When’s the Best Time to Buy Heating Oil? Tough Call, Dealers Say
Heating oil dealers are often asked one particularly tough question many homeowners across the country struggle with: when’s the best time to stock up on heating oil for the winter? Casey Cota, owner of Cota & Cota in Bellows Falls, spoke to the Brattleboro Reformer yesterday and tried to offer some insight.
His short answer?
“It’s a hard call,” Cota said, joking that a crystal ball might come in handy for customers trying to predict price swings. He said many oil users believe heating oil prices go hand-in-hand with gasoline prices, but that’s not always the case. And while heating oil prices often dip in the summer alongside demand, the market has been especially volatile this past year. Even analysts closely monitoring oil pricing trends have found it nearly impossible to forecast.
Cota reminded customers that the swinging market is just as frustrating for fuel dealers as it is for consumers. Establishing price plans and packages becomes a difficult game of balancing the costs of the business while still offering customers a good, fair deal.
“We are not trying to make an exorbitant profit. We’re just trying to pay our employees and keep the lights on,” said Cota. “We’re all in the same boat.”
“Don’t get into a fixed-price program,”Cota suggests. “Protect yourself on the upside, but if the market goes down you can benefit from a lower price.”
And, know all your options. A recent CBS news report reaffirmed oil buying cooperatives like Heat USA really do save customers money on heating fuel through their collective buying power.
Vermont fuel dealers also expressed concerned about state residents relying on federal home heating assistance to get them through the coming winter. If President Obama’s budget cuts are approved, Vermont’s Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program funding will be slashed from $25.6 million to just $11.6 million.
“We don’t expect Congress to start making their draft budgets until after Labor Day,” said Richard Moffi, who oversees Vermont’s LIHEAP allocation. Though it’s unclear whether the deep cuts will actually be approved, Moffi said he expects 42,000 Vermonters to apply for heating aid this year – several hundred more than applied last year.
“The program usually grows 3 to 5 percent a year,” Moffi said, echoing the same alarming predictions we’ve heard from Connecticut and other climatically cold Northeastern states. He strongly believes nobody will be cut from the program, but recipients will receive less help. Updates about the status of the federal LIHEAP budget are expected soon, as the heating season draws closer.