We’ve all heard the words “Knowledge is power” , but when it comes to saving money on your monthly bills, this can be a very powerful statement.
In the age where paying bills is easier than ever, consumers benefit, right? In the old days, you’d have to go to the mailbox, find the bill, open it up, take a look at it, write a check, find a stamp, take it to the mailbox, and wait another month for the entire cycle to start over again. This process wasn’t just for one bill, it would be for every single bill that you paid.
The mortgage. The car payment. The electric bill. Gas. Water.
You get the idea.
Now, it’s so much easier. The ‘bill’ shows up in your inbox and on a designated date, the money gets subtracted from your account.
No more opening the bill, no more having to worry about finding the checkbook or running to the post office because you’re out of stamps.
It’s all so much easier now.
Maybe a little…too easy.
In fact, this entire process could be costing you money each month. By missing the part where you open the bill and take a look at it, this could be costing you money each and every month.
Here are a few things that you might want to take a look at:
- Bank statements – Most banks have moved away from providing totally free checking and savings accounts. If they are offered at all, chances are there are rules and restrictions tied to such things as maintaining an average daily balance, performing direct deposit, or limiting the number of transactions. Take a look at your detailed statement to make sure you are not paying any unnecessary monthly fees. Banks do have to notify you when they make changes, but they’ve gotten really good at slipping these notifications by so they go undetected.
- Mortgage statement – If you pay a monthly mortgage, take a good look at it. Chances are the bank hasn’t added any fees, but if you take a good look at it, you might find some opportunities. Look at the rate and see what it compares to what is available today. Perhaps a re-finance is in order. Look at whether you’re paying Personal Mortgage Insurance (PMI). If you’ve built up enough equity in your house (usually 20-30%), you might want to consider a request to have this removed. Banks typically won’t remove it on their own, it’s free money!
- Cell phone bills – Take a look and make sure that everything looks right. Is every line that you’re getting billed for actually being used? Are you paying any overages that could be worked into a different plan?
- Appliance repair plan – Our gas company offers an appliance coverage plan that we take advantage of. With the age of our appliances, this makes sense for us, but if your appliances are brand new, you might not need this coverage, especially if they might still be covered under warranty. Conversely, if you have appliances that average 15 years or more in age, they might come out and tell you that it’s unrepairable, in which case you’re going to have to replace it anyways. If your appliances are getting to that age, it might make sense to put the money aside from the repair plan toward replacing the appliances. If you’re run this on auto-pilot, you might not even think about it, but looking at the bill could prompt some questions.
- Cable bill – This is one where you really should take a good look as cable companies change their fees and such all the time. Take a look and find out what equipment you’re being billed for every month. If you’re paying lease fees on a bunch of cable boxes and modems, you might be able to call and ask for one or two to be given to you for free, especially if the equipment is old. Take a look at what packages you’re paying for and make sure you are still watching the channels associated with any premium fees. Also, look for any discounts that you might have gotten at one time. Most cable companies will only provide discounts for six to twelve months at a time, and while some might be willing to renew them, they won’t do it unless you call and ask. If you don’t keep tabs on your bill, you might miss this opportunity.
- Credit cards – This is one that I hope you look at every month, but it’s so important that it bears pointing out. You should make sure that all charges that appear look familiar. I actually advocate logging in on a regular basis to keep tabs, because you will likely not remember certain things from weeks ago. If you carry any balances, you should also make sure to verify that your interest rate has not gone up. Also, keep tabs on your minimum payments. Hopefully you’re paying more than that, but if they change and you’re not aware, you could be slapped with a service fee for not making a minimum payment.
These are just a few. Take a look at each of your bills because chances are you have others that warrant taking a look at regularly.
Divide and conquer. This can be cumbersome to do all at once, so I would recommend you take a strategic approach to staying on top of this. With the exception of your credit card bills, which should be looked at each and every month, I would pick one bill at a time and focus on giving it an exam that month. It may take a while, but after a few months you’ll have gone through each of your bill and hopefully will have caught some money saving opportunities along the way. By the time you get through all your bills, it’s time to start over as it will have been a while since you looked at the first one.
Readers, do you perform any routine checks on your bills? What are some of the things that you’ve discovered along the way?
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