If you live on a fixed income and live in Maine, you already know that the price of oil can make the difference between spending your winter evenings relaxing in comfort or bundling up to ward off the chill. While you can't do anything about the weather outside, there are some things you can do to ensure you get affordable heating oil.

Shop Around

Many homeowners stay with the same oil company for years out of a sense of loyalty, but loyalty won't keep your house warm. Take the time to compare prices before you make a commitment for your winter's oil. MaineOil.com provides a convenient way to compare the price of oil in your area. It doesn't include every dealer, but it will give you a good idea of the going price at the current time. Check your local newspaper for special discounts and talk to neighbors to find out which fuel company they use. Small, independent companies often offer oil for a lower price because they do not have the cost of overhead to consider.

Pre-Buy Your Oil

Pre-buying your winter's oil in the summer when prices are traditionally the lowest can save you dollars on your winter's heating bill. It does require a lump sum up front, but by setting aside money during the summer you may be able to purchase most or all of your winter's fuel at a bargain price. If you can't handle paying for the entire winter's oil, consider buying as much as your budget allows to get a head start on the winter bills.

Pay Cash

Many small independent fuel companies offer affordable fuel oil on a cash only basis. They typically require a call for each delivery and expect to be paid when the fuel is delivered. Delivery time tends to be within a day or two as these companies usually serve small geographical areas. Larger fuel oil companies typically offer a discount if you pay the bill at the time of delivery, too. Timing the delivery for when you receive income so you can pay cash will save you money on your winter's heating bill.

Take Advantage of Special Plans

Many fuel oil companies offer a variety of plans to help you manage your fuel costs. There are three common plans offered by major fuel companies. Most oil companies require a written agreement to purchase your oil from them and charge a fee if you break the agreement. If you are considering entering an agreement, always check the fee you will be charged if the agreement is broken to avoid unpleasant surprises.

  • Fixed Rate: Under a fixed rate plan you will pay the same amount per gallon all winter, regardless of fluctuations in the current price of fuel. That means if the prices soar, you will get a bargain, but if oil prices suddenly drop you will be stuck paying the fixed rate you agreed on.
  • Capped: Under a capped rate plan the price in capped at specific rate. You will not need to pay more than the capped price even if oil prices skyrocket. If prices go down, you pay the lower price.
  • Average Usage – 12 month Plan: Many fuel oil companies now offer plans that estimate your fuel usage during the year and bill you in monthly installments all year long. This option works well for those on a fixed income, as it allows you to budget for your fuel costs without worries about unmanageable bills during the winter.

Much of your fuel costs for the winter rely on Old Man Winter and the weather that comes your way, but getting the best prices on oil helps reduce those costs. To further save money on fuel costs, make sure your windows and doors are sealed properly and your house has adequate insulation. Adding weather stripping to doors and windows and using draft dodgers on window and door sills prevents drafts and keeps your family comfortable.