Calling the cable companies is almost as bad as accidentally grabbing a pan from the oven without the oven mitt on your hand (not fun). Even though it is a big pain, I call them pretty regularly just to check in and make sure I’m getting the best rate.
This time I ended up getting more “bang for my buck” if you will. Here’s what happened.
As I told you in a previous post (the power of extra loan payments), I cancelled my cable services as a way to save money each month. I kept the internet and have Netflix, so it’s really not missed as much as you would think it would be. SlingTV and Hulu Plus are other great options to check into!
I got a letter from my internet/cable company in the mail this weekend saying that “it had come to their attention” that I was not being charged for my HD cable box and they were going to start adding $10 onto my account beginning this month. I was quite intrigued since, as I just mentioned, I no longer have any cable services.
I gave them a call and was ready for a laugh as we tried to figure out why I received this letter.
I ended up speaking to the most level-headed agent I’ve ever spoken to at this company (I’ve spoken to at least 25 of them since January). This was quite a surprise since my service with them has been terrible. Anyway, it turns out that because I am a procrastinator and have yet to return my cable box, they are now charging me $10 for it. Oops.
Since I already had them on the phone, I mentioned that a competitor company was now available in my area, and they were offering basic cable and the same internet speed I have now for $50 a month. I asked her why I should stick with their company and not switch to the new one offering a much better deal. She surprised me by saying that she could not only offer me a lower bill, but had a new offer which was comparable to the one I had mentioned.
By “comparable”, she meant much better. They had a new deal that offered their fastest internet service, basic cable and HBO free for the first year for only $49.99 a month.
Before I let myself get too excited, I knew this had to come with a 2 year contract, so I asked.
No contract was required.
I now have cable, faster internet, AND am paying $10 less each month.
So much for them charging me more money.
Cable Company: 0
Here are some tips I use for scoring a lower cable bill:
1. Call at least once every six months to check on new promotions.
I usually call every 2 months or whenever I find a great deal on their website, but you don’t have to call this often if you’d rather not. There are often deals not listed on their website that you can take advantage of.
2. Get yourself to the right department.
When you call, make sure to hit the prompt for the “looking to remove one or all of your services”. This will get you get right to their customer retention department. These are the people who will be able to help get you the best offers.
If you select something else, you typically get bounced around between departments and waste your time. I’ve also found that getting transferred around increases your risk of being “accidentally” hung up on, so I try to avoid it at all costs.
3. See What New Customers Are Being Offered.
Before you make this call, jump on their website first and see what they are offering new customers so you have knowledge about what you want. Ask the agent why you should continue to be a customer of theirs if they are not willing to provide you with their best offer.
Sometimes they will come up with something better than you have now. Sometimes they put you on hold to “check with their supervisor” and end up offering a $10-$20 discount per month to get you closer to that price.
4. Check out their competitors website to see what they are offering.
Let the agent know what you found and that you are looking into switching if they cannot offer something comparable. Ask them directly if they can meet or beat that price.
5. Never sign a new contract.
If they offer you something you can’t refuse, let them know you will not sign a contract. If you absolutely must, make sure it is no longer than one year. After the first 12 months, companies like to jump the prices $20 or more a month, and you are then stuck in your contract with very few options. I have not been under contract for a cable company in years and this has given me the flexibility to be able to call every few months and negotiate a lower rate, or at the very least extend my promotional price.
6. Be Patient. This is not a quick process.
Be prepared to be on the phone for more than 10 minutes. I have been on the phone with them for 60 minutes before, but I have also had calls that only lasted about 8 minutes, but never any shorter than that. It’s a process, and they also seem to take their time – probably in hopes that you won’t be calling back anytime soon. Just be prepared and don’t allow them to upset you by keeping you on hold for a while.
7. Be kind, but assertive.
Being nice goes a long way, but don’t let them rush of you off the phone either.
8. Call back if you don’t get what you want the first time.
Yes, I’m serious. Most of the time, if one agent isn’t willing to “find” you a better rate, the next one will. You may have rubbed the first person the wrong way, or maybe they didn’t want to give you the better rate. Either way, hang up and try again.
Before I was fully committed to this whole “getting out of debt” thing, I was really flying by the seat of my pants when it came to tracking my monthly bills. I hadn’t even written a list of each months payments until a few months ago.
I would set up reminders here and there, but they would mostly end up going ignored. I somehow relied on my memory to get me through, which is quite scary when you consider that my friends call me “Dory”.
I’m honestly not sure how I was able to make most of my payments on time back then. I actually ended up making double payments on quite a few bills because I would forget that I had paid them and in a haste on their due date I would make another payment.
I would then be a month ahead on payments and get out of the habit of paying that one by the following month. It was a complete mess.
I’m sure that some of you are functioning the same way, under a form of organized chaos. Maybe you enjoy it, maybe you are finding it hard to keep up. I wanted to give you a little run through of exactly how I currently keep track of my monthly payments and debts in case you are one of those people who are looking for a way out of the mess.
How I Keep Track of My Bills & Payments
Completely opposite to how I “organized” my bills before, I am now a bit “anal” with how I pay my bills each month. I do everything manually and actually prefer it.
I use Evernote to keep track of my bills and their due dates. I do this to make sure I don’t forget any of them, as well as to allow me to visually see how they are broken up that month.
Evernote is run on a cloud-based system, so every change I make is saved regardless of what kind of device I am using. This is great for people like me who can’t even remember to put gas in the car until it beeps at me.
I keep my full list of my bills for the entire month in a note titled “Bills”.How predictable. Here is an example of what that list would look like:
7 – Cable bill- $65 7 – Credit Card bill – $50 9 – Gas bill – $45 9 – Netflix – $7.99 11 – Cell Phone – $75 15 – Rent – $500 18 – Student Loan #1 – $267 19 – Car – $192 24 – Water Bill – $55 Each pay – Gas, etc. – $50 Each pay – Yearly Bills – $65 Each pay – Car Insurance – $53
This list resembles my personal list of bills, but is more of a generic example.
Bills Organized by Pay Schedule
I separate the full list out into bi-weekly periods that coincide with my pay schedule. I add up the ones that need to be paid during that time frame and calculate how much of my paycheck I will have left over (which goes in parenthesis). That extra amount will go towards the debt I am currently focusing on.
I put the dates I need to account for at the end of a long line to break up with pay weeks. I then have the total of those bills listed, as well as the amount of my paycheck left over in parenthesis. Here is a visual of what I’m talking about:
—————————9/26 to 10/9 – $410.99 ($589.01)
7 – Cable – $65 7 – Credit Card – $50 9 – Gas bill – $45 9 – Netflix – $7.99 11 – Cell Phone – $75 Each pay – Gas, etc. – $50 Each pay – Yearly Bills – $65 Each pay – Car Insurance – $53
I make sure to include money I will need for gas to get to and from work so that I don’t end up without that in my budget.
So that first example looks great, right? I would have $589.01 to put towards my student loan. Well, it seems that way, but I always look ahead to make sure I will have enough to cover the bills for the following bi-weekly period:
—————-10/10 to 10/24 – $1182 (-$182)
15 – Rent – $500 18 – Student Loan #1 – $267 19 – Car – $192 24 – Water Bill – $55 Each pay – Gas, etc. – $50 Each pay – Yearly Bills – $65 Each pay – Car Insurance – $53
I would be glad I did take a peek ahead in this example. It looks like that $182 of that money I had left over during the previous time frame is going to be needed for the next pay period. This means I still have $407 extra to put towards my loans. Not bad at all.
I would then either just let that extra money sit in the checking account until the next paycheck came through, or pay off one (or more) of the bills that would be due during that next time frame during this period. It really depends on which bill is coming up. If it is a student loan payment, or credit card payments I will go ahead and pay it so I can save some money in interest.
The Strategy Behind Tracking Bills This Way
You may have noticed that I keep all of the bills in bold font. Each time I pay one of my bills, I change that line from bold to regular font. This leaves the unpaid bills looking more noticeable so that I don’t end up forgetting any.
I make most of my payments throughCapital One 360’s bill pay system. To stay on top of this, once I schedule a payment I will write “scheduled” next to that amount so I know that it will come out as soon as I get paid.
I typically stay on top of my bills pretty regularly, about every other day or so, just to make sure I’m not forgetting anything (again, they call me Dory for a reason).
There are things that I save up for in each paycheck, such as yearly bills, taxes, car insurance, and even upcoming weddings. This is something I just recently started doing so that I wouldn’t be caught off guard every six months or so when those bills crept up.
I used to end up putting these on a credit card and slowly paying them off. I think this new method is absolutely crucial to make sure you don’t end up back in debt by putting a big expense on a credit card.
Why Not Pay Everything Automatically?
Some people may look at my method and think I’m absolutely nuts. Why not just use automatic payments and have everything taken out on a more regular schedule? There is a reason behind this madness, I promise.
Since I am really hustling to get my debt paid off, I need every extra penny to go towards my student loans. As soon as I have the extra money, I want to make a payment to my loan company. This ends up in me paying less interest AND not procrastinating on making the payments every month, which was how I used to get myself in trouble.
I would tell myself that I was going to put the extra towards my payments once the next paycheck came, but then I never would. Something more important would always pop into the picture and the loan payment became secondary.
By immediately throwing my money at the student loan companies (that would actually be fun, wouldn’t it?!) I keep myself accountable for putting the extra money towards my debt.
I know my faults, and have learned to plan around them so they don’t get in the way of my goals. I find that this is the best way to keep track of my bills.
Ever since I graduated college, I knew that my student loans were not going to be manageable. Really though, how do you pay almost $700 a month when you are working at the family restaurant around the corner?! I was always complaining about the payments and never really felt connected to my debt. I was just the victim, it’s all the government’s fault. Blah, blah, blah.
About 6 months after my repayment period began, I decided that consolidation was the path to freedom for me.
The only thing I knew about consolidation was that it was going to help me manage my payments better. I would no longer have to pay $680 a month towards my loans. The pressure to pay so much when I was making so little was going to go away.
I didn’t know that my interest rates would change, or that my repayment period would be extended. Heck, I don’t even think I realized that this wasn’t really saving me any money either, that I was just reorganizing my debts. These things seem so obvious to me now and I would love to go back and shake my 21 year old self until I read the agreement, or did ANY research into what I was doing.
It wasn’t the end of the world, but I could have picked much better timing to consolidate and gotten lower interest rates. I’m not extremely upset over it, it’s just one of those “woulda, coulda, shoulda” moments.
That’s why I want to share my story in hopes that it helps at least one of you along the way.
What My Consolidation Looked Like
When I decided that I was going to write this post, I knew I was going to have to pull out the paperwork and see what exactly I had done. I was actually pretty nervous about going through my files to find my consolidation paperwork. It was the first time I’d actually felt scared about knowing the truth. I had no idea what I was going to find since I honestly didn’t give the whole process of consolidation much attention at the time.
When I finally got the courage to find the paperwork, it wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be. Keep in mind that I was only able to consolidate the federal loans I had. There weren’t any places I could find that would consolidate private loans a few years ago. I’m sure there were a couple but I never found them…thankfully.
Here is what my federal student loans looked like prior to consolidation:
Loan #TypeBalanceInterest Rate
1 Subsidized $904.40 2.47%
2 Subsidized $957.54 6.80%
3 Subsidized $4,902.01 6.00%
4 Unsubsidized $1,906.67 6.80%
5 Subsidized $4,015.84 6.80%
Here is what I ended up with after everything was consolidated:
1 Subsidized $10,650.53 6.25%
2 Unsubsidized $1,878.70 6.25%
I did screw myself out of a pretty great interest rate with the smaller loan, but that loan wasn’t such a huge amount so I’m not kicking myself too hard. (Keep in mind – I didn’t actually save money even though the newer amounts were slightly lower. This process took a while and you were expected to make payments during that time).
How long does it take?
Consolidation is a pretty long process. When you apply they need a lot of information about your current loans, your other debts, and all of the personal mumbo jumbo you would expect them to ask. They also have you select a repayment plan (standard, graduated, etc.).
Looking at my promissory note, it was signed on October 11th, 2011, meaning I probably filled out the application that day.
On January 5th, 2012 I received a note from them thanking me for applying for consolidation. It asked me to look over the loans listed to make sure I wanted to consolidate all of them, and that there were none left out. It also said my loans would be consolidated within 10 days if I did not contact them to make any changes.
20 days later I received my consolidation confirmation letter showing the new interest rate and loan ID numbers.
This process took more than 3 months from start to finish for me.
What’s the big deal?!
I guess the thing I’m most upset with myself over is the fact that my repayment plan got so much longer by me not digging in and paying the $680 each month. I was making ends meet, I wasn’t starving and unable to pay my rent. I was just a stubborn kid who felt like $400 needed to be allocated each month for alcohol and having a good time.
If I would have kept making those high payments, my loan balance would be $1200 and I would have been done paying my federal loans this December…..
I’ll call that a $6,000 mistake.
Words of Advice
If you haven’t consolidated, make sure you know exactly what you’re getting into. It’s not a one size fits all program. If you aren’t someone who will stay motivated to get out of debt and make the extra payments that will keep you from being in debt until you’re 50, the higher minimum payments might be the right choice.
This was definitely the issue I had. I always told myself I’d make the extra payments when deep down I knew that they wouldn’t be my first priority. Who knows, if it weren’t for you all keeping me accountable for getting my debts paid off, I’d probably be slacking off here and there today too. No one is perfect. You just have to know enough about yourself and your habits to make the right decision for you.
Getting out of debt is the main goal here, so make sure you aren’t putting yourself deeper in the hole just to have some temporary/false relief. Be honest with yourself – are your payments really too high, or are other aspects of your budget set much higher than they should be?
More recently I have begun to grow up and take responsibility for the ridiculous amount of debt I have been so good at accumulating. Every chance I had outside of work, I was digging a bigger hole for myself to crawl out of – hanging out with friends which almost always included a few drinks followed by a late night stop at the local diner. Every day was a special occasion that warranted a meet up at the local bar. Everyone was doing it. We worked our asses off and felt like the bar crawl after was well deserved!
Trust me, it was fun while it lasted and I’m not here to make you feel bad if you’ve done that yourself. I had a blast and met some amazing people (others, not so great). I would probably do it all over again – but I’d bring my own road sodas as opposed to spending $3-$5 a beer. 🙂
I was just living the “normal” life to everyone around me, and it just seemed like the way things were done. I had no one telling me otherwise and I seemed to fit in pretty well. And because I wasn’t exactly a fan of math and looking hard at numbers, I just paid the minimum payments shown on my statements and forgot about them for another month. Little did I know I could have paid off my loans and been out of debt by now…but hey, math just isn’t that fun, right?
At the age of 26, I had started realizing I couldn’t keep living life this way, but I still hadn’t really done anything about it. How I really got started? Well, I got sick of listening to the music on the radio. Yep, that’s where it all began. Listening to the same songs, every morning, over and over again was really annoying me. So I went looking for something else to listen to on my way to work and started listening to e-books and podcasts instead. What a productive, grown-up way to spend my commute! It got me excited and motivated to see what else I could change. I was listening to podcasts from Suze Ormanwho is a special lady and definitely knows what she is talking about. But I just got so un-motivated when I saw how long I would be in debt. Aside from Suze, I heard so many conflicting ways to pay down debts, but it was always too overwhelming.
One night I sat down with my computer, opened a blank Excel file, and spent the next 4 hours playing around with the numbers. I went over every possible scenario trying to figure out what the best way to pay down my debt was going to be. I looked at all of my debts in one place, how long each would take to pay off, the amount I could really be using to pay down my debt each month, and learned how interest rates were really calculated for each debt. It was a lot of work, but I ended up with the beginning of my “modified debt-snowball.”
I was determined to figure out a way to pay off everything without spending the next 30 years doing so. And I did. It just took a lot more of my income each month going towards it and was going to take a ton of determination.
No more happy hour after work, no more impulse buying, or traveling all over creation “just because”….basically, no more spending money I didn’t have. What a concept! And I figured out I would only need to do this for about three years, and then I could go back to spending my money how I wanted. I can do that! 36 months of spending next to nothing, so I could live a “normal” life at the end of it. That sounds way better than 30 years in debt, doesn’t it?
I got really excited and decided I wanted to share my story, and prove that it could be done. So here I am. I’m counting on you guys to help me along the way too. Debt and finance are not something we can figure out overnight, so don’t expect me to know everything either.
In the next few weeks, I am going to figure out a way to share that Excel sheet system with you so you can have somewhere to start. After all, getting started was the hardest part for me.
This post may contain affiliate links, meaning I may get a small commission for referring you but in no way does the product cost you more.
With the tax deadline coming up, I’m sure you have all seen at least a few “tax refund sale” commercials and ads. These make me sick. There are so many great things that can be done with a tax refund and all these companies want you to do is spend them on stuff you don’t really need.
Here is a list of 5 productive things you can do with that money:
1. Put it in your savings account. While this sounds really boring, having a decent emergency fund is far from a bad idea. Next time your car breaks down or the water heater goes, you’ll be so happy you had that extra money laying around. You never know when life will throw you the next curveball, and you need to stop relying on credit cards to make up the slack. Stop being addicted to OPM – other people’s money.
2. Fund next year’s Roth IRA contributions. Waiting until the end of April 2015 to fund 2014’s Roth contributions means one thing – you’ve missed all of the compounding interest you could have made during the year prior. It’s always a good idea to get your contributions in early so they have all year to earn you more money. If you’re not into the Roth IRA thing, Betterment is a great option as well.
3. Make extra payments on your debts – getting out of debt is the number one thing that will ultimately “set you free.” Not having to pay creditors means you can do what you want with that money each month. I feel like there is nothing similar to the feeling of being out of debt, and I cannot wait to get there. This is what I did with my tax refund.
4. Make repairs that will ultimately save you money in the future – Have a chipped windshield? Get it filled before it cracks and you have to replace it. Have a leaky faucet? Get it fixed and save on your water bills. Make smart decisions and they will pay off later.
5. Get ahead of your bills – if you really can’t come to terms with putting this money right into the bank, try paying off your bills early so you can use the next paycheck to pay down debts. A lot of money management is about psychology and how it makes you feel, so if this is what will make you feel productive, then go for it.
There are so many great ways to spend/save your tax refund. Whatever path you choose, just be smart with your money. Take your time, there is no need to spend this all in one place.
For those of you who have already received your refund, what did you do with the extra money?