How to Estimate the Cost of Utilities
By Julia Layton
Utilities Cost Calculators
For trash pickup, you'll have an exact number: Either your landlord is paying it; you're paying it and the amount is stated in your lease (for renters); or you're paying it and you know the price because you set up the service yourself.
The same goes for phone, cable and Internet.
Energy use is a different story.
If you live in a small apartment and use about 550 kW/h per month, which is about average, and you're paying about $0.10 per kW/h, again the average, you'll receive a bill each month for $55. Easy enough. But how do you know how many kW/h you're going to use?
To get a nice big picture of your electricity expenses, you can turn to any number of calculators on the Internet, provided by power companies, government agencies, energy-efficiency organizations and apartment rental Web sites.
You'll find energy-use calculators that ask some questions about appliances, lights and heating and cooling in order to give you a number, either in kW/h or in dollars. You can also use many of these to find out your local kW/h rate and to calculate how much you'd save by altering your energy habits. For example:
- CPS Energy: Calculate Your Home Energy Costs
- Generic Electrical Energy Cost Calculator
- Home Energy Saver: Energy Calculator
- Pays to Live Green: kWh Energy Savings Calculator
And then there are the overall budgeting calculators that will ask about everything -- phone, trash pick-up, water, student-loan payments, electricity -- to help you get an overall picture of your expenses. You'll find a few of these here:
- Clear Point: Build a Budget
- College Answer: Monthly Budget Calculator
- Department of Education: Budget Calculator
Most experts say you should spend no more than 40 percent of your income on housing, and that includes utilities. Calculators are a great way to estimate this cost, but other, still simpler options may be available to you. You could ask your landlord, a previous tenant or homeowner, or find estimates online for the specific apartment community you're considering. These approaches may be somewhat less precise than individualized calculations, but they can give you a quick answer as to whether you're coming in below the 40-percent threshold, so at least you know if you're on the right track.
For more information on utilities expenses, budgeting and related topics, look over the links on the next page.