We are Going to Save Almost $900 on Bills This Year by Doing Two Things

I kind of breezed over the many major milestones and changes we’ve gone through in the last year in my last post.  Just to pluck one out of the list, I went back to school.  I never completed college when I initially set out.  I graduated high school right into the recession and long story short – I couldn’t even afford community college.  I spent the years since then working retail, then office jobs, and eventually got settled in a stable job with solid pay, an amazing boss, and a great team.  Problem was, I was bored out of my mind.  8 hours a day in a cube with little to no challenging work or projects was agony.  I could actually feel myself becoming less intelligent.  It wasn’t until I left my job and started school that I even realized how unhappy I was.

Suffice it to say that quitting a great job and going to school full time isn’t cheap.  Alex works really hard and there are lots of things we’ve done to mitigate the insane cost.  Today I’m going to share 2 of the things we recently did to lower our monthly costs to live.

We are cutting cable and switching to Sling TV

I’ve been itching to cut cable for a few years.  I basically watch Game of Thrones, Outlander, Rick and Morty, and Friends reruns.  There is no reason I would need traditional cable.  Alex, on the other hand, has a never ending rotation of shows he “needs” to watch in addition to sports.  To keep our costs down for cable and internet, he would periodically call Comcast and complain about how high our bill was and they’d do whatever lying/magic they had to do to lower it a bit.  Rinse and repeat every 6 months.  Cutting cable never seemed like the right option because there were no other options with sports, and that’s really important to him.

Then I saw an ad for Sling TV.  Could this be the solution to our TV woes?  I perused their website and it looks like they have every channel we’d want, you can add on DVR, and local sports. They offer premium channel add ons for HBO and Starz (GoT and Outlander, respectively).  Some quick math and I realized if we added on literally everything we could ever want, it would still be cheaper than what we have now. By 40 fricking dollars a month! We ran it by our roommates and they were totally on board.

There are going to be a few upfront costs to switching.  You can stream Sling TV through a Roku stick, Amazon Fire stick, and whatever the newest Xbox console is.  We (and our roommates) have PS4’s.  Sling offers a free Roku stick when you sign up so we just have to pick up one more (approx $35) and all of us will be good to go.

We are also switching our internet provider.  I think I’m just over the run around with Comcast.  I know that they are all the same, but at least we can use an introductory offer elsewhere to lower our bill for a while.  We recently got a new modem as well so I’m hoping that will also speed things up for us.  Ours is really old and we have connection issues.  Tomorrow, our new internet provider is coming to set us up and then we’ll start Sling.  I’ll check in again once we’ve had it for a while to share our experience.

I lowered my car insurance bill and didn’t switch providers

I have been wanting to use Mint for a while, but my bank wouldn’t allow them to link up.  Until recently.  I’m not sure what changed (maybe it was my 2 emails over the course of 5 years).  In case you aren’t familiar with it, Mint is a website/app that you can link your bank, investment, and bill accounts to.  You can, “Manage your money, pay your bills and track your credit score with Mint.”  I really love having a consolidated view of my finances, but that isn’t why I’m bringing it up.  I linked my Progressive account and I got an alert from Mint.  It said that I was paying 25% more for car insurance than their average user.

This prompted me to go onto Progressive’s website and run a quote for myself.  If you can believe it, Mint was right.  My quote was actually more than 33% lower.  The kicker?  I got double the coverage, halved my deductible, AND lowered my payment.  I called Progressive and the guy I was talking to (to cancel my previous policy) was absolutely tickled about what I had done.  It seriously made his day, which made my day.

There are a few factors that made my payment go down so much.  First, it had been about 3 years since I got my policy and I just let it auto-renew that whole time.  Concurrently, my credit score went way up over the course of those years.  Also, and I don’t love that this is the way it is, I got married.  Apparently just getting married would have lowered my payment by $10. Not sure how that makes sense, but there is an actuary somewhere that could explain it. From a 5 minute online quote and a phone call, I saved us about $400 over the course of the next 12 months. My payment went from $108 to $75 per month.

 

Savings

Switching to Sling: $480

New Car Insurance quote: $396

Total: $876

 

There are probably a few other bills we could lower with a little attention, but these are the two that we just recently addressed.  I feel like we are still learning about personal finance so I get a little obsessed at times, and it paid off this time. If you’ve done other things to lower your monthly bills (utility or otherwise), let me know!

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The Tortoise Life

About a month ago, I started a new job.  I went from being a receptionist for a small division (approx 600 people) of a large company (10s of thousands of people) to being a receptionist for a small association of under 100 people.  I realized two things very quickly:

  1. I was being disturbingly underpaid.
  2. The culture at my old job was toxic.

I should have been making almost double what I was being paid for the work I was doing.  When I first started there, I had very little to do and my wage reflected that.  Over the course of the next 2 years, my work load blossomed.  I was doing a variety of tasks, all requiring strong time management and attention to detail and industry knowledge.  You would not believe the things they trusted me with (but I’m grateful for the experience!).  By the end, my wage hadn’t changed at all and my work was…almost hard to quantify…5 times more than when I started? There wasn’t much my department could do, however, because of the climate of the company. Which brings me to…

I’m not saying that all “corporate” jobs have toxic cultures, just that my division at my company needed a lot of help.  It was highly competitive.  I don’t mean Our Company vs Another Company.  I mean department against department, all vying for more resources and trying to look like they were achieving every goal.   I didn’t feel as though the company valued their employees or contractors.  I was a contractor there for 2 years.  My supervisors worked very hard to bring me on, and credited me with my accomplishments loudly and to anyone who would listen.  BUT here I am at another company.  I loved my group, and I loved my management.  The people in my division (for the most part) were great and I was really sad to go.

But sometimes, you gotta do you.

So I did. Now I make 30% more doing much less stressful work.  The culture here is very INCLUSIONARY.  Birthday and anniversary celebrations. The receptionist (me) gets to go to all employee meetings.  People stop by to get to know me, and I get to know them.  After less than one month on the job, guess who is getting a semi-promotion? This girl.

At my new job, I’m reliving a lot of new job emotions that I felt 2 years ago.  Namely, whoa I have a ton of money, now what?  I’m not saying I’m rich, but after spending 6 years in retail I kind of feel rich.  A few things happened all at once to make me feel this way:

  • I got a 30% raise.
  • One of my larger bills is no more!
  • I’m on the precipice of paying off my last 2 debts.
  • I went from being paid weekly to bi-weekly.

Because of all this, I decided to sit down and reevaluate my monthly budget.  If you have a lot of money problems and don’t know where to start I would recommend checking out what Dave Ramsey has to say.  I am not a fan of his religiously charged, infomercial writing style, but the bones of his books are really helpful.  I kind of took what he had going and put my own spin on it to make it work for me.  I also really love Money Under 30 for a variety of financial info aimed at people my age.

This is my formula (assuming you make more than what your bills cost):

Income – Bills – 10% savings – allotted spending money = Money to put back into debts and savings.

Income

What I consider my income is what I make after taxes and retirement savings.  I pretend whatever is taken out is just never there. Right now I am making more than I ever have before, but in the grand scheme of things it’s not high.  I am a receptionist without a degree, but I definitely make enough to get by.

Bills

These include rent, phone, school debt, personal debt, credit cards, etc.  I recently got to stop paying for my car insurance.  I don’t even drive, but I had to pay for special insurance because of my driving record (which is a whole other post).  I finally finished the terms and now thats $80 a month I’m not paying.

Savings

I wrote 10% savings in formula because that’s the minimum I put in after every paycheck.  It’s one of the first things I do.  I actually just added it to my direct deposit, so now I don’t even have to worry about it.  This is definitely something that is personal. I hope to increase this number very soon.

Allotted Spending Money

Most articles that I’ve read say to decrease this number as much as possible.  I could go either way.  I don’t think we all need to live like nuns just to get by, but I don’t need a new Fendi bag every month.  I give myself $100 a week for incidentals.  Clothes, eating out, craft supplies, or whatever I think is fun to do that week.  This does mean I need to plan ahead when I want a mani/pedi or that I can’t go buckwild at the book store, but for the most part it works for me.

Money Left Over

I use all the money left over after bills, savings and spending budget to put back into my debts.  I will have what little school debt I have paid off by the end of 2014, as well as my credit card completely paid off. It has never been completely paid off!  This is kind of like my version of Dave Ramsey’s debt snowball. I don’t have many debts, just a few large ones.

I plan all of this ahead of time so when that paycheck hits my account, I can distribute the money right away.  I feel secure knowing that not only have I paid my bills and debts, but I get to have fun and save for the future too.

Getting my finances under control has been a long, slow road. Hence the tortoise title.  In the same sense, though, I feel like I’m winning the race. I have financial security for one of the first times in my life and it feels wonderful. There are lots of things I want right this second, but getting my sh*t together first and saving is the responsible thing to do.

 

Do you have a system to manage your money?  Any financial gurus you particularly like? How do you “Do You?”

Money Money Money Money

MONAAAY.

Yeah Soul Train knows what I’m talking about.

I’m talking about money.

Now I’m no Dave Ramsey, but I’ve picked up a few things along the way that help keep me from debt collector’s (mostly) and wage garnishments so I thought I’d share. In lieu of a long and dramatic back story I’m going to hit you up with the cliff notes list version of my mistakes/misfortunes.

  1. I thought my parents were going to pay for college.
  2. I worked a lot, and spent that money on things that were not school.
  3. I used my credit card with a much higher limit than I should have had to pay my school bill.
  4. Both my parents were laid off. Then they got jobs.
  5. Then I was laid off. Then I got a different, less lucrative job.
  6. A year later, I had surgery.

My surgery was in March, but just in case you didn’t know that stuff is expensive. So all in all, I mishandled my money and expected others to take care of it. Naively. In May, I started my current job which pays more than any other job I’ve had and it pays regularly. The same check every week. That’s incredibly convenient. So I’ve devised a plan to pay off my debts and pay my bills and have a semi-normal social life in the process.

The Big Plan

The first thing I do at the beginning of the month is whip up a calendar. All my bills have due dates. Do you see where I’m going with this? The first thing I do is plot those dates. Then I move them back to the corresponding payday. So if a bill is due Friday, I move it back to the payday just before (Tuesday). Then I do a little math. Paycheck – Bills = Money for other things. Money for other things breaks down into Debt Repayment, Fun Times, Lunch, and if I’m really lucky, Savings. Let’s be honest, Fun Times does not get a large budget.

I pay way more than the minimum payment for my credit card.  18 times more to be exact. I also pay a hefty sum weekly to my school so that one day they will let me back and I can be an academic. This doesn’t leave me with a lot left over to do wild 23-year-old things. Hence my frugal posts. 

By paying my weekly bills as soon as I get paid, I’m not tempted to spend money on other non-necessities. I figured out that by following my bill paying regimen I can be debt free in 7 months.  At least, that’s the plan.  I am waiting to find out if my contract at the company I work for will be extended or not. They could even hire me. Whoa. My plan for now is to assume that nothing is going to change because I haven’t heard anything either way.

This might not be the best way to handle finances, or even a great way, but it’s what I found worked for me.

Do you have a strict budget?  Do you wing it?

Where’s That Duct?

Blog post title brought to you by a crude joke my brother makes.

A Brief History of My House:

  • Built in 1976
  • Not sure who the first owner was.
  • First occupant I know of was my boyfriend’s Grandmother. Apparently a sweet woman with a smoking habit. And 2 cats.
  • After she passed, a friend of my boyfriend’s family moved in. Hoarder with a cat. I can not make this up. I’m not sure how long he lived there, maybe about 5 years, but it was long enough to completely ruin the house.

Fun Facts:

  • When I first saw the inside of the house, the tenant said he had “cleaned out half of his stuff” but I could barely walk through it.
  • There is a corner of our living room we don’t go near. It’s called Cat Pee Corner.
  • You can see where the steam from my shower has steamed off nicotine stains from my bedroom ceiling.
  • The light covers in the basement shown a dim yellow color from all the mouse waste.

These are all fun facts about what you can see and smell my lovely home. What about what you are breathing? Kind of a big deal. I vacuum and air it out as best I can, but I can’t climb into the ducts like a ninja and clean them. So we called some professionals.  I found a deal on Groupon for a company called Green Heat.  There were two options and, feeling ritzy/terrified of our air, we chose the expensive $69 option.  My boyfriend bought the Groupon, called the company and scheduled a visit. 

Apparently, our filthy ducts were too much for their normal tools so they had to bring out the big guns, so to speak.

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They also inspected and cleaned our furnace and oiled it or something. I wasn’t there so I’m going by my boyfriend’s account of things. Then they offered to kill the bacteria in our ducts with some organic spray or something. My boyfriend also purchased a new reuseable filter from them.

They also broke one of our light fixtures for which they discounted the price by $50. I told my boyfriend to see if they could do better, and another $50 was taken off. They also almost left without cleaning our dryer vent, which is the only difference in the Groupon options. Total cost of our $69 ($518 value) Groupon?

$650

Evidentally, they had to do a “deep clean” as opposed to the normal cleaning they do. Also, whatever work they did on the furnace costs extra as does the new filter. The real killer is that they took off $100 from the original bill because we bought the Groupon. I’m sorry, but these numbers just aren’t lining up. I paid $69 for them to clean my vents, deodorize the air, clean my dryer vent and inspect my furnace. Plus $75 for a new filter. I should be paying $144. Was my boyfriend duped? Did they upsell the original upseller?

I might call them to have the charges explained to me because I’m insane like that. I don’t think $650 is too much to pay to breath a little easier, especially after the horrendous air history this house has had. It’s the principle of the thing. Saving $200 (partly because of their mistake) is not the same as saving $499. 

I’m a little torn. From what my boyfriend describes, they pulled a wildebeast out of our vents.  They also changed the charges A LOT.

What would you do?

Catch It!

Today, my dear friends, we are going to talk about money again. I have recently caught not one but two money saving mistakes. TWO! One saved me a little money and one is going to save me hundreds. HUNDREDS! First, you need to know how much I love the Patch NYC mini shop at Target.  I loved everything I saw on that endcap. Patiently, I waited for it to go on sale and one evening I was out at the old Target with my boyfriend and spotted some Patch items on a 50% off shelf. Hell to the yeah. I looked at the price sticker and it was the still the 30% off I had seen before. So I scanned it. Still 30% off. Then I did the one thing that not very many people do, but should. I asked.

The girl I asked quickly called her manager who told me it was their mistake and that they would honor the 50% off. Now, before you go taking one item off a shelf and putting it on a clearance shelf just to get the deal, don’t.  All the signs were supposed to read 30% off, not 50%. It really was their mistake. I was told to let them know when I was going to check out so they could alert the cashier. Now, here is where skill becomes luck. I explained what happened to the cashier. She couldn’t do it. Another employee or maybe manager saw her confused face and came over. He told her they can’t take 50% off the original price so she would have to take 50% off the ALREADY REDUCED price. This is the breakdown:

4 mugs = $4.99 ea reduced to $3.48 ea reduced to $1.74 ea

image

1 teapot = $24.99 ea reduced to $17.48 ea reduced to $8.74

image

Total Savings = $29.25

Now, I don’t know about you but an extra $30 in my pocket is a fantastic thing. Or maybe not wasting $30 on something I don’t really need is a fantastic thing. Either way I freakin love the set. Fo sho worth the $15. 

The other mistake I noticed was in a bill.  Earlier this year I had a surgery (story maybe to come).  Anyway, I’m paying off the surgery with a payment plan and I recently got my monthly bill.  The total had doubled. Um, say what? So I perused the charges and two recent doctors appointments showed that my insurance was paying a whopping $0.00.  Not cool. I called my insurance company and they told me my doctor didn’t accept my insurance so it was being charged to my out of network deductible. I thought this was ludicrous. My doctor is part of an enormous health system and there was no way she didn’t accept my very good insurance. So I fact checked (election reference, ay-ohh!) and sure enough she accepts it. I called the insurance company back and they sent me to a “Resolution Specialist” who saw that yes, my doctor accepts them and that yes, it was processing wrong. Boom.

Total Saved: $466

I’m just a lowly receptionist, but I’m pretty sure everyone wouldn’t mind reducing their debt my nearly $500. Asking questions and paying attention to what you are being charged is extremely important, especially if you are on a tight budget. Honestly, who isn’t these days? At 23 and living on my own, every penny counts. I pay my bills, not my parents or my boyfriend or any anonymous benefactor (not that I would say no to one of those).

Lesson learned: Really watch those totals. Ask questions!