How to Negotiate Bills
Everyone is looking for ways to save money, preferably, if you’re fortunate, without drastically changing lifestyle habits. If you currently scrutinize your routine bills (i.e., utilities, mortgage, insurance, etc), congratulations- you are among the few! Too many of us, however, have accepted these bills as non-negotiable and simply accept them as monthly expenditures. I challenge you to look at these bills differently going forward and ask yourself the following questions:
- Is there a lower rate or option available for this service?
- Do I need this service, or this level of service?
- When is the best time considering market conditions to review?
- How can I negotiate with the company to lower my bill?
Lower Your Monthly Expenses ~ Negotiate Bills
Let’s look at the different types of routine bills and how we can lower your monthly expenses. Keeping a monthly budget would be the best first step, but if you don’t currently do that, you can still get an excellent idea of these expenses with paper or online statements.
The late summer/ early fall is a great time traditionally to review your natural gas bill history and decide if you want to lock in at a fixed rate or opt for a variable rate plan. Since the majority of natural gas in the United States comes from the Gulf of Mexico, much of the rate has to do with supply and demand that shifts due to weather conditions (i.e. hurricanes affecting supply). If you are in a de-regulated market, such as Georgia- gapsc.com, you have multiple gas marketers to choose from, with varying rates and programs. These should be listed on a government-sponsored site from the local Public Service Commission. If you are under contract with a marketer, you may have a penalty to switch, and you would need to evaluate your options. In states that are not de-regulated, you should go to the utility’s website to see rate options and decide if you are better off with a fixed or variable rate plan.
The best way, I’ve found, to lower your electric bill is to pay attention to the energy you are currently using, and look for ways to become more efficient. Most electric companies will come out and do an energy audit for free! This not only helps you to identify energy guzzlers in your house, but also may introduce you to products that will help you save money, like energy efficient light bulbs and more efficient weather stripping for windows and doors. To learn more about energy audits and how to sign up to receive one, check out www.energysavers.gov http://www.energysavers.gov/your_home/energy_audits/index.cfm/mytopic=11160
Television, Internet, and Home Phone
I originally posted this several years back when we still bundled these three services. In our personal experience, we have cut out television and home phone expense. Now, we simply have internet and cell phone. We watch TV through the internet often (think hulu.com for episode viewing, Netflix.com for movies, and espn.com for sports). However, if you do like having all three services, definitely try to negotiate with your provider(s). Often, one provider offers all three of these services bundled in a package, so you can receive a discount for all three. Back when, I was successful at periodically calling to extend my current “discount” to whatever their current offer is. I saved a lot of money doing that. For info on how to cut the cable, check out this article.
First of all, decide if you really need a home phone. That may save you a monthly amount right there. According to Clarkhoward.com, 33 million people in the U.S. are exclusive cell phone users, with no landline. Here are a few considerations:
- You may need more minutes on your cell phone if you do not currently have an unlimited plan.
- Find out how your alarm system is set up. Some are connected to your landline phone and a phone is required for the alarm to work; however, the alarm companies can connect it to your cellular phone, but they typically charge an increased fee for that.
- A traditional fax machine would not work (but an e-fax would)
- If you have a bundled provider who also provides your TV service or internet, they may charge you more on the other services when you remove the landline
- The 911 issue- if there is an emergency, if you’re calling from your cell phone, your call could be answered by a neighboring 911 center and not your own. In the event of an emergency, if you are using your cell phone, make sure you ask for your city’s 911 center.
- Consider how much your children use the phone, or if they might need one in the event of an emergency, if they do not have their own cell phones. You can supposedly have a phone plugged in to the wall and in the event of emergency, be able to dial 911. I have never tried that personally, but it would be an option for you to consider and investigate further.
- All of these are monthly bills that can add more money in your pocket for other things-monthly! Some of these changes can be lifestyle changes but others are simple in your pocket savings if you take the time to evaluate it. Once a year at least, review these and see what you can do to help your family’s financial situation.
- With the rise in cell phone (and increasingly, smartphone) popularity, cell phone expenses are certainly something you should pay close attention to. Going online to check your usage and watching out for changes to your plan or current offerings are two ways to help mitigate any unexpected expenses. This market is becoming extremely dynamic and if you are looking for ways to reduce your expenses in this area (as you always should), I recommend looking to Clark Howard http://clarkhoward.com/liveweb/shownotes/category/155/157/ for knowledge on the current market between AT&T and Verizon and the second and third tier providers.