This is a post about saving money. More accurately it is a post about more efficiently managing the money that you have. Those few people who really get a thrill out of monitoring their bank statements might not get a lot out of this, but hopefully everyone else will find a bit of useful info and some inspiration…
My financial laziness cost me how much???
Juggling all the tasks of life can be a lot like a performer spinning plates. Keeping everything moving and balanced is a real challenge. Don’t let your finances be the plate that comes crashing to the ground.
For many years I had the tradition of taking a day off each year just to give our finances a full checkup and overhaul. I made, or more accurately saved, more money in that day than I would if I had been in the office. In 2013 I got lazy (or allowed myself to become over scheduled) and never made financial checkup day happen. About a month ago I got a wake up call that made me realize it was time to dig back in and check all the bills and accounts.
My financial wake up call came in the form of a check that cleared for only 10% of its value due to an error at the bank. The accountant of the organization that cut the check caught the error and gave me a call. That mistake would have cost my family several hundred dollars and gave me the kick in the pants I needed to get after our finances.
Care to guess how much my financial laziness was costing our family? In my one day of researching and calling I found about $3,000 worth of sloppiness. It has taken several weeks to get everything squared away and some items are still being resolved, but the key is getting the ball rolling. Here is a bit about the financial issues I found…
Utilities Were Our Biggest Area of Waste
I am using the term “utilities” very loosely because it was our cable and wireless bills that were killing us. Our wireless package was WAY out of date. Our new package includes more data per line, unlimited minutes and messaging. Total annual savings for wireless will be ~$720. Our cable company had also changed up our bundle. (I’ll be writing more about the changes we have made to our cable, internet, home phone bundle next Monday.) Total annual savings for the cable bill will be around $1,800 annually. (Yeah you read that right…that’s why it is getting a whole post next Monday.)
Part of my financial checkup day is calling all of our utility providers to make sure we are getting the best deal we can possibly get. Most providers know that the marketplace is competitive and that it is cheaper to keep an existing customer as opposed to adding a new one. Being polite and direct is my best advice. When I finally get an actual person on the phone I tell them what I am working on so we can cut right to the matter at hand. I was also able to save a bit of money on our electric rate.
Wading Through Medical Bills
Many who are regular readers know that my wife broke her leg this summer. That led to a variety of new and different medical bills. We have excellent medical insurance through my wife’s employer but I sometimes find unnecessary charges or procedures that have the wrong code attached to them. In total I found about $500 worth of errors in the medical bills.
My best advice on medical bills is to start with the procedures that the insurance company did not pay for. I called the medical provider to ask why those charges might have been declined by the insurance company. In many instances a billing error was discovered. When resubmitted with the proper code the procedure was accepted by our insurance provider.
Dealing with medical bills, insurance companies, billing companies, and medical providers is a GIANT pain and can be quite confusing. Take notes about the various people you speak with including name, employee ID (if possible), date, time, and subject matter of the conversation. Also, set a reminder in your phone or on your calendar to follow up on matters. We recently discovered a medical billing issue from a year ago that we forgot to followup on. A medical provider had a refund check for over $400 in our name sitting in a folder in their office. The check had been there for almost 10 months!
Get Your Budget In Order
I use Mint for our budget. I have been using Mint since before they were purchased by Intuit. The free online service continues to improve. Securely associating your bank account, credit cards, mortgage, and other financial accounts helps Mint automate the process of developing a budget.
When you first setup Mint it will load and analyze three months of your financial data. Some of the items will automatically be assigned to the appropriate category, but your data will require significant ‘massaging’ when you first get going. Mint helps to develop an accurate picture of the money that is coming in and the where it all goes. I also like having the ability to input cash transactions that can get lost along the way.
Replace Bad Habits With Good Ones
When changing any behavior, you need to make sure that a positive alternative is available to replace the negative one. Our savings have been redirected into automatically deducted savings. Contributions to retirement and college funds have been increased. If you don’t do something proactive with your anticipated savings they will simply disappear into another financial failure.
Suggestions For Your Finance Day
Here are a few areas to consider looking on your financial day off….what other suggestions would you have?
- Necessary utilities like water, gas, and electric. Are there lower rates available? Are there places to conserve? Any spikes in the water bill that might indicate a water leak in a toilet or sprinkler system?
- Optional utilities like cable, internet, phone, wireless, etc. Is the service necessary and useful? Can a cheaper price be found from the current provider or another provider?
- Mortgage payment. Is the interest rate on your loan still competitive? Would it be worth looking into refinancing with the low interest rates available now?
- Subscriptions. It is easy to let little subscriptions ($5 to $25 a month) pile up. If a service is not being used, cut it off.
- Insurance. Get a quote from another insurance provider. Make sure to have your policy on hand so you can get an accurate rate comparison. If the quote is lower, consider sharing it with your current provider to see if they will match it. Is your current insurance sufficient?
- Medical bills. I have already mentioned that this category is no fun at all but there can be a lot of cash being wasted on these bills.
- Eating out expense. It is also worth looking at the monthly expenditure on eating out. I know in times past this number has been shocking for our family.
- Investments. Are there better options available for your savings? Can you increase your contributions with some of the money you have saved?
Finally, treat yourself well on financial checkup day. Perhaps you want to save all this money while wearing your PJs….great! Maybe stuffing your face with some unhealthy food will make the day better…go for it! Have a bit of fun with a day filled with the unpleasant tasks that so many of us push aside.
I would love to hear some of your tips regarding this subject in the comments section below.