Imagine paying for something and got nothing. Well, lots of people do this but they just don’t know about it.
One of the biggest complaints to utility companies is a billing error which can cause all sorts of alarm bells if you’re not careful.
Protecting yourself from a billing error takes a few steps but a few minutes per bill may just save you hours of hard-earned money.
You don’t think a billing error will happen to you until it does which is why it’s very important to retain control even when you’ve set up automatic bill payments.
Life can get in the way of just about everything but the one area you DON’T want to skip is your finances where money can be flowing out the window right under your nose.
A simple billing error to the tune of $14 spotted on my mother-in-laws utility bill prompted us to make a phone call to Rogers where some customers might miss or brush it off as no big deal. Money IS a BIG DEAL especially when it is YOUR money.
One hour of work may not seem like lots to you but for someone earning minimum wage at $14 an hour, living on an Ontario pension or disability cheque that’s lots of money to lose.
Put it this way, any time money is taken from you for services or products you did not get or use the matter should be taken seriously.
A billing error happens more than you think
From employees not understanding, caring or asking for help to computer glitches, system upgrades or a slip of the finger each of these mistakes can cause a billing error. Sometimes the billing error is not the companies fault but the customers fault.
What exactly is a billing error?
Well just as it suggests you are being charged for something you didn’t use or purchase and whether the mistake was intentional or not it must be fixed.
For example, when Cogeco was upgrading their system we had months of billing errors because the changes we asked for were never applied. It took almost 7 months to have the monthly billing error sorted and credited to the account.
A billing error can happen on a grocery store receipt which I’ve talked about but I want to focus specifically on utility bills. The reason for this is we caught billing errors on my mother-in-laws cell-phone bill which we almost paid for by automatic payment.
Just about anyone can miss a billing error but the main reason is because we put our finances in the hands of automated billing and believing the system is always right. We only hear about the massive billing errors because they are obvious and rightfully so people will fight to get the bill sorted by the company if there is a billing error.
What ends up happening when have a billing error and you pay by automatic debit is that you end up paying for something you didn’t get.
Not only that but if you are budgeting your money and more is debited from your bank account you may be in the red when it comes to paying for other bills if you don’t have an emergency savings account.
Just last month we made a big mistake by not transferring enough money to our savings account which caused our investments to be returned as Non-Sufficient Funds.
That banking error turned into cash grab from us both the bank and investment company jumped on but it’s no unusual and we need to be aware of what can happen when a bill bounces.
Not all utility bills are fixed amounts unless you are on some sort of payment plan with your company. Our mother-in-law for example pays $120 a month every month for her Union Gas bill but once a year has a lower or higher bill based on usage.
This helps us to budget her money easier and it may for you as well knowing how much the bill will be. Plus over-paying which she does each month is kind of like a savings plan that ends up most often balancing out in the end hence the purpose of the program.
One thing to remember is that all bills can have a billing error whether they are fixed or variable expenses. Fixed expenses are when you pay the same amount over and over where variable means the expense will differ each time. Most utility bills are variable as they will differ based on usage.
Spotting a billing error
How to spot a billing error? The best way is to read every single bill and the charges that come along with it.
Since we’ve taken over my mother-in-laws finances due to her dementia it has become overwhelming for us paying bills for two families. You don’t realize how much work it is when you are put into a situation like this until you have to get the job done.
After making phone calls to every single utility company numerous times to get access to the billing accounts by the owner, swapping over names it can take its toll on you and the last thing you want to do is pay bills for two household each month.
This is Mrs. CBB and I made the final decision to automate almost all of our bills apart from our credit cards which we manually pay each month. In the process we automated all of my mother-in-laws bills too because it seemed to be the easiest way to go for us.
What we noticed over the course of going paperless with our bills is that it challenges the owner of the bill to read it. Most people just look at how much they owe and move on with their day. Others don’t even bat an eye at the bill and delete it from their inbox or perhaps it goes to spam and they never see it.
The only way to know it got paid is by looking at your bank account or receiving a letter in the mail or a phone call that your bill bounced. The financial awareness has become slim for many people who put trust in the system to make sure everything runs like a good robot should but human error and computers make mistakes.
One bill that we still receive as paper billing is her communications bill which includes her cell phone, TV, internet and home phone charges. It gets to the point though where the bill would come in and it would sit on the table for a few days because we know it is automatically paid.
If it weren’t we’d likely open it right away but the laziness habit kicks in when things are done for us. I know we are NOT alone and there are some of you who do the same, don’t. Perhaps for us we became relaxed because they weren’t our bills and we knew they were automated.
When we finally opened her bill we noticed a billing error straight away for her cell phone with two roaming charges. She never leaves Canada so how on earth was she billed $7 twice for roaming off Canadian soil?
The last thing I wanted to do was sit on the phone for ages with Rogers waiting to sort this billing error so I went the online route using their live support.
The first go at it turned up a disaster as the sales associate wanted my mother-in-law to call even though our names are on the account.
Yes, that upset me because it was going to be a waste or our time. We didn’t give up and tried again and finally the live support agent sorted it out without any issue. (funny how that works)
All we did was explain the situation about taking over my mother-in-laws finances due to her health and that she does not leave the country. A quick look and he came back to apologize for the system errors and immediately credited the account for the $14.
Although she has no idea that this happened for us it’s a big deal and I know if she did know she’d do the same thing. She was old-school with her bills as she would read them and send in cheques or pay them at the bank in person.
Where it becomes a problem is when customers like you and I fail to read the bills and just pay them. It’s imperative in the least that you take the time each month to go online or open a paper bill and review it.
We do this mandatory with all of our bills now including our credit card bills. You may spot double billing or even charges made by someone using you credit card fraudulently but don’t limit your viewing habits to just credit cards read them all.
Unfortunately it may be tough to spot a billing error with your electricity and water bills unless you are tracking it daily based on usage which most people won’t do but being accountable to your money is key.
When the blame is on you
What happens if customer service denies you or blames a charge on you?
Simple, you ask to speak to a manager in charge. Keep in mind that you may be misunderstanding a charge and you could be in the wrong as well. It’s important to take a step back, evaluate what you’ve learned and if you are wrong then accept that and move on.
Earlier this year a Winnipeg man received a $23,000 water bill from his utility company who said it was not a billing error and he refused to pay it.
The city at that time was investigating his case further which they should do because that amount of money is outrageous and I’m sure any homeowner would want proof other than numbers from a meter.
Matthew Cowap says he was contacted by a city official about an unusually high quarterly bill in October 2016. The bill is typically about $150, he says.
“I was like, ‘Are you sure you’re not missing a decimal place there or something?” he says. “And they’re like, ‘No, it’s $23,000.’”
Keep in mind reading your meter and tracking numbers is a smart way to make sure there are no unusual activity happening especially when your bills are typically standard each month.
Make sure that you also read all the fine print as well because you may get billed for something based on activity on your account. Remember those $40 NSF charges we had last month, well it was in the fine print. When you don’t pay on time you get dinged!
If that fails you do your homework and look for head-office phone numbers online or make phone calls to the company and ask for a number.
You can also ask for names of management or senior representatives in charge. Perhaps someone higher up can explain it better or look into the situation deeper to solve it if you feel it didn’t go the way you expected it to go.
If you are in the right and no one wants to listen and you’ve exhausted all of your avenues, go to the media. I don’t often say this but your Money is your Money and no one should take advantage of that.
In the least a proper investigation should be handled if a billing error is questioned and not brushed off by first level staff. Most social media outlets have message centres you can also utilize where someone will return your message.
Protect yourself from a billing error
- Tip 1- Pay your bills manually if you can
- Tip 2- Read them all and track what you can when you can for reference
- Tip 3- If you automate your bills don’t leave all your money in one bank account if you don’t have to because it there is a billing error that money could potentially get wiped out. This has happened and can set you up for a bigger financial disaster when other bills can’t get paid.
- Tip 4- Once you spot a billing error don’t wait to sort it out because the longer you wait the harder it gets. Make sure you tell them you want your money and be stern about it because if you didn’t get the service you should not have paid for it.
- Tip 5- Take it higher if you don’t get the results you want and have the resources and information to back up your claim.
If you take anything from the lessons in this blog post today it is to make sure you read every bill in full because a billing error can happen to anyone even when you least expect it.
Discussion: Have you ever found a billing error? How did you handle it? What was the outcome? Share your tips below for other readers.
Money earned in September
Not much money was spent this month, other than on what was needed. We were under our monthly budget, which is good. We don’t always have to hit our allowed monthly budget amount. It’s good to be under too.
Sure it’s nice to have money let over at the end of the month, but it doesn’t mean we have to spend it, just because it’s there. The emergency savings total of $3,250.98 will go and join the rest of the savings we have accrued already for use when we really need it for something much bigger.
There are plans at the CBB household to use the money, just not right now. It makes it easier to use the money we have collected it and then spend it on projects that would otherwise be placed on Home Equity Lines of credit or similar.
Budget percentages September 2018
Our savings of 46.19% includes investments as well as any savings for this month based on the income of $9,709.04.
We put money away for the projected expenses for things that need to be paid for in the coming months.
All of the categories took 100% of our income which shows that all the money we earned for the month is accounted for.
Below is a breakdown of our expenses which helps us to understand where all of our money goes. Since May 2014 we’ve been mortgage free so much of our money will be directed at savings, investments and renovations.
I appreciate that you enjoy this budget update each month but I do hope you view this as an educational tool rather than comparing your own financial numbers as our situations are all unique.
Spending less than we earn and budgeting our money has been the easiest way for us to pay down debt and save money. It may be different for you.
- Chequing– This is the bank account where all of our debt gets paid from.
- Emergency Savings Account– This is a high-interest savings account.
- Regular Savings Account– This is a savings account that holds our projected expenses.
- Monthly Budgeted Total: $5,358.72
- Monthly Net Income Total: $9,709.04
- (Check out our Ultimate Grocery Guide to see where our grocery money goes)
- Projected Expenses: These are expenses we know we will pay for throughout the year = $1,621.00
- Total Expenses Actually Paid Out: $4,837.06
- Total Expenses Actually Paid Out: Calculated is $9,709.04 (total net monthly income) – $1621.00 (projected expenses) – $3250.98 (savings in to emergency fund) = $4,837.06
- Actual Cash Savings going into Emergency Savings: Calculated is $9,709.04 (total monthly net income) – $4,837.06 (actual expenses paid out for the month) – $1621.00 (projected expenses) = $3,250.98
Our budget results
Time for the juicy category numbers and to see how we made out with our monthly budget. Below you will see two tables, one is our monthly budget and the other is our actual budget for the month of August 2018.
This budget represents 2 adults and a toddler plus retirement investments.
Budget colour chart
If highlighted in blue that means it is a projected expense. You will also see our budget does not include the emergency savings as it’s factored in at the end.
Monthly Budget for September 2018
Our FREE simple budgeting series
Do you want to learn to budget like we do?
Our Ultimate Budgeting Guide from A to Z has everything you need to know about budgeting in one blog post.
- How We Designed Our Budget Step 1– Gathering All the information
- How We Designed Our Budget Step 2– Budget Categories
- How We Designed Our Budget Step 3– Tracking Receipts
- How We Designed Our Budget Step 4- Note-taking
- How We Designed Our Budget Step 5– 5S Organization
- How We Designed Our Budget Step 6– Who Does What and When?
- How We Designed Our Budget Step 7– Balancing Our Budget
- How We Designed Our Budget Step 8– Knowing our Coupon Savings
- How We Designed Our Budget Step 9– Reading Our Bills
- How We Designed Our Budget Step 10– Projected Expenses
Budget updates month by month
Just in case you missed our budget updates and want to do a quick search I’ve compiled them all on one handy page: monthly budgets.
That’s all for this month check back at the beginning of November 2018 (sometimes in the middle) to see how we made out with our October budget.
Happy Budgeting CBB’ers!
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