July is the month to do your mid-year financial check-up with a handful of 10-minute money-saving tasks.
Zap bill creep. When was the last time you actually read your cable, cell phone or utility bills? I opened my cable bill recently and found a $30 charge for “extra" services I’d never signed up for. Service providers always need to generate revenue. Sometimes their tactics aren’t always above board. If you see any charge you don’t understand, call (and save yourself money like I did, getting the charge removed).
Cancel or alter services you don’t use as much as you thought you would. Cable television, subscriptions and gym memberships often fall into this category. If you never find time to hit the treadmill, cancel the membership and put that money to work elsewhere. Some changes are painless. I paid $50 a month for 1,000 minutes with my old cell plan, but used only 200 minutes a month. I cut my bill by switching to a pay-as-you-go plan. Same service, less money.
Find cheaper alternatives to regular expenditures. Don’t pay one penny more than you have to for services and products you use every day. For me, it was swim lessons. I used to pay $120 per six-week session for my son, until I found lessons that were just as good somewhere else at $28 for six weeks.
Rate shop. Are you getting the best interest rate possible on your bank accounts? Are you paying too much mortgage interest? If you carry a balance, is there a lower-interest credit card you qualify for? Look over your interest rates, then shop for better ones. Bankrate.com can help you shop savings-account rates in Central Ohio. Cardratings.com can help you compare credit cards.
Pull your (actually) free credit report. Under federal law, you’re allowed one free credit report each year from the major credit bureaus. Check for errors — accounts that aren’t yours, or open accounts you thought were closed. If you see errors, address them immediately. The ONLY place you can get a free credit report is through annualcreditreport.com. Ignore all other services claiming to offer free credit reports. They aren’t free.
Automate. If you had savings goals in January that fizzled, start anew. The key is an automatic transfer from checking to savings every payday. Start small if you aren’t sure how much you can save. Begin with $5 to $25 per paycheck. Bump up the amount by a few dollars a month if you don’t miss the money as much as you thought you would.
Start planning now for the holidays. Raise your hand if you spent more than you planned over the December holidays. That’s what I thought, so start now to funnel a little bit of cash into a holiday fund. Many online savings accounts allow you to create sub-accounts, so you can save for specific goals. Stashing $5 or $10 per paycheck will get you closer to a more financially solvent holiday. Cook at home and immediately transfer what you would have spent eating out into the holiday fund. Now is also a good time to start stockpiling credit-card rewards that can be used to buy gifts. I save everything from credit-card rewards to swagbucks and ebates all year, and use them to buy Christmas gifts. It can add up to an almost free holiday.
- Denise Trowbridge is a self-professed money geek who writes about personal finance, banking and insurance for The Columbus Dispatch, bankrate.com and middlepathfinance.com.