Utility costs vary greatly from region to region, and prices may also spike seasonally, making it difficult to arrive at an average price, or even to determine whether what you're paying is fair. One thing is clear: most people spend at least $100 on utilities each month, and families may find that number edging closer to $1,000. The good news is that, no matter what you pay now, you could probably be paying less. These five utility hacks can take your bill from exorbitant to affordable in no time at all.

1. Ask for a discount.

If the utility company in your area is a monopoly, you don't have much negotiating power, but if you're lucky enough to live in an area where several companies compete for your business, you're in luck. Simply asking for a discount might be enough to get one. Many utility companies will cut you a break if you threaten to leave. To keep your business, they may lock you into a one- or two-year contract that offers a lower rate.

Cable companies, which provide a service that has become a necessary and common utility, are notoriously evasive about their pricing packages, offering internet at one rate this week, and a substantial discount next week. You can use this to your advantage if there's local competition. Simply call and ask for a discount. Don't get one? Switch to a new company as soon as a promotional rate becomes available.

2. Make your home more energy efficient.

A few inexpensive alterations can make your home significantly more energy efficient. Try some of the following:

  • Opt for a light-colored roof, which can make your home up to 40% more energy efficient during the summer months.
  • Double up on insulation, particularly in your attic. You can blow in your own insulation, often for less than the cost of a single utility bill.
  • Select energy efficient windows, and if there are drafts or cracks nearby, caulk them to keep your home comfortable throughout the year.
  • Turn down the temperature on your hot water heater. Not only will this reduce your risk of a nasty burn, but it also helps keep your shower temperatures reasonable.
  • Keep vent filters clean. Your dryer is less efficient, and may pose a fire hazard, with a full lint trap. Dirty air filters make it harder to keep your home at a consistent temperature, and could even mean the air in your house is less clean.

3. Use a timer.

If you just can't survive in a house that's not perfectly climate-controlled, there's no need to be ashamed. When you're not home, though, the temperature doesn't matter. Invest in a thermostat with a built-in timer. The small upfront cost allows you to use less energy when you're not home, while still ensuring that the temperature is perfectly comfortable by the time you arrive home each evening.

4. Find more efficient ways to wash.

If you have a dishwasher manufactured in the last five years and use quality detergent, there's no need to soak or pre-rinse your dishes. Save hot water and the environment by loading dirty dishes directly into the washer. Likewise, you don't need to use the hot or warm cycle with each laundry load. In fact, doing so can fade your clothes and cause them to fall apart earlier. Instead, use a cold water detergent, and leave the hot water wash for heavily soiled garments only.

5. Ask about special programs.

A number of utility companies offer programs that can save you money over time. Some allow you to pay a single monthly rate based on your average usage over the past year, making it easier to anticipate your utility costs. Others offer discounts to seniors, low-income families, and parents raising disabled children who rely on electrical equipment. To explore program options in your area, contact your utility provider or your local overseer of public works.

Utilities are a necessity of life, but spending all of your extra cash on gas and power does not have to be. A few extra preparations to save money might feel like a pain at first, but as the savings start to accumulate, you might find yourself looking forward to a vacation or purchase you might never have been able to afford without the discount.