By Raki Wright
As we discussed last month, I am writing about my experience while reading The $1,000 Challenge by Brian J. O’Connor. The goal of this series is to save $1,000 each month on your expenses. Last month’s focus was on transportation. For this month’s expense category I will review utilities, namely electricity, natural gas, water, cable, phone, and internet. My goal is to trim $100 from my monthly utility expenses.
The whole premise of this challenge is to make easy cuts to my budget that are not emotionally draining. While electricity, natural gas, water, and home phone services are mostly necessary expenses, there are ways to cut them.
As I mentioned last month, my level of intensity in this challenge is “freeing up extra cash,” to lower my monthly costs. I will then apply this savings toward paying down a large debt I have. There are many more extreme and creative ways to save money if you are trying to make ends meet or can barely take care of basic necessities.
While reviewing my monthly transportation expenses last month, I was able to make a few small changes that yielded a savings of over $50 each month! This was still less than the $100 a month I had hoped to cut. So, I am starting this month with nearly a $50 deficit. I will either have to find $150 in savings this month or continue on, short of my goal.
Here’s my plan for this month:
- Review each bill (electricity, natural gas, water, cable, phone, and internet). Compare bills from each company over time. Look for added fees, expired discounts, or increased rates. Evaluate our use compared to the prices we pay.
- Call each company to ask for a lower rate or other promotional offer. Explore competitor offers, promotional offers by my current provider, and explore other options.
- Decide which services and/or options are easy and realistic to cut for an ongoing monthly savings. I’m not trying to change my lifestyle.
I’m simply looking for ways to cut expenses I didn’t know I was paying for or get a cheaper price by just asking for it. Before I reviewed any of these bills, I recall noticing “expense creep” which is when we gradually lessen our reservations about paying higher prices for the same product. It seems that every month the bills are continually greater than the last!
As part of this month’s review, I considered alternate providers, bundling services, counteroffers, asking for lower rates, creative alternatives, and eliminating services all together. I also reviewed our use of each service and compared it to what we are billed.
We have electricity, satellite, cell phone, and internet services. We do not have natural gas, propane, or home telephone services. Most of these expenses are necessary, so it’s a little daunting to think of how I could find any “easy savings.” In the book, the biggest savings came from getting rid of cable and bundling phone service with internet. My expenses are already low and I don’t use natural gas, propane, or home phone service, so my savings were not nearly as striking as the book.
I have something sort of silly to confess. First, in my business as a working mom, I have been very lax in my conscientiousness of bill-paying. I haven’t been budgeting well, paying attention to due dates, or paying bills on time (even when we have the money). So, I am embarrassed to say that I will save a little money by simply paying my bills on time. This discovery has meant I am able to save money by paying my bills on time, as well as being more cognizant of when bills need to get paid!
I know that we could reduce our energy consumption to lower the electric bill, so we are trying to be more conscious of wasted energy like lights and electrical devices on when no one is using them. After reviewing my bill, I noticed that I can save $2.60 in late fees and $2.95 on payment fees passed on by a third-party provider for one-time bill payments. I often use this service when paying my bill at the last-minute.
I signed up to receive statements electronically, which requires me to have the payment withdrawn from my checking account without a fee. I already utilize the level billing option which averages my bill for the previous 12 months. Instead of having higher bills in the Summer and Winter and low bills in the Spring and Fall, my bill is the same all year long.
Savings of $5.55
We are in the second year of a 24 month contract for our satellite service. The only substantial savings we could generate would be from downgrading our plans.
However, I can save $10.00 by receiving an electronic bill and allowing a withdrawal from my checking account or charge to my debit/credit card. I can also save $5.00 in late fees.
Savings of $15.00
I have contacted our internet provider several times over the last few months about my bill, which started out at a promotional rate of $44.95, then turned into $64.95, and has topped off at $84.95. All. For. The. Same. Speed. There are no promotional offers for the speed we use.
I didn’t remember that we use a modem they provide, which costs $8.00 a month for rental.
I can save $8.00 by purchasing my own modem. I can also save $7.60 in late/reactivation fees.
Savings of $15.60
We recently upgraded our phone and are under a 24 month contract. I don’t have a problem with this, as I’ve been a relatively happy Sprint customer for over 15 years. I can save $29.98 by changing plans and another $7.99 by allowing a withdrawal from my checking account or charge to my debit/credit card (under the Spending Limit Program – it’s a charge for Sprint monitoring/limiting my account balance). I can also save $4.81 on late payment fees. The best news is that I receive a 25% “Employee Discount.” Sprint offers discounts to certain work, school, or organizations. It’s really easy to check to see if you are eligible.
Savings of $42.78
Month 1 (Transportation) Savings $52.90
Month 2 (Utilities) Savings $78.33
Total Monthly Savings $131.23 ($68.77 short of monthly goal of $200.00 in savings so far in the second month)
While this challenge is a great experiment, I am starting to get discouraged because so many of my expenses are already low. I’m still holding out hope that the grocery category will bring in big savings, because it’s one of my biggest challenges. Last month’s transportation expenses were easier to cut just by changing where I purchased gas. I was able to cut $52.90 from my transportation expenses toward my $100 goal.
I guess everything is relative. While it IS possible to save $100 month on each category of expenses for a total savings of $1,000, it is not realistic for everyone – particularly the already frugal or the inflexible. It’s not looking good for next month, but we’ll see what happens. Come back in a few weeks to see if I was able to trim $100 from my monthly “kid costs.”
Here are the links to my previous $1000 Challenge articles: