Want to have a fun Monday evening?
Curl up with a great big pile of bills. Well, not curl up exactly, but when Nefesh b'Nefesh offered a workshop called “How to Read Your Bills,” I figured I should probably head into town for it.
This workshop should be standard issue for all new olim. But if you pay attention in Ulpan and learn as much Hebrew as you can, you’ll be arming yourself with the most important tool for staying ahead of your bills.
Three simple steps
According to the speaker (a lawyer and longtime olah), the top three priorities for olim when receiving a bill are figuring out:
- Who the bill is from (yes, this is Step 1, and many don’t have enough Hebrew to do even this when they first arrive)
- How much needs to be paid (not always clear, especially when it comes to Arnona, city taxes)
- How you can pay it (NOT at the bank – they charge higher fees than anywhere else; it’s free at the post office!!!)
She brought a whole stack of photocopied bills so we could practice finding these three items on bills from a wide variety of companies (water, gas, electricity, arnona).
Hint: even if you don’t speak Hebrew, look on the bill for a web address. Sometimes, the web address will give it away (AmIsraGas), but sometimes, the site will have some information in English as well. Also, becoming familiar with basic words like water (mayim) and electricity (chashmal) will help you sort out all your bills.
If you can handle all three of these steps, the next level – if you feel like really kicking things up – is understanding the line items. What, exactly, are you being billed for.
The workshop didn’t cover this in a lot of detail. In some cases, even born Israelis can't figure this out, especially when it comes to phone and internet bills. But if you’re totally stuck, ask a vatik (someone who’s been here for a while).
Don’t be afraid to ask: some things are important to understand, and you might even save money.
On your water bill, for instance, you may save money if more people live in your home. If you don't tell them how many there are when you first sign up, they may bill at a higher rate. So check this on your first couple of water bills to make sure it's accurate.
Track your water bills carefully: an unusually high bill could mean a leak. Apparently, the water utility people may call you if your bill is very high; even though they’re making money off your leak, it’s in the country’s best interest to conserve water.
(And they may give you a refund if you report the leak.)
Even if they’re scary, you do have to keep an eye on your bills here.
But over time, you’ll realize that a lot of it is just common sense. Bills here, even though they’re in Hebrew, aren’t all that different from bills in any other country. They tell you what to pay, for what period, and when you have to pay it by.
Other olim at the workshop said the companies were usually pretty helpful, too, if you get stuck and need to call them for advice.
The message of the workshop was encouraging: don’t be afraid of your bills. If you’re hiding any, pull them out into the open, stare them down and growl fiercely in their direction.
And if you’re not sure what to pay, or how, call somebody or go in person.
Don’t be afraid to look like an idiot… you’re an oleh / olah, and that’s something to be proud of. Even if your arnona bill (or electricity bill, or phone bill) still manages to bring you to tears every single month.