. Instead of unplugging the TV, speakers, DVD player, etc., individually, one just unplugs the strip.

You can take it a step further by purchasing energy saving smart strips that know when a device is off, and cut the power to that outlet in the strip. There are many out there, and the one I’ve been using is called Smart Strip. If the TV is off, the strip knows I’m not using the antennae or my Apple TV box, either, and cuts the power to all three. I use one at my desk, too, which my computer, external hard drive and desk lamp are all plugged into.

You can go plug by plug for things like air conditioner units, kitchen appliances and lamps by purchasing single adapters. The Belkin Conserve Power Switch, for example, is a one-outlet adapter that has its own on/off switch. You leave your toaster or lamp permanently plugged into the switch, and use the switch's on/off button to control the power flow.

Silver Screen

The screen saver on your computer may save your monitor, but not necessarily any power. Look for the energy saver settings on your computer to adjust to a power saving mode when the computer isn't being used.

Turn it off already

Forget the myth that it takes more energy to turn something on and off than it does to leave it on. The small surge is negligible to the amount of electricity draining through something that's on and not being used.

Special note: Turn off your wifi. You don't need internet access at home when you're not there, or when you're sleeping: not only is it draining electricity, it's an unnecessary security risk.

NATURAL GAS

SoCal Gas

SoCal Gas offers two programs: CARE (California Alternate Rates for Energy), and a low-income program. If you own your home, there are more discounts offered for upgrading to energy efficient appliances, or making energy efficient modifications.

Usage Alerts

When you set up an online account to pay your natural gas bills, you can monitor how much you’re using each month by visiting the site directly, or choosing to be notified via email of your usage throughout the billing period. This is great for giving you a heads up before the bill comes, so you can keep things in check.

Turn down this pilot

My heat is powered by natural gas. Living in LA, I don’t use the heat for at least 8 months of the year, so having the pilot light on is just burning money. Make an appointment to have a gas tech come to your home and turn off the gas flow to your heater. If you’re lucky, they’ll show you how to turn it back on yourself. If you’re not brave enough for that, you can schedule an appointment for early winter to have them come back out and re-light it for you.

PHONE

Use a Lifeline

Low income households can drop their monthly phone bill about $10 by signing up for the Lifeline programs. There are two programs, one offered by California, one by the federal government, designed to keep people of lower incomes connected. The discount may apply to either a landline or a cell phone.

Anchor your landline

Some of us still have landlines, if only because 911 service on cell phones in LA is still a bit dicey. That doesn’t mean, however, that you need to trick out the service with all the extra bells and whistles: most of us are using our mobiles as our go-to number, anyway. By pairing down the landline services (getting rid of voice mail, call waiting, caller ID, even long-distance), you can drop your phone bill to about $20 a month, and that's before any Lifeline discount.

Please share any other ideas or thoughts on this topic in the comments section below.