Na Na pinches her pennies (aka frugal living)

Shh… don't tell anyone I'm poor. They all think I'm living frugal and green just like everyone these days. This is a blog about a senior citizen living a frugal life, on a fixed income, in a low income food desert, and passing along knowledge from lessons learned. Some she learned from her Grandma Mama many years ago and some learned only a few days ago.

Do I need a tin foil hat?

Just when I feel as if I’ve gotten my financial life in balance and running smoothly, something costs more.  These days the sticker shocks and sucker punch fees are coming faster than ever.  Back at the beginning of the year our local gas and electric company had a rate hike.  Our sewer company had a raise last fall.  Our water company has a raise that starts soon.  All those raises together have added several dollars to my monthly expenses.  But, I only get 44 cents more on my SS this year over last year due to the higher medicare costs.  Needless to say my financial life is out of balance again and needs some adjustments.  I must either cut back, earn more, or both.

Sometimes I wonder what it would feel like to have enough money in the bank to simply pay a bill without worry if I was spending too much.  Not a day goes by that my mind is not trying to figure new ways to cut “usage” of something to compensate for price hikes.  Don’t get me wrong I’m not complaining.  I love finding new money saving ideas.  I love researching.  I love experimenting. While others are spending money on fun stuff I’m hoarding change in a jar to buy something, or make something, that will cut the cost of my expenses.

The raises given to our two Kentucky utility companies are to cover the cost of new smart meters.  These meters are already being installed in some areas.  Uh Oh!  Should I get my tin foil hat ready?  These would be the new digital meters so many people are complaining about.  Do an internet search for “smart meters” and read all the conspiracy theories.  The thing is, we have no choice.  The meters get installed no matter how much anyone protests.

Ooo, look at all the pretty zeros on the brand new smart meter.  That will be the only time I ever see all zeros.

I can see the logic of upgrading equipment.  Everyone should know by now how very old our grid infrastructure is and the need for improvements.  There is danger of terrorists attacks or EMP on such an outdated system.  So why are so many complaining about the new meters? Conspiracy theorists at work?  I don’t know about that but what really bothers me about the new smart meters is the loss of jobs it will cost.  Hundreds of jobs will be lost right here in this area within a few months time.  Multiply this all over the USA and thats going to be significant.  All because of smart meters.  Let me explain my thoughts.

The smart meters send information to the main computer at the utility company.  This is done wireless similar to using WiFi or a cell phone.  There won’t be a need for meter reader people walking from house to house anymore.  Meter readers will loose their job.  When the main computer at the utility company receives information from a smart meter it will figure up the bill and send it to the customer’s email inbox.  Or if the customer has automatic bill pay the computer will send a signal to the customer’s bank computer to pay the bill.  The bank computer will pay it.  This means there won’t be a need for billing clerks at the utility company anymore.  Those people will be out of jobs soon. Paper bills will still be mailed to the rest of us….. for now.

Low income and fixed income people often don’t have the funds to pay their utility bill resulting in loss of service.  Having utilities cut off required a customer to go to the main office to pay the bill and pay for a reconnect.  Sometimes a person could negotiate a payment plan.  All that will go away with the new smart meters.  What happens if you don’t pay your bill with the new smart meters?  The mother computer at the utility company simply sends a wireless message to the smart meter on your house to turn the utilities off.  There will be no need of a physical person going to the house to disconnect the service or later re-connect it again.  Those people will also loose their job.

There won’t be a need for an office for negotiations anymore either.  IF its still there?  I haven’t been to the main utility office in years but the last time I was there they were already switching to using a call center overseas instead of face to face clerks.  With the smart meters a total switch to call center is possible.  More lost jobs.

Twenty four hours later.

With the new smart meters we can expect roaming brown outs.  All done by the computer to slow down or even black out some areas in the name of conservation.   Potentially the utility company will have the ability to force conservation on a family by simply browning out how much they are allowed.  If the smart meter is told to allow only 20 kWh per day the family inside must decide what to use and what to give up.  On the flip side the smart meter can say we are using more than we actually are with no way to prove the meter is wrong.  If there is no way to check the accuracy how are we to know its correct?

Did you know that if you use absolutely zero electricity it still costs you money?  Here in Louisville the rent for each household electric meter is $10.75.  The recent price hike, to pay for these new smart meters, is an additional $9.65 per month bringing the monthly rent to $20.40 even if you don’t use any at all.   The rent for gas meters is currently $13.50 and now they are allowed an additional $2.99 that brings the gas meter rent to $16.49.  So, with absolute zero gas and electric use the bill will be $36.89 per month!  $442.68 a year.  I don’t know how many houses or apartments in this area but that is a LOT of rent collected every month.

A few days ago a new electric smart meter was put on my house.  No one else’s, just mine.  It had been so long ago that I had completely forgot signing up for an early one.  Before I understood what they actually were.  I’m not happy about the meters but might as well get it over with.  The first day this new meter was installed it read all zeros.  I’ll never see those again so I took a picture.  Twenty four hours later it read 10 kWh used.  A week later and I’ve used 36 kWh.  An average of 5.2 per day is not bad at all.  IF the reading is correct.  Some people around the world have reported over charging due to faulty readings.

Seven days later.

Of course the weather has been really pleasant so no need for heat or air to run up the numbers.  I’ve not done a lot of cooking or anything either.  I do expect the number of kWh to go up some as the weather get hotter.  I’m going to keep watch on the numbers because I would like to keep them under 300 a month and hopefully less than that eventually.

In my opinion, it would appear these new smart meters could be much more vulnerable targets of terrorism or EMP than the old dial type meters are.  A computer hacker in a far away place (or in your neighborhood) could right now be thinking of ways to destroy our electrical grid.  OR hold it hostage like they’ve been doing lately with computer data.  Would you be prepared for a sudden black out?  I am.  I store things just in case of a storm black out.  A hacker black out would be not much different.  If you don’t do any storm prepping maybe you should?

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26 comments on “Do I need a tin foil hat?

  1. Lilly pickles
    May 28, 2017

    Well here I am again, still grumpy. The sucker punch fees are more than I can handle. I will be requesting back copies of all my water bills and comparing them to see when the fees and rates actually changed. The water dept keeps giving me conflicting answers. I have always had the fancy meters so I know no difference. Our water is on a meter but the sewage is not. They guesstimate it based on your water usage. Even if we took every drop of water we used and watered our lawn with gray water, my sewage would be the same. If we used no water, I would still owe 65 a month for fees. I just realized the seal on my refrigerator has torn. I will budget for one next month and you tube how to put it on. After reading your posts, I have made a list of potential issues that may occur if they are left unaddressed. Like the gutters not being cleaned.I am proud so I don’t get any type of aid. I am going to apply and my handicapped child will qualify for something.I don’t mind being at the bottom but being abused is not right. Government issued cell phones and prepaid phones also screw people. They bill in whole minutes instead of 15 second increments. The people who can least afford it are constantly manipulated.

    I did see Trump making a speech about the incident in England. Sadly, innocent people die each day all over the world due to terrorism. Most of these killings just don’t have names and faces plastered all over the news and social media.

    • Anita
      May 29, 2017

      I must have not been watching the news at the right time to see Trump talk.

      Our water and sewer company work together. Both just got a raise and now they’ve asked for another one. They’ll get it. They always do. The sewer bill is based on the number of gallons of water coming through the meter no matter how its used. So, 1000 gallons water in means 1000 gallons going out down the drain even if it goes on the lawn. The water meter is underground so no way for customers to know when there is a problem. Which would be denied anyway. I’m sure glad we don’t have the same problems with water as Flint does. I have a friend living in Flint who has complained about the water there for 30 years or longer.

      When my mother was living I had a pre-pay phone just so the nursing home could contact me away from home if there was an emergency. It cost me $10 a month but most times I never used the minutes or I would use only one minute just to keep it active. As soon as she passed the phone was donated to a woman’s abuse center. I figured the cost of $10 per minute was too rich for me. I prefer my landline phone anyway.

      • Lilly pickles
        May 29, 2017

        Handicapped child gets 350 minutes free..if she makes 175 calls that are 1 minute and 1 second, they bill her for two minutes for each of those calls. 175 minutes are now billed as 350 used minutes and they are all gone. Major carriers bill in 15 second increments. Of course the free phones have the option to buy more minutes. We just switched to a company that provides a simple smart phone with data. The phone doesn’t disconnect calls promptly using up even more minutes. It took me 6 minutes to end a 2 minute call today. The internet pops on and starts scrolling by itself. You can’t get it to disconnevt. All free data gets used up.They constantly send advertisements asking you to download free apps. Most of them games. You use up your data and then you can pay for more. I am afraid the temptation may be to much for some people. The manipulation of this government program with this carrier is pathetic. When I complained to the company I was told I must not no how to press the disconnect key.

        • Anita
          May 29, 2017

          So true. Its all a money grabber scheme. Sometimes free is not worth the hassle. My guess is that if you were to ask for it to be turned off they wouldn’t report it. That way they could still collect money from the government.

  2. Donna
    May 28, 2017

    I saw online yesterday fast food restaurants are going to have everything in the order process go digital so they will be hiring fewer people. I guess higher wages for fast food employees is backfiring. Everything is going that way. There already is no customer service. We got a letter from the post office that wants us to sign up for sending the box rental to our email account and we can pay it online. Less people needed at the post office. Wonder where people are going to work?

    • Anita
      May 29, 2017

      Thats what I’ve been wondering. Where are all the displaced people going to work? When there are no jobs and no social services what are people going to do? Desperate people start doing desperate things. Hungry desperate people will be worse.

  3. T
    May 28, 2017

    Did you see this Anita http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-40074751

    Children and parents were murdered and maimed in the UK earlier this week, so-called terrorism. I call it serial killers.

    Our president’s son in law now under FBI investigation for possible espionage type activities…

    I don’t even watch the commercial news but I find it’s impossible to avoid, television is just about everywhere, even filling my car last week I was bombarded with CNN.

    • Anita
      May 28, 2017

      Yes, I saw the reports of the shut down of all British planes and the terrorist bombing. If all those planes can be shut down what does it tell us about the future of other electronic devices? Nothing is safe.

      What stood out for me about the bombing was that I didn’t hear one peep from Trump in condolences but former president Obama met with Prince Harry and gave face to face condolences. Maybe Trump said something and I just didn’t hear it?

      I can understand why a person might become a hermit.

      • T
        May 28, 2017

        Yes Trump made a statement calling the killers ‘evil losers’ also another to say there will be a full investigation into the diplomats who leaked information of the ongoing investigation to the US media.

        I was very surprised to see the UK airport shutdown, you would think they’d have some kind of back-up system.

        We get a free senior news sheet here and one of the questions this week- ‘how can I stop my tv from spying on me?’ A few years ago that would be just paranoid, now it can happen.

        My son set me up this little laptop computer, it does all kinds of things of its own volition! And I had to install ad blocker because a visit to amazon would throw up all kinds of stuff on other sites and I felt spied upon.

        • Anita
          May 29, 2017

          I guess I wasn’t watching the news at the right time. I’m glad he said something otherwise it would look bad for all of us.

          I was given a laptop for Christmas that was saved from going to the landfill. A few days ago I heard Ladybug in the kitchen talking to someone. I didn’t know anyone was here so I went to find out who it was. Ladybug was talking to the laptop and it was talking back! In school she had learned how to access a site and make it work. Sometimes now I get up in the morning and see the laptop is on but I know for certain it was off the night before. I’ve started leaving it in a closet when not being used.

    • maris
      May 28, 2017

      I was raised in east germany and this means everything was a regulated
      We had no food no heat ect. If you needed something, you traded something you had. Everyone had money, because there was nothing to spend it on.
      Today I live happily on very little money.
      My bills are being paid, with money I earn on ebay.
      I find things at Garage Sales and Fleamarkets and turn those treasures into cash
      Easy money

  4. Trisha
    May 27, 2017

    Here in No. Ca, we’ve had smart meters for about 5-7 yrs. everyone I talked to had the same concerns, but no one has had any problems since installation.

    • Anita
      May 27, 2017

      Thank you. That’s reassuring. Would your meters be one way meters or two way meters? I’m not sure which type is being installed here.

  5. Jill
    May 27, 2017

    Hello Anita,
    I just discovered you blog and have been reading through your posts. Thank your for all your insights and tips and your very engaging and accessible writing style.

    I wholeheartedly agree with your points about all the loss of descent paying steady jobs down the line. These people not only work but often live in our communities so the job loss not only affects them but our communities as a whole.

    When our gas and electric meters became automated many of our long time meter readers were forced to take early retirement at reduced pensions while others had to move elsewhere for work, often for less pay.. This was a loss for us all.

    Since we had the same people reading our meters for years, they got to know all of the residents quite well, and along with our regular mail carrier were sometimes the only ones to regularly have contact with some of the elderly, disabled and reclusive neighbors.
    More than once they initiated calls to health, care and safety services on behalf of their customers. We lost a caring and important part of out network.
    We also no longer have regular mail carriers on out route, they are all fill-ins or trainees…another piece of the network gone.

    There is something strange and unsavory about being reduced to simply being a cash flow data point on a computer network when we used to be neighbors, actual customers in houses.

    Once again, thank you for your important work.

    • Anita
      May 27, 2017

      Oh my, I hadn’t thought about that effect. I don’t know the meter reader here yet but I knew the one at my old house for many years. It was a sad day when I told him I was moving. In some neighborhoods here the mail service is putting up street boxes. People who live on the street must go to the street box to get their mail from one of the boxes. Looks sort of like a post office wall of mailboxes only smaller.

      “There is something strange and unsavory about being reduced to simply being a cash flow data point on a computer network when we used to be neighbors, actual customers in houses.”

      So true!

  6. T
    May 27, 2017

    I would not use bank direct payment method, my experience is the banks are very unhelpful and slow in correcting any mistakes.

    I’d like to be more knowledgeable about ‘prepping’ because after hurricane Katrina people were left unassisted for days in horrible conditions. I do keep flash lights and simple to eat food and bottled water since we live in a hurricane zone, but it can get to over 100 degrees daily here so a power outage would be uncomfortable if not dangerous.

    I read some of the ‘prepper’ books, but it scares me to be honest! I feel anxious enough already.

    The technology makes the USA seem like a modern country, but in many ways I don’t think it is, when basics like seeing a doctor, needing medicine, or running a/c or heating are prohibitively expensive.

    I am very good at budgeting but as you say every year things get harder, and even when I think things are improving like with PPACA it just turns out to be another scam for someone.

    I want to change electricity provider but when I looked up alternatives there was so much fine print I gave up. It was farcical actually, so many twists and turns to each ‘plan’.

    I don’t want to buy a ‘plan’ for anything! It’s just another word for ‘con’.

    • Anita
      May 27, 2017

      You are looking at the wrong prepper stuff. No wonder you get frightened. Look at sites like the weather station storm preparedness and the government weather disaster preparedness sites. Those so called “prepper” sites are promoting fear in order to sell their products. The more scared you are the more you will buy. If you keep reading the really scary stuff it will mess with your mind. Just for fun now and then do a search for ‘off grid living’. Its mostly about living with solar panels but some of the things they do will help cut back on electricity for anyone.

      We only have one choice of utility company here. Two in Ky but each has its own territory. There are only two plans….. (1) pay up or (2) do without.

      • T
        May 27, 2017

        Well you know a lot of the ideas in the south are an embarrassment to the US, I did decide to go to a ‘prepper’ meeting but when the organizer felt the need to tell people ‘no guns’ I cancelled.

        Though in truth I think these paranoid people are right about more than most of us want to admit.

        I love those shows about off-grid living set in Alaska etc. The ‘make do mend or do without’ attitude is central to budgeting.

        I have apparently the choice of several electricity companies but it seems to be just one doing the metering and delivery, making it way more expensive than at initial glance.

        I could write a book about the number of times I have caught people out trying to con me in recent years, seems to have become an accepted part of the culture.

        I don’t like it and refuse to sign up for anything any more, in fact my last doctor’s greed and constant abuse of the system lead me to give up my meds; I don’t seem any different for that choice. Which leads me to think I didn’t need the meds in the first place.

        It has a knock-on effect though all this corruption and dishonesty, ‘everybody’s doing it’. It takes a person of integrity to say ‘well I’m not’.

      • Lilly pickles
        May 28, 2017

        Here, we can choose our gas provided but are limited to one provider in our area for electricity. You can pay a 350.00 deposit and get regular service or…….. You can prepay and have no deposit. The prepay option costs almost double what you pay for kilowatts if you have a deposit. When you use up what you have prepaid for, it cuts off and you do without until you go in and prepay for more. Of course the people who are poorest use this option, pay more and do without.This should be illegal.

        • Anita
          May 29, 2017

          That’s typical. The poor always pay more for everything. Rental centers, payday loans, no free estimates, stuff like that. We had a prepay electricity option here for awhile. It was given to those who were behind on their bills. For each dollar bought half went to pay on the old bill and half for new. There was quite a few problems with the card readers. It didn’t last long here.

  7. KAYTHEGARDENER
    May 27, 2017

    How could these smart meters be programed NOT to turn off the utilities if there is a medically needy person living there??
    During a recent power outage, my health
    client’s oxygen generator went dead for a few hours. Luckily, she had several portable tanks in the garage & was able to tell me how to hook her up… But what happens if there is no aide around to help a homebound disabled person??
    Drastic cuts to the SSI & SSDI programs are proposed under the new Federal budget & Trumpcare. They are truly death panels, which no amount of frugality will overcome…

    • Anita
      May 27, 2017

      Supposedly the smart meters are programmed with critical medical patient information. They are supposed to send an alert to the main headquarters and a team sent right away if the power goes out from a line down or something. My guess is that its merely a “feel good” thing and not an actual practice. I’ve also heard rumors of a group of underground hackers reprogramming the meters for a fee. It started in Cuba and has spread. Apparently its very easy to hack into these meters.

      I totally agree about the Trumpcare death panels. It truly is that “new world order” thing isn’t it?

  8. Randal Oulton
    May 27, 2017

    Up in Ontario, the problem has been the smart meters reputedly undercalculating, for several years, and then retired folk on fixed incomes suddenly getting a bill for thousands and thousands of dollars going back several years out of the blue.

    • Anita
      May 27, 2017

      I had heard about that problem in Australia but not in Canada. What are the people doing about the bill? Has anyone sued the company over the mistake? Whatever happens there is bound to happen here too sooner or later. If it were not for needing electricity for my quilting business I’d just have everything turned off and only pay the monthly rent.

  9. Linda S
    May 27, 2017

    I’m with you all the way on this one. We have no choice about so many things.

    • T
      May 27, 2017

      ‘ We have no choice about so many things.’

      and yet we are conned into thinking we are consumers….which should give us more choices.

      At least a few people are waking up, maybe everyone will once all these issues affect them.

      I think shame keeps a lot of people quiet though, they have dug themselves into debt as encouraged, or addiction as encouraged, or wonder why everyone else around them seems to manage better.

      It took me about four years of going back and forth with three different health insurance companies to work out- it’s not me, these policies are not real coverage.

      But we americans are so brain-washed that it’s good for the country corporate exploitation. And not one of the people who is voted for or who purports to represent us seems to have any experience or understanding of poverty, in fact the political system makes it pretty much impossible for a poor person to be elected?

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