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The Best Way to Start Organizing Your Utility Bills

We often hear utility bills compared to receipts—once your payment clears, you might as well toss them away. It's a view that's been widely held since the birth of the public utility industry, well over a century ago.

 

But things don’t need to, nor should they, stay the same for the next hundred years. Your boring, old bills are loaded with money-saving opportunities for your organization. The problem is those opportunities aren't always immediately clear. They become much easier to spot if you know what you’re looking for, and you can look systematically.

 

This post is designed to give you the tools to take advantage of these savings opportunities. Our simple approach to centrally organizing your utility bills will:

  • Make something inherently complex much simpler to understand. Utilities and energy suppliers use language that you don’t use every day, and they may not offer a clear translation of these charges for non-expert audiences.
  • Illuminate which suppliers are charging what rates. In deregulated markets, the entity that generates your electricity or supplies your gas may be different from than the entity that owns and operates the wires and pipes that supply it to you. As a result, you may have multiple relationships to manage per building that you operate.
  • Provide a full picture of your portfolio-wide costs. If your buildings are spread across different utilities or energy suppliers, all with different rate structures and bill formats, it can be exceedingly difficult to get a full picture of your costs.
     

Whether or not you're thinking of investing in utility bill management software, this is the place to start. It will earn you quick wins right away and help you derive more value from your software investment down the road.
 

From Many Piles of Paper to One

To start making sense of your utility costs, organize all of the information electronically  in one place. This first step may seem obvious, but its one many of us still haven't taken. If you have e-bills, create one file on your computer; if you have paper bills scan them and save PDFs in a single location. Best practice is to keep your files in a secure file-sharing system (like a cloud-based server) so your team has easy access to them, too.
 

Strategic Naming

Once you have all your bills in one common place, you’ll need to organize them in the way that best serves you.
 

There are plenty of ways to do this, but our preferred naming convention for each utility bill file is: “Address - City - State - Zipcode - Utility - Account Number - YYYYMM”. This is an especially useful system for organizations with multiple facilities across the country.
 

For the account number field, it's important you don’t include meter numbers instead. You likely have more than one meter per site and you're not getting charged at this level, it'll just confuse you down the road.
 

Using this naming convention, or one like it, is ideal for two reasons:

  • Adding symbols between each piece of information allows you to import your file names into a spreadsheet with clear delimiting between key data fields.
  • Adding the utility name will allow you to categorize bills for different sites by utility later so you can see if you're systematically being overcharged by one utility.

 

With your bills all in one place, you can start using them to answer questions you have about your utility costs. If you don't already have a set of questions you'd like answers to, read our eBook breaking down the major charges on your utility bill and what you can do about them.