Switching power companies is one way of trying to save money, but there are also lots of simple ways to lower your energy bills.

Power rates change regularly, and the pricing difference between power companies can vary as much as $500 a year, according to Consumer New Zealand's website Powerswitch.

Although this is a guide and does not include any special offers, discounts and bonuses offered by Tauranga's more than a dozen companies.

Tauranga Budget Advisory Service manager Diane Bruin said there was always an increased demand for its help, particularly as high winter power bills begin to bite.

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Bruin said July was the busiest month for the agency as customers faced with higher bills started to struggle with these increased costs.

But, there were lots of things people could do to reduce their usage and keep their bills down, plus power companies offered a discount if you paid in advance, she said.

Bruin said if people were struggling to pay their monthly bill, the best thing was to change to "smooth payments" that is, paying their bill weekly by automatic payment.

"It's far better to pay $45-$50 a week than be faced with $200-$300 bills at the end of the month, and power companies offer a discount if you pay in advance," she said.


There were many ways of keeping warm while cutting the power bill, which included putting heat pumps on a timer, and only using heaters in rooms you're in when at home

Heating water was also expensive, so doing cold washes in the washing machine and cutting the time in the shower also made a huge difference, Bruin said.

Only using heat efficient appliances and changing to energy efficient light bulbs also helped cut costs, and removing condensation from windows keeps rooms warmer.

Fortunately for beneficiaries and pensioners, the Government's Winter Energy payments kick in from July 1.

That means an extra $20.46 a week for single people, and $31.82 for couples and solo parents until September 29.

Grey Power Tauranga president Jennifer Custins said older people on a fixed income particularly struggled in winter.

"But one of the biggest things they can do to keep warm is to do some daily exercise to keep the circulation in their feet and ankles working.

"When you get up to make a cup of tea walk around while you're waiting for the jug to boil, and put on another layer of clothing rather than just relying on your heater."

Custins said turning off appliances at the wall and lights off in rooms when not in use also helped to cut costs and extra cheap bedding was available at second-hand stores.

The Bay of Plenty Times Weekend asked people in downtown Tauranga their best tips to save power.

"I have an open fire, so I use that instead of the air con, and hand wash the dishes instead of using the dishwasher and hand wash some of my clothing when it's a small load."
- Giselle Damm, 18, Otumoetai

"We always turn off the lights in rooms not being used, and only use the heater in rooms were are in and always close the doors to help keep the heat in."
- Dave Pease, 55, Windermere

"I try to only heat rooms I am using and always close the curtains when the sun goes down to keep the heat from escaping."
- Robyn Molloy, 70, Tauranga Central

" We put our heating system on a timer which turns off at 3pm, and our lights are also on a timer as well which helps a lot to cut costs. "
- Ginel Holloway, 45, Otumoetai.

A full house

Te Puna mother and grandmother Sue McTainsh said her monthly power bill was about $500, an expense she did her best to keep down

But McTainsh said with three adults in her three-bedroom household, regular visits from family meant it was full house and having a huge wood fireplace made a big difference.

She regularly feeds the fire with old tree branches, and if it gets too cold inside, she headed outdoors to make the most of sunny days to keep warm and stay active.

Her chihuahuas which slept on her bed also helped keep her warm, she said.

McTainsh said during the cooler months she always opened up all the curtains to let the sun in and closed them again late afternoon to help keep the heat inside.

Although her power bill was high, she did not want to be one of these people who were constantly counting the pennies, especially when it came to her family, she said.

Other energy saving and heating tips:

• Leaky window and door joinery can be sealed with sealants or a self-adhesive foam strip.
• Use cold washes - a hot water wash can use 10 times more electricity than a cold wash. Warm a bed rather than a bedroom. Hot water bottles are cheaper than electric blankets.
• Reduce shower time - a 15-minute shower costs about $1, a five-minute one about 33c.
• A family of four could be saving about $18 a week, that's about $936 a year. Draw curtains at dusk to keep the day's heat and use draught snakes at the bottom of doors.

Source: EnergyWise website