Whether you call it the Polar Vortex, or just another miserable winter, there's no doubt we've been struggling to stay warm in recent weeks.

The deep freeze has probably turned the heat up on your family budget, but you can fight back with some simple savers around the house. You may have heard them before, but this may be the year you need to take advantage of the suggestions.

Recently, Patti Poppe, the Vice-President of Customer Experience, Rates, and Regulation at Consumers Energy, spoke with Ruth to the Rescue about ways any customer can take a bite out of their gas bill.

She says the most powerful tool in your home, when it comes to saving energy and money, is your thermostat. She says she takes some aggressive measures to keep her own bill from skyrocketing during the winter.

"I'm a Consumers Energy customer too... at my house we keep our thermostat at 66 degrees during the day when we're home. Or, 55 degrees at night, or when we're not home," Poppe shared with Ruth to the Rescue.

While that adjustment might seem extreme to you, consider this savings equation.

"For every degree that you reduce your thermostat, you can save 3%. So, if you just turn down your thermostat three degrees you can save almost 10% on your energy bill," she added.

Poppe told Ruth to the Rescue keeping the thermostat that low will not put your pipes at risk, and she says you can still warm up your home when you get home at the end of the day.

Other Energy Savers Around The House

There are three other simple steps that can also help lower your bill.

1) Check your furnace filter once a month during the winter to make sure your furnace is running as efficiently as possible.
2) Seal up your windows. There are kits at the hardware store than can help keep the cold air outside, and the warm air inside. "They don't look pretty. It's plastic with tape. And, ladies, I know you don't like the way they look," said Poppe. "But, they work! They save money!"
3) Look for gaps around doors and windows and make sure you get them sealed up. "If you have just 1/8th of an inch gap around your front door, that's the same thing as a softball-size hole in the middle of your door. If you had a softball-sized hole, you'd fix it. So, fix that weather stripping," urged Patti Poppe, the Vice-President of Customer Experience, Rates, and Regulation at Consumers Energy

Programs for Budgeting, Assistance

Beyond the "Do It Yourself" money-savers, you can also get some assistance from Consumers Energy that might help you stay out of trouble when it comes to paying your bills.

Consumers Energy has developed a program know as CARE (Consumers Affordable Resource for Energy). That program is designed to help eligible income-qualified customers with a history of energy assistance to afford monthly energy bills.

It provides many services that can help customers struggling to pay their bills, including:

* A 40% bill credit on energy charges from the time of enrollment through August 2014.
* Fresh Start" arrearage assistance on past due balances at enrollment if needed. Customers cannot carry a past due account balance (greater than $75) onto the plan.
* Energy awareness via EASE (Everyday Actions Save Energy) online curriculum, including a customized home energy profile report with low-cost/no-cost tips.
* Opportunity for gas and combination customers to receive in-home weatherization services through Consumers Energy's existing Helping Neighbors program.

For customers of all income levels, Consumers Energy offers the Budget Billing Plan that can help equalize payments throughout the year, so you can avoid unpredictable ups and downs.

No matter what your situation may be, Poppe says you should never wait to ask for help.

"The most important thing for customers to remember is when they get a bill that is more than they can pay, don't wait! Call for help as soon as you know you're in trouble. The sooner we know than you're in trouble, we can help you stay in your feet, instead of getting into a hole that you can't dig out of."

To look up more information about CARE or Budget Billing, contact Consumers Energy.