So far, here in Massachusetts, its been a pretty mild December and our only snow was in October. Go figure. But I’m guessing its going to be cold sometime this winter, and if you have an oil furnace you need to buy oil. Here’s a few tips on getting your best deal.
When shopping for home heating oil, there are many things to consider. There are lots of options and prices are, as they say, “all over the map.”
What most people don’t know is that the cost of heating oil can be tied to things other than how cold it is, or the local demand. Currently, heating oil is at a much lower price than predicted last year due to global economic decline and the lowered demand for oil in Europe. That’s great news for us. But anyway… here are the options in buying heating oil.
Buy as You Go – aka Spot Delivery
One way to buy oil is on an as-needed basis. This is the one I use, since my needs are simple and I’ve learned to cut down on the use of oil (see my previous post Saving on Home Heating).
You simply search around using the Internet or Yellow Pages (-Yellow Pages still exist, right?), make a few calls, find your best offer per gallon, and order. Your oil is delivered in a few days. This is NOT always the cheapest way to go, and the prices range widely. A recent check found a range of over .50 per gallon from the lowest to the highest. AND… you can’t always trust sites that give you a comparison of prices.
For example, I won’t embarrass them, but in Massachusetts there is a company that claims to be non profit, and sells their oil at about 40 cents less per gallon than the Massachusetts average. Well, they claimed a state wide average of $3.84 per gallon. Their price was $3.39. Fine. A bargain. Not good enough for me. I’m buying 100 – 150 gallons. If I can save 10 – 20 cents a gallon – I’ll take a few minutes to shop.
Two more clicks and a phone call, and I found a price of $3.26 AND an online coupon for $15. By buying 150 gallons, I saved another .10 per gallon and paid $3.16.
Net savings, $34.50. Total time spent? About 6 minutes. ($345 an hour – Yeah, I can do this.)
Caveat emptor. And let your fingers do the walking, or the clicking, or the dialing.
Price Protection Plan
Some oil dealers offer a price protection plan, where you buy a contract for delivery for the year. They give you a price per gallon, and that’s what you pay for the length of the contract. In this type of plan, you are also “capped” at the price you will pay for your oil. If you buy a contract and the price is $3.25 a gallon, and in the middle of the season the price of oil goes up to $3.50, you still pay $3.25 . Sweet! And many of these plans are budgeted throughout the year, so you pay a monthly bill, and are not slammed with a whopper bill just during the heating months. A pretty good idea.
The caveat here is to shop around, and obviously get the lowest price you can find for the length of the contract, and be sure it has the price cap. The only way you can lose with this type of plan is if the price of oil goes down drastically, or the company you are doing business with goes out of business. (This happened last year to some people. When the price of oil goes sky high, and the company has thousands of contracts out for a low price- they can take a big hit.)
Be sure the company you are dealing with has been around for a while, and has a good reputation. Smaller fly -by-night companies may give you a better contract price, but they may also be undercutting the competition so much that they put themselves out of business.
Pre-Buying or Pre-paying
This is really the simplest way to buy your oil. You just pay for your entire purchase of oil for the year upfront, based on the current price of “spot oil”. Again it comes with the above cautions of knowing about the company you are buying from. And again the only downside is if the price of oil comes down, and you have already paid a higher price.
Some dealers have options that can save you money in the long run. Many with a “pay as you go”, or spot delivery plan will offer automatic delivery throughout the season. In addition to relieving you of the need to keep tabs on your oil tank, most offer a better price. Some even offer free services as an incentive. I read on one site, that if you run out of oil, and the burner has to be “primed” that this service can cost you in excess of $80 to re-start your furnace if you run out of oil. If you are on their automatic delivery schedule, not only is this less likely to happen, but if it did? The service is free.
From time to time, dealers will send out discount coupons for new customers, or to existing customers. During the summer I got several coupons offering to fill my tank and save $25 dollars. When business is slow, even oil dealers need to stimulate sales. If your dealer has an email newsletter or list, definitely get on it.
So, take a few minutes to figure out your options and look at the current prices. Shop around and get the best bargain you can on this expensive necessity. (Hint: If your tank is empty in the springtime, you have all summer to get yourself a full tank. Do you think oil might be a little cheaper in say, August, than in February?)
Stay warm this winter, and Happy Holidays!