Electricity and broadband costs can eat up a big chunk of your household budget. But there are simple ways to slash hundreds off your bills.
1. Don't pay a "loyalty" premium
Like many people, you've probably been with the same power company and broadband provider for years. Prices keep going up and you keep paying, even if it's through gritted teeth.
But loyalty doesn't pay. Chances are you're paying much more than you need to and failing to get the best bang for your buck
What to do? Switch.
Power and broadband companies don't make it easy to compare prices – it's not in their interests to do so. Customers who stick around because it's too hard to shop around are steady business for them.
That's where we come in. You can easily compare power prices on powerswitch.org.nz, our free energy-comparison website. And the savings you could make by switching aren't to be sniffed at.
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Comparing the cheapest and most expensive power plans in the three main centres, we found savings of $500 a year for a three- to four-person household. That's a tidy sum to buy yourself a treat or put towards something you really need.
You can take the same approach with broadband, using consumer.broadbandcompare.co.nz. The site lets you run price comparisons for most telco plans to see what's available at your home.
2. Don't be afraid to haggle
The advertised price doesn't have to be the price you pay. It's worth haggling. Ask companies what else they might throw in to sweeten the deal. If a provider wants your custom, it may be prepared to knock off a bit more of the price to get you over the line.
3. Watch out for fixed-term fishhooks
Many power and broadband retailers entice customers with "special" deals. To get these offers, you often need to sign a contract for a fixed term, typically 12 or 24 months.
But before signing, work out whether it's really a better deal. Ask the company what the total cost of the plan will be (get it in writing) and compare it with what you already pay each year.
Factor in the cost of any early termination fee. These fees can be $300 or more and may quickly wipe out any discount you get when you sign up to a new provider.
Retailers should be telling you about these fees upfront. If you're not told, the company risks misleading you about the terms of the deal and breaching the Fair Trading Act.
4. Check your bills
Billing mistakes happen, more often than you might think. One in eight consumers in our latest electricity survey reported a problem with their power bill in the past year. Problems are even more common among broadband customers; one in four have a billing dispute with their provider.
Check your bills to see what you're paying and make sure there are no unexpected charges.
When moving house, take a reading of the electricity meter at your property on the day you move out and read the meter at the new property on the day you move in. Give these readings to your provider. It's a good idea to take a photo of the meter showing the reading.
When the bills arrive, make sure the readings match the information you provided to the company. You should only pay for the power you use, not what someone else has used.
5. Don't put up with poor service
You don't have to put up with a service that's not up to scratch.
The Consumer Guarantees Act give you rights to products of a decent standard. The act applies to power companies and broadband providers.
If you're not getting the service you were promised or there's a mistake with your bill, your first step is to contact the company and ask for the problem to be fixed.
If that doesn't solve things?
When the problem is with your power company, you can take the matter to Utilities Disputes. It deals with disputes between consumers and electricity and gas companies. It's free to use and all power companies must belong. Last year, the most common complaints with which it dealt were about billing, customer service and meters.
If the problem is with your broadband provider, you can go to the Telecommunications Dispute Resolution (TDR) scheme. Like Utilities Disputes, it's free for consumers to use. Billing and customer service also top its list of complaints.
It's not compulsory for broadband providers to belong to the TDR scheme but most do.
Both the TDR and Utilities Disputes can order companies that have messed up to refund customers. The TDR can deal with claims for compensation up to $15,000 while Utilities Disputes can look at claims up to $50,000 (or $100,000 if the company agrees).