Tuesday Q&A | Kids Blogging, plus Budget Billing

by Kristen on February 5, 2013 · 17 comments

in Q&A

Every other Monday (er, Tuesday this time!), I answer a few of the questions that my readers send me. If you have a question you’d like me to answer in a future Q&A post, just leave me a comment here or email me (thefrugalgirl [at] gmail [dot] com) and put Q&A in the subject line. I look forward to hearing from you!

I think you mentioned a long time ago two of your children have blogs and you use that as a part of your homeschooling. I would like to know how do you incorporate it into their education. Are their posts like assignments or do they just do what they like? Also, I noticed Lisey seems to have her own website but Joshua is a subsection of yours. I’m asking because my daughter has mentioned that she would like to make a cooking blog as well but I’m not sure how to go about it. I would prefer not to pay for it, are there any free options? Also, what age do you think is appropriate for her to start?

-Mona

Joshua’s 365 Blog

Well, I consider Joshua’s blog to be a part of his art education…he’s developing his photography skills, learning to see things in new ways, and learning to edit photos. And though his blog is mostly photos, he’s also getting to exercise some of his writing skills as he titles and writes descriptions of his photos.

Moonlight V2.0

I don’t give him assignments for his blog, though….he’s got creative freedom when it comes to his subject matter. I do proofread his posts before they’re published, though, so that I can help him correct things when necessary.

Baking with Lisey

Lisey’s blog is much more of a collaboration, since we do the baking together and we write the posts together as well. Putting together baking posts is a MUCH bigger job than writing 365 posts (uploading multiple pictures, making recipe PDFs, double-checking recipe ingredients and instructions), so Lisey wouldn’t be able to do this all on her own.

Mainly, Lisey’s learning how to bake, but she’s also gaining some writing experience.

I made Joshua’s blog a subdomain of mine because that’s how I had my 365 blog set up, and also because then we wouldn’t have to buy another domain. It seemed odd to have Lisey’s blog be a subdomain of mine, though, so I bought her one. Maybe eventually I’ll get Joshua his own domain, but for now, he’s happy where he is.

Blogging recommendations

You can DEFINITELY blog for free, yes! I highly recommend going to wordpress.com and setting up a free blog. WordPress is the best blogging software out there in my opinion, and if your daughter ever wants to grow her blog and have more creative control and also run ads, you can upgrade your wordpress.com blog to a self-hosting one like mine.

You can give yourself admin privileges and give your daughter editing privileges (that’s how Joshua and Lisey’s blogs are set up) so that way you’ve got full control over the blog and your daughter won’t have access to settings that could mess up the blog. You can also exercise control over the commenting system, which I know was a concern of yours. And as long as you proof-read her posts before she publishes them, you can make sure she’s not sharing information you’d like to keep private.

I love reading your blog for many reasons, one of them being: your very organized approach to savings and budgeting. I have been considering opting into budget billing with my electric and gas bill. I really see no down side to having a steady power bill, but, I must admit, the months when the bill is very low give me a thrill even though I know it all evens out in the end with the high months. Do you use the budget billing option or do you, too, enjoy the thrill of a little extra cash in the budget during the spring and fall months?

Thanks,

Danielle A.

Thus far, I haven’t used budget billing, opting instead to do my own version of that by budgeting a certain amount every month and then putting any extra from that amount into a savings account during the low bill months and withdrawing what we need when we have a high bill.

Most budget billing programs generously estimate your monthly bill so that they’re sure to have enough money to cover your usage. I’m know they give it back to you at the end of the year if there’s extra, but I’d kinda like to have that money in my own bank account all year, you know?

Some budget billing programs do have a system where they pay interest on any extra money you’ve paid into the system, but if your budget billing doesn’t have that, you might be happier sticking with your current method.

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Readers, chime in with your thoughts!

Leave a Comment

{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Tina Ray February 5, 2013 at 8:44 am

The Ray household is in full budget mode. We participated in the Financial Peace University through our church. You have to plan plan plan but that is what you do when you budget anyway so we are looking to become debt free! That’s my American dream.

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2 Economies of Kale February 5, 2013 at 8:55 am

I don’t really have anything to add, but I love the fact that your kids have blogs, and I bet they get a kick out of people from all over the world reading what they write.

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3 KimN February 5, 2013 at 9:19 am

We use the budget mode for our gas/electric and it works well for us. We are really cash strapped right now so getting hit with a $400 bill in January was not offset by the excitement of a $70 bill in June. We have a settlement month in September where we just pay the balance in our account. One year we were over budgeted and didn’t have to pay that month, the next we were under and had to pay a lot, and the third was dead on. I just make sure I monitor our usage carefully, particularily year over year comparisons to make sure things are under control. One of the things that really helped us cut costs is shopping for different gas providers. I’m not sure if that is unique to Michigan or not, but we have competition now for gas providers which lowers the rate. Also, they lock the rate for 24 months which helps for budgeting.

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4 Tina Ray February 5, 2013 at 9:35 am

I just received a competitor letter regarding gas in the mail. I am in Michigan as well. However, we have propane :(

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5 Tammy February 5, 2013 at 1:43 pm

I live in Michigan as well, and I’ve looked at the rates that are locked in – and often times they are higher than the rates we’ve had all year. So we just stick with DTE.

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6 Lili@creativesavv February 5, 2013 at 9:21 am

We’ve always allocated our own money into categories in the budget, for utility payments, for the same reasons you mentioned, that we just like to be the ones handling our money. I also think that it makes us think twice about how we use the heat and electricity, knowing that a bill will be due at the end of the month, reflecting exactly what we just used.

But I can definitely see how these sort of programs would be very beneficial for some people. For some, it’s a sort of ease of mind, knowing what’s expected of you each month. For others, their income is so close to their expenditures that in high-use months it’s a struggle to come up with the money for the bills and in low-use months there’s too much temptation to see a low bill as a windfall and just spend it. You have to know just what you’re comfortable with.

I know this is off topic, but what’s the quart capacity of your Kitchen Aid mixer, and do you use it for weekly bakings of bread, and how many loaves can you knead at a time in it? Sorry to be off topic.

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7 Diane February 5, 2013 at 9:22 am

Our provider has a “Level Pay Plan” and my experience was the same as FG’s.
They were so generous in their estimations that at one point they were almost eight months ahead. I called and asked for a refund and the answer was a resounding “NO”.
So I said “NO” to their plan and haven’t looked back since. With a little budgeting discipline, you do not need their “help”.

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8 Jill February 5, 2013 at 10:14 am

I use the budget billing that the gas and electric company offer. I live in Iowa and we can get very cold in the winter. It is nice to spread the high gas bills out over the year. If my excess gets to high they recalculate my monthly bill. They sometimes do this several times a year. Some summers (like last summer) it can get very hot. Again it is nice to spread the electric bills out. I do not keep the a/c real low, usually 85 during the day and 78 at night.

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9 Dianna February 5, 2013 at 12:26 pm

I do the same as Kristen, I budget a certain amount each month for utilities. When the amount is lower, I put the difference in a savings account for the higher months. I like this since my electric company doesn’t offer levelized billing as well as my control freak self likes to handle it my way. I just have the impression that they do not offer those types of things for our beefit without it benefiting them in some way first. Just my opinion.

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10 Tammy February 5, 2013 at 2:00 pm

We do not use the gas company’s budeting payment plan. We do budget similar to you, and the money is available for the higher months. We would so much rather be in control of our money -because once you pay, if you overpay the gas company they don’t return the money, they just keep it in your account. Also, my neighbor underpaid and when they adjusted her bill she had $300 plus her normal bill due immediately. I’m sure some companies have a better way of doing their budgeted plan, but in talking with people who use our gas company, we just decided to pay each month as we were billed.

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11 Tracy February 5, 2013 at 2:50 pm

What I do here in Canada, is use the automatic bill payment option on my PC banking account. I look at my bills and decide an average of what I am going to pay and put that in the budget, so an example is every month I set up for my bank account to pay my gas bill 300 dollars at a certain time each month. I check my bills to make sure that the amount is sufficient. Over time a credit builds up with the company.I let this credit build up and and for a couple months a year I stop the automatic bill payment until the credit is all used up. I find this works really well for us, because I have exact numbers to work with every month, and when I stop paying the bill for a couple of months, I can redirect that into something else. This way the utilities companies are not controlling how much I pay monthly, I am.

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12 Larissa February 5, 2013 at 3:06 pm

Our utility companies call it “equalization payments” and I grew up with my mom doing it so it’s been around for decades where I live in Canada. I love it since my gas might be $30 used in July and $160 in December but I always pay $75 (just as a made up example…although the usage swings are sorta like that). Once a year (mine is in June) we have one bill that is either bigger or smaller based on what is needed to balance the 12 month period. They then recalculate for the next estimated 12 months based on the recent usage history. It works great for us and our 12th month is usually smaller than the “equalization” amount by a few bucks. I love “budget billing” and the fact that our city utilities as well as gas and electric do it now.

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13 Larissa February 5, 2013 at 3:07 pm

Our utility companies call it “equalization payments” and I grew up with my mom doing it so it’s been around for decades where I live in Canada. I love it since my gas might be $30 used in July and $160 in December but I always pay $75 (just as a made up example…although the usage swings are sorta like that). Once a year (mine is in June) we have one bill that is either bigger or smaller based on what is needed to balance the 12 month period. They then recalculate for the next estimated 12 months based on the recent usage history. It works great for us and our 12th month is usually smaller than the “equalization” amount by a few bucks. I love “budget billing” and the fact that our city utilities as well as gas and electric do it now.

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14 janknitz February 5, 2013 at 4:36 pm

We do the budget billing for gas and electricity. After the first two years or so, it’s been pretty close to reality because there’s plenty of history to judge it on and our family has been pretty stable in our usage. I like knowing what the bill will be for budgeting purposes–we don’t have AC or use the stove and oven much in summer (gas), so summer bills were low, but in winter the big bills for heating can really pack a whollop!

We keep looking into solar, but because so much of our usage is gas (forced air heating, dryer, stove, and oven) we don’t use enough electricity to make it cost effective. We do have solar powered attic fans that help so much with keeping the house cool in summer. I highly recommend them.

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15 Julie February 5, 2013 at 8:58 pm

Apparently the budget plan varies a lot by provider! Our first experience with it I found the utility tended to slightly underestimate usage – which was fine, because each bill had a running total of credit vs charges, so you could see that coming, and the amount that would be owed during the catch up month would usually not be huge. They also settled things up twice a year, so you never had the chance to get too far off track. (In our case it would run around 200/month in the winter, 170 in the summer, and the catch up when we were coming out of the winter season would be maybe $20 or so. They got more accurate as we were with them longer and had more usage history for them to base budgeting off of too.) I just signed up for a budget plan here, and they settle up four times a year, but I haven’t been on it long enough to say how well they estimate usage.

I prefer the budget pay plans because I like to have as many of my bills as possible on direct deposit – it makes it much less likely that I’ll loose track of the date when on vacation or when illness strikes the house and end up with a late fee. But I am also kind of paranoid about not wanting anything on direct deposit unless it is a fixed amount – I don’t want a huge amount suddenly being taken out of my account without be being aware of it. I always have plenty of extra in my checking, so for a direct withdrawal to be large enough to be a problem it would have to be a pretty huge change and would most likely be some sort of mistake, but still. I once had my credit card info stolen and several hundred dollars of charges put on it within the few days before I realized it and got the transactions flagged – if that account had been on direct deposit it would have been much more likely to be a problem.

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16 Elaine in Ark February 6, 2013 at 12:10 pm

I have budget billing for both gas and electric, and I live it. They both use a “rolling 12 month” system, which is the current usage plus the last 11 months’ usage, averaged out. It keeps the payment amount pretty darn close on a month to month basis, although summer (A/C) and winter (Furnace) are a bit more.

I like the predictability.

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17 Mona February 6, 2013 at 1:49 pm

Thanks, Kristen! I like the idea of wordpress because if she does decide to keep up with it she can switch it over to a professional blog. And yes, being able to proof read will make my husband happy so we can control what information is being put out.

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