With the extreme low temperatures covering the Fort Leonard Wood area the last few weeks, many Families may have a big surprise in the mail when those utility bills start to arrive.

Being one month into winter, there is still time to get a firm grip on finances and energy usage to help lessen the blow to the wallet.

"Be mentally prepared for much higher utility bills for December through March," said Angela Steidley, Army Community Service Personal Financial Readiness specialist.

She said since heat is a basic need, paying those utility bills "is a priority."

"Money for 'needs' has to be planned and saved for, especially at this time of the year. 'Wants' (eating out, new DVDs or video games, shopping trips to Springfield or St. Louis, etc.) have to be reduced or postponed in order to pay these higher bills," she said.

Steidley said often Soldiers and Family members have special events coming up (such as birthdays, weddings) that are budget busters. She said those people could visit with an ACS financial counselor and find ways to make that event special without making it expensive. She also recommends paying less on recurring bills through the winter months.

"If the Family cannot pay for the utility bills because the Family has debt payments that take all of their extra money each month, pay the minimum payment required on those debts during these winter months and use any extra money to save for the utility bills," she said.

Steidley said whatever you do, talk to ACS before taking drastic action.

"We can analyze your situation, in person or over the phone, and decide what types of help would be quick and appropriate in their situation. Please call us before trying to solve the problem yourself. Don't take out a personal loan from a finance company or someone over the Internet -- it only makes the financial problem worse, Steidley said.

Another option for military Families having a tough time is Army Emergency Relief.

Chuck Matthews, installation AER representative, said Army Families have the option of applying for assistance with the Missouri Ozarks Community Action at www.mocaonline.org and for AER utility assistance, if the need is clear. Soldiers can coordinate through their unit commanders for approval.

"We can help with utility bills," Matthews said. "It is an easy application process (with the) convenience of (applying) on-post at ACS," Matthews said.

Steidley said whatever you do, seek assistance if the problem is beyond what you can handle.

"Families are always welcome to voluntarily come in and talk about their debts and let us offer suggestions on how to manage them," Steidley said.

According to Bankrate.com there are several tangible things a person can do to help lower the bill:

Add insulation -- generally it costs $500 to $1,000 to bring an attic up to code and savings can be as much as 20 to 30 percent off your bill.

Tame the thermostat -- you can save up to 10 percent by adjusting your thermostat by 10 to 15 degrees cooler during the hours you are not home, according to the Department of Energy. You can also help even more by turning down the heat while sleeping. A programmable thermostat might be just the tool you need.

Turn down the water heater -- the Department of Energy estimates water heaters account for 14 to 25 percent of the monthly energy bill. Save 3 to 5 percent for every 10 degrees you set your water heater back.

Window work -- Consider purchasing double-pane windows or affixing clear plastic sheeting to unused interior windows.

Light bulbs -- Replace light bulbs with compact fluorescent light bulbs. They use 75 percent less energy and save $40 in energy costs over the lifetime.

For more information on financial counseling contact Steidley at 573.596.0131, ext. 60212 or for AER information, contact Matthews at the same number.