This year, #BradTheBoo and I have been getting our personal finances in shape in a MAJOR way. After making some big boss moves last year (hello, real estate purchase numero dos!), we wanted to get back on track with savings plans and paying off credit card debt that we’d accumulated.
So in the past few months, we spent a ton of time getting organized with Mint and a new financial planning spreadsheet that our financial advisor, Cris Caruso, got us all set up with.
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I’m not gonna lie – at first, I was totally overwhelmed. But once I got all our accounts connected to Mint and our budget was set up, I have to say: I feel so much more organized about our money than ever before. If you’re in my inner circle you probably already know this, because I’ve been blabbing about it to all my friends and family! It just feels so good to get your finances organized.
Anyway, one of the unexpected byproducts of getting on track with Mint, is that all of a sudden every single expense and fee was now glaringly obvious to me.
Yikes – my Sunday New York Times subscription more than doubled in cost since my 1-year introductory deal had just expired?! And OMG, our cable bill had gone up like crazy for the same reason! Not to mention, I started noticing all those monthly maintenance fees on our checking accounts and late fees on credit card payments that were piling up, too.
It all started with my New York Times subscription. I absolutely love getting the paper delivered each Sunday so I can read stories aloud in the truck on the way up to skiing in the Rocky Mountains. Or just to curl up with on a lazy Sunday morning with my giant cup of coffee. Not only do I love getting the paper, I also love supporting journalism and the free press in the process.
So you can imagine how serious we are about reducing our debt and balancing our budget when I talked it out with Brad and decided the paper was just costing too much to justify. We needed to save some funds, so I was prepared to quit. I didn’t like it, but I figured I could just re-subscribe later on when we had fewer bills to pay.
I logged into my subscriber profile and chatted with an agent through their help desk. Within a few minutes of explaining that I was closing down my account for personal finance reasons, I was genuinely surprised to see a counter-offer in my chat thread! I had not expected that.
They reduced the cost dramatically to keep me from quitting – and I was over the moon. It went to effect right away, and I felt way less guilty for continuing to receive the paper each week. In fact, it made me cherish it even more.
Call Them All – And Often
My experience with The New York Times got me thinking: what other recurring monthly expenses could I reduce? It was especially important for me to focus on those repetitive monthly charges because for those, my negotiation efforts would pay off over and over again.
Next on the list was one of our highest monthly expenses: cable and internet. Having fast internet is important for a web-based business owner like me, but did we really need cable? I logged into our Xfinity account to see what we were really paying for and how the price had gone up so much over the past year.
In talking things over with Brad, we were willing to cut back to save some money, so I called up Xfinity to see what they could do, especially because I had discovered a major error upon logging into the back-end: we had accidentally been paying for an added Showtime package for a few months that we didn’t need, use, or want.
When I called them up, I explained the Showtime situation and how we’d just discovered the accidental overcharge. I remained friendly, patient, and appreciative throughout what turned into quite a long call, which goes a long when you’re asking a company representative to essentially do you a favor.
Ask If They Can Sweeten the Deal
Once the overcharge situation was looked into and refunded, I asked the customer service representative what we could do to reduce our bill. We loved our service, I told him, but we really needed to cut back on our expenses. “Is there any way you can help?” I asked. And he put me on a brief hold to find out.
Y’all – it’s that simple. When he rejoined the line, he mentioned that there was a deal currently available to reduce our bill by $20 a month if we would be willing to commit to a 2-year contract. I asked about the penalty for early termination and was told it was a nominal one-time fee. This was an easy “Yes!” from us because we really don’t foresee needing to change our cable and internet again anytime soon.
By simply asking if there was any way for them to get us a better deal – and by spending, frankly, quite a few minutes on the phone – we were able to reduce expense by $240 a year!
Now, I’m not sure if it made a big difference that we did a lot of this negotiating in January when lots of companies are offering special sales, but I figure it’s worth mentioning, just in case.
Be Fierce About Finance Fees
Once I had conquered my newspaper and cable and internet companies, I was totally hooked! Up next were the big banks, which is our case consists primarily of Bank of America, where Brad and I have some checking accounts and credit cards, too.
The first thing I did was call up regarding both of our credit cards and simply ask if, based on our good credit history and our long-time loyalty as customers for more than a decade, they could reduce our interest rates. A few years ago I was successful in that endeavor, but this time, I got a “no” on both attempts. Wah-wah.
But then a few weeks went by and thanks to being all set up and organized on Mint, I was alerted via email to the fact that Brad’s credit card had charged him an interest payment and a $25 late fee, even though he had completely paid off the card – albeit a few days later than the monthly due date. I thought that was ridiculous, but kept my vocal tone pleasant, when I called up to once again express how, as longtime loyal customers, we would appreciate it if those fees could be reversed.
Interestingly, the representative was kind enough to ask me an important follow-up question. He said, “Was there any specific reason or extenuating circumstance that caused you to be late on this payment?” Now – let’s be real. They were essentially telling me what I needed to say next: that there was some reason behind the late payment. So I said we were out of town and dealing with some family things – which, to be clear, doesn’t actually impact one’s ability to make a credit card payment, but whatever. And that was all it took! Boom – fee removed. Interest charge removed.
Time = Money
This whole experience has taught me something really valuable: spending time on your finances can save you some serious coin. Within that reality, though, lies a great injustice. Because for those of us most burnt out, stressed out, and overworked: it’s pretty unlikely that you’re going to have 45 minutes to spare to negotiate your rates with the cable company. Or to ask for forgiveness from a utility company. And that irony is not lost on me.
But if you’re the kind of person who does have the privilege of time. Your spare time on a Sunday morning might be better spent making a few of these phone calls as opposed to never ever, ever missing brunch.
My new rule of thumb is to do a full financial check-up on all our monthly recurring expenses every 6 months or so and to call and ask outright if these companies can do anything to sweeten the deal for me.
Because it’s worth the time to advocate for ourselves – in big and little ways like this.
Give it a go!
So now I’m challenging you: take a look at your recurring expenses this month and commit to calling at least one of those companies on your list and ask about getting a better deal. Report back to me by commenting below on how it goes. And with any luck, a single “win” like the one I experienced first, will get you rolling on a series of negotiations that not only help balance your budget but also help your practice the fine art of being pleasantly persistent and negotiating on your own behalf.
[ Listen to Emilie Aries’ podcast HERE. ]
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